22 tips for taking self portraits

Camera remote

Recently I needed a portrait of myself and I didn’t have one in a quality that’s good enough for print. So I had to take one. Having my photo taken is probably in the top 3 of things I don’t like. 9 out of 10 times I just look.. odd. Like, who *is* that person? ;-)

Anyway, I had to get that photo done, and I needed an end result that wouldn’t make me cringe every time I look at it. Or think about other people looking at it. I thought I’d share some tips based on my own trial and error (mostly error!) combined with a few tips I picked up on the interwebs –  in case you need to take a photo of yourself (or someone else.)

Not that I’m an expert in portrait photos! But these are a few things I found helpful. Quite a lot of things, it turns out. It’s funny how you realise that there’s a lot more to something when you start to write it down. ;-)

The camera
♥ If you’ve got one, use a tripod, it will help steady the camera so you won’t get blurry photos.
♥ Clean the camera lens. It’s really annoying to get everything else right in a photo, only to discover that it’s useless because there’s a speck of dust or finger print somewhere you can’t edit it out.
♥ If your camera supports it, I’d strongly recommend getting a camera remote control (photo above). Using one of those you really can take the photos without help and since a human will not be pressing the release button on the camera, this also means reducing the shaking of the camera and thus the photos. A basic remote costs less than a tenner in most cases and it’s well worth the investment.
– if you don’t have a remote, get someone to help you and press the button on the camera. It’s really awkward to do it yourself!
♥ Camera position. Place the camera so the lens is slightly above your eye height. If the camera is looking at you slightly from above it will make the contours of your face stand out more. Which is a good thing because photos do tend to flatten facial features. And it will also help reduce double-chin syndrome. *ahem* ;-)
– If you’re using a tripod, put it on a table or a stool or something to get it up higher. If you’re not using a tripod, a stack or large books will do the trick.

The surroundings
♥ Good light is really important. You probably don’t have professional photo lights (I don’t!), so you will need a room that is well lit by natural day light. Preferably facing south where the light is warmer than north facing rooms.
♥ Don’t get too close to the windows, though. You want soft/diffused light, so stand several feet away from the window. Bright (sun) light right on you can wash out the features of the face, making it look flat and dull. Or cast sharp shadows which aren’t terribly flattering. This blog post is good for insight into soft/hard light.)
♥ Use a plain background. A white wall is fine. Keep it simple unless there’s a really good reason not to. Need a jungle-y portrait? By all means stand in front of some greenery! ;-)
♥ Do a few test shots to check how the light falls on you; check the camera position: is it too low, too high? Adjust as necessary.

You / the person you’re taking pictures of
♥ Strike a pose! You know how movie stars always look kinda odd when they get photographed on the red carpet? That’s to make sure they look their best on the photos. Because the camera flattens features, you’ll have to strike a pose. Really. It will feel really silly, but just do it, I promise the photos will be better for it!
– Don’t face the camera straight on, turn your body towards the light source.
– Turn your head towards the camera, so it’s at an angle to your body.
– Push your chin out and slightly down. It will help define the features of your face. And reduce the double chin. You may actually only have one chin but sometimes photos make it look like there is more than one.
– Shoulders down.
I know, this all seems like you need to be a contortionist or something, but give it a go. Compare with a photo where you just stand in front of the camera, I think you’ll see the difference. :-)
♥ Look at the rim of the camera lens, don’t look directly at the lens. I have noticed that when I look straight at the lens, my eyes look slightly bulging.. not a good look. Instead, look just above the lens or slightly to the side of it. It will look more natural.
♥ Smile naturally. Yes, it can be a bit difficult when you’re striking that odd pose and the whole thing feels pretty darn un-natural! You might want to get someone to help with this bit. Have them stand behind the camera and act a bit silly. Or put something funny on the telly. Or just think of the silly situation you’re in!
♥ Smile, don’t grin. Unless you’re going for a full on laughing photo, just keep it simple. You don’t have to show all your teeth to be smiling.

Look your best
♥ Wear a bit of makeup. Not loads. Just a tiny bit to underline your features: a bit of mascara, maybe some eyeliner if that’s your thing. Use a concealer if you have any spots you want to hide. Powder or a matte cream on shiny parts of the face is a good thing: forehead, nose, chin. If you’re going for a natural look, use a slightly tinted lip balm or a neutral colour lipstick. If you’re a guy, maybe skip the colour, but do wear a bit of lip balm.. dry lips never look good. ;-)
♥ Wear something that you feel good in. And by feel good, I don’t mean pajamas. Wear clothes that you look good in, that make you feel confident. If you feel good, feel confident, it will show in the photos.
♥ Wear a top that complements your eyes and skin.
♥ If you wear glasses: make sure your glasses are clean! And when you do your test shot(s), check that there aren’t any reflections in your glasses. When I did mine, I noticed that a plastic bag was reflecting the light right into my glasses so you couldn’t see my eyes.

Taking the photos
♥ For every shot, make a small change. Tilt of your head, where your eyes look, your position, angle towards the camera, how you smile etc.
♥ Take lots of photos! Assuming that you’re using a digital camera, you can take as many photos as you want (or until the memory card fills up or the battery is drained.) It’s better to have lots to choose from than only a few. You might look cross eyed in some photos, maybe you sneezed, or your hair looked funny, the angle wasn’t quite right. Maybe a cloud went past the sun so some of the photos became dark. And you will also start to relax more in that odd pose once you’ve done it for a little bit, which helps you look more natural.
– I took over 400 photos in my ‘session’. Quite a lot, but some of those was because I realised that the background looked odd, so I had to re-do the shoot.

Editing the photos
♥ The first step is to quickly sort through the photos. Open the folder and look at medium size thumbnails. Any photo that looks blurry or the background is weird or you are weird etc. put those in a separate folder. Don’t delete them straight away. On closer inspection there could be a gem in there, so just hold onto them for a wee bit.
♥ Second step: go through the rest of the photos, looking in a photo viewer. Any photos that don’t look ok, put them in a separate folder.
♥ Third step: you should have a fairly small selection by now. 10-20 photos maybe. Look at each of them a bit closer in the photo viewer and select 2-4. These are the ones you want to edit in Photoshop or Gimp or whatever you use for photo editing.
♥ Edit the photos: remove weird spots, whether on the background or your face. There might have been a speck of dust on the camera lens or you’re having a bad skin day. It’s totally fine to remove spots etc! There’s natural and there’s too-much-information natural. ;-) Lighten the photos if necessary. Maybe adjust the colours slightly. You don’t want to overdo the editing, but it’s not cheating to edit them.

Self portrait
Oh hello. Bottom photo is the one I ended up using. I quite liked the middle right one as well, but my hair looks a bit crazy in it.. ;-) And see what I mean about keeping hold of some of the not-so-great photos? I like those ones where I’m looking down and you can only see part of me. There’s emotion in those shots I think. And I totally love the one with Tony. Kiss photobombing! ;-)

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