In today’s era of Instagram filters and one-touch beauty modes, taking a flattering self portrait has never been easier. Unfortunately, some of the artistry – and most of the originality – can be lost in the process.
If you want to create “selfies” that are unique, eye-catching and personal, you’re going to need more than a front-facing phone camera. With that in mind, we asked three professional photographers to share their advice on self-portraiture. Here are their ten best tips.
Canon Australia recently challenged three professional photographers to capture a self portrait without any prior knowledge or preparation. (You can watch a video of their efforts here.) The participants were Harri Gilbert (a photographer and filmmaker from the Northern Beaches), Seshanka Samarajiwa (a portrait photographer based in Sydney) and Josh Groom (a Sydney photographer specialising in portraits and live music.)
Here are their top ten tips for anyone looking to create a high-impact self-portrait. The emphasis here is firmly on evoking the right ‘mood’ in your photos – for tips of a more technical nature, check out our photography section.
Prepare for the shot
This doesn’t mean cleaning your camera’s lens and double-checking the settings. Rather, you should think about what you are attempting to capture in the shot (apart from your noggin, of course.) Everything from your facial expression to the selected exposure can have a dramatic impact on the mood of your photo.
“First, take a moment to think about what you are trying to express with this image,” explains Samarajiwa. “Is it a thought, feeling, idea, message or statement?”
“Don’t even turn your camera on until you know the concept, story or emotion you want to convey,” adds Gilbert.
In other words, take time to reflect on your intentions prior to shooting. Don’t try to wing it.
Banish the ‘selfie’ mindset
“A self portrait needs to say something about yourself beyond, ‘this is what I look like today.’,” explains Groom.
“Ask yourself a few questions: What are my defining characteristics? What do I want this image to say about me? What aspect of myself am I aiming to portray with this photograph? My strengths? My weaknesses? My dreams? My fears? Decide exactly what it is you want to get across.”
Play music to set the mood
In addition to choosing elements for the frame, selecting the right music or ambient sound will help to get you in the right mind space for your portrait.
“Put some music on – playing music that is emotionally fitting to your concept will help in conveying the right expression in the photo,” claims Gilbert. “When I play conceptually fitting music, it often comes across in the photo.”
“Once you’ve established what it is you’d like to say, the fun part is deciding how to creatively convey that within the frame – how to light it, and how to frame it,” says Groom. “What does the setting say about you? How can you play with darkness and negative space?”
“Taking a self portrait is an exercise in allowing yourself to be vulnerable,” adds Samarajiwa. “As difficult as it is – the image is about who you are, as opposed to simply what you look like – or what you’d like to look like.
“Getting ego out of the way is a huge challenge. When selecting your final image – choose the image that best defines you as opposed to the photo where you look the best. If it’s a confronting choice to make – you’re probably on the right path!”
“If you’re stuck for ideas, draw inspiration from portrait photographers who take photos of other people – pay close attention to the emotion put forth by each individual,” suggests Gilbert. Remember – it’s not stealing if you acknowledge your influences!
Design and test
“Once you’ve visualised your concept, design it,” instructs Samarajiwa. “Use light, colour, composition, different angles, etc. Don’t forget to take a test picture to ensure that you have achieved what you had in mind.”
Samarajiwa again: “Making a self-portrait is about letting go. Be confident in the components that make up your vision and engage fully with the emotion you are trying to convey.
“I find that having a remote trigger or setting the camera on stop motion type setting helps to take the element of control you have over the moment that is captured away from you. Also, depending on your vision and what you are trying to convey you may need something external to yourself, your camera and your set up to trigger the required emotion.”
Ditch the remote
“Use a self-timer instead of a remote”, suggests Gilbert. “Even if it takes longer, you won’t be worrying about getting the remote in the shot and you’ll get a completely fresh attempt at posing or positioning yourself.”
As an added bonus, you won’t know precisely when the shutter clicks, which may result in some surprisingly candid results.
Gilbert acknowledges that this doesn’t work for everybody, however: “This will probably go against many other people’s advice so do what works for you.”
Keep at it
“Do a 365. If you really want to push yourself creatively and emotionally, take a self-portrait every day for a year, and keep yourself accountable via a social media platform,” advises Gilbert.
Groom stresses that you need to have patience and not be afraid of experimentation – even if it leads to results you never intended. (Especially when it leads to results you never intended.)
“Make sure you’re willing to abandon your initial plan to chase something that reveals itself within the course of creation,” he says. “Don’t try to get it right from the very beginning – make mistakes, as they often can you somewhere more interesting. Find possibilities within the imperfections.
“I like making mistakes – they often help define what it is I’m working towards – and occasionally, they take me somewhere more interesting. I think it’s a mis-step to try and get it right from the very beginning. Come prepared, obviously – but be ready to drop everything if an unforeseen opportunity presents itself within the process.
“I watched a TED Talk with musician Stefon Harris where he said – “there are no mistakes in Jazz, only opportunities,” and I think that also applies to portrait photography – don’t shut yourself down to the possibilities within the imperfections.”