Five Tips For Taking Better Photos of Yourself

Self-Portrait Taken With Camera on a Tripod Using a Remote

I'm always getting emails from readers and blogging friends about how to take better photos.  Photos of friends, photos of buildings, photos of their kids or pets.  But, the most popular question seems to be: how do I take better photos of myself?

I'm a street and travel photographer but occasionally I am my own subject and I have a great time inventing new alter egos with each image. Isn't that part of what's so fun about getting dressed every day?  A change in outfit or look can make you into an entirely new person.  The pictures featured here are all self-portraits and looking at them I'm getting the urge to take some new ones!

So, here are five tips to help you take better photos of yourself!

1. Use your imagination!

My ideas come from an intuitive place. Sometimes I've had a dream and then I try to translate it into a photograph. Other times I get inspiration from other artists and try to make them my own. I look at magazines like W and Vogue and Nylon and suddenly I'm inspired. The point is that once I have my “idea” or “concept” I use it as my chance to try things that I'd never otherwise do with clients or other models. Test out different styles, angles, lighting options and poses because when you're shooting self-portraits you've got all the time in the world.

Self-Portraits With a Wig

2. Equipment.

I strongly believe that you don't need anything fancy to capture beautiful images. Not everyone has or can afford a DSLR or great lens.  Of course having one of those is fabulous and definitely fun and can enhance your pictures but it's not always necessary.  As long as you have a camera, any camera, the two most important things you'll need are good light and a steady surface.

Light: Depending on where you take your photos you can use a flash or natural light.  While I usually prefer natural light, sometimes it's just not possible so you will need a flash.  If you have a dslr be sure to set your white balance to flash or the tones in your images will be off.  Once you have the settings right I always prefer to use a hot shoe flash.  If you're indoors you can bounce the flash off the ceiling or a wall so the light doesn't hit you directly and create that washed out look that is just bad for everyone.  If you don't have or can't afford a hot shoe flash, then just use your built-in camera flash.  You can take a little piece of tissue paper or even toilet paper to cover the flash so that the light is diffused and not as harsh.

Steady Surface: I recommend using a tripod. They come at all different price points and sizes so you can buy one that works with your camera.  If a tripod is not practical for you because you either can't afford to buy one or you don't want to carry it around with you when you go on location, then any hard surface will do. Just set your camera down and voila! Sometimes when I travel I don't have the space to carry my tripod so a table works. If you have a heavy lens, then you can use a book, some magazines or your bag to steady it.

3. Focus.

Fuzzy photos can be beautiful but fashion blogs where you're showing off your fabulous style and outfit are not the place for them.  When there's no one in the photo but you, it can be difficult to set the focus properly because you're often not in the view (unless you're using a remote) when you're setting the focus. I shoot A LOT of images before I find one that works and often times this has less to do with the look on my face (ie. too sexy, too serious, too toothy, not ready, etc.) than with the focus.

Like I said, you can use a remote and they're great but if you don't have one then I suggest using a marker. I usually take an object and put it in the place where I will stand in order to set the focus before adjusting the self-timer and hitting the shutter. It works! For these images of me on the bed, I used my bag. I set it up, focused on the bag, set the timer up and then hit the shutter. So when I made my way to the bed, I pushed the bag away and took it's place.  This will come in handy when you're trying to take detail photos of your look like an accessory, your gorgeous shoes, jewelry, etc. As you can see from this photo, without using the bag as a marker, I had incorrectly set the focus on the curtain which created a shallow depth of field.  I had the camera on a table in the room because I was traveling in Italy and did not pack my tripod.  All I can say is that it takes practice…and patience!

Both of these had the focus set incorrectly on the curtain.  Also, my feet were cut off in the first one.

These are better and I also decided that I preferred them in black and white.

4. Post-Processing

Not everyone has Photoshop or Lightroom, I know, but most of my photos need a bit of help because they don't look quite right straight out of the camera.  I could write a post just on this topic but in the meantime, check out Picnik. It's a very fun and very FREE way to adjust your photos and make them better.  While often times an image will need a lot of work (I'm a major perfectionist) or I just have to have them in black and white, in general sometimes a little boost of exposure or an adjustment on levels will go a long way.  Not sure what all this is?  That's fine – just play around with the different options until you are happy with your image!

5. Have fun!

Look, I totally get that we all want the perfect photos for our blogs (and for our memories!) – I'm a photographer and my own worst critic!  But the point is to have a good time at it and soon you'll be thinking of great shoots for yourself all the time and you'll get the photograph you want in less time.

Here are a few other samples of my self-portraits using these techniques.

Self in the Woods

Blue Light Self

Self in Bed

Feel free to email me with any questions at ciaochessa at gmail dot come or visit my
FAQ on my blog, Ciao, Chessa!

 

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59 Responses

  1. diya

    very helpful! Especially the last point as I’ve been told that I’ve deleted TONS of great pictures just because I hated my expressions in them…

    Also, picnik pro ($20-30/year) is great for some quick editing and is pretty affordable.

    Reply
  2. melina bee

    great post! one trick I learned somewhere when you’re actually in front of the camera that sounds silly but I swear it works: clench your butt muscles and then try to project the emotion you wanted (for me usually a smile). for whatever reason, you can pretty much achieve whatever facial expression is needed. I know it sounds odd, but hey, it works.

    Reply
  3. AsheMischief

    These are great, great tips! Thanks for the guest post, Monica– I love hearing how other bloggers great photos of themselves, especially since I’m always trying to improve my own.

    Reply
  4. Sophie

    Great advice. I usually end up looking dreadful. And i never realised how little i smile until I started taking pics of myself. Will look into getting Picnik

    Reply
  5. Bea

    Great article, I loved the tip about using paper to cover the flash, my (very old) camera doesn’t come with a no flash option so will definately be trying this out in the future! Beautiful self portraits too 🙂
    Bea x

    Reply
  6. patuxxa

    I’ve already made a New Year’s resolution of getting a tripod and a remote – my meagre attempts at self-poirtraits were so bad I pretty much gave up, but I’d really love to explore this creative venue and show more original content to my readers!

    Reply
  7. bex

    Loved this tutorial. Great advice for setting the marker, I’ve completely forgotten about that trick. When taking my self portraits I always do the lazy thing and set me aperture pretty wide and hope for the best.

    You’ve inspired me to take more time and thought.
    thanks!

    blessings to ya,
    bex

    Reply
  8. MonicaShulman

    @diya yes! you’re absolutely right, Picnik has a very affordable program that you can purchase. all in all it’s a great tool for processing your digital photos if you don’t have any other options.

    @Amy, thanks, doll! x

    @melina, I definitely have never heard of that trick but I’m all for whatever works! That’s definitely a method that is easy enough to try so why not?! 🙂

    @Ashe, thanks! I love to shoot self portraits and I definitely haven’t done enough lately. I’d love to see what you turn out. 🙂

    @Sophie, you just have to practice and soon you’ll be more comfortable, smiling and not smiling… 🙂

    @Bea, yep, some of the older cameras don’t really give you that many options so it’s nice to know that you can manipulate your camera to work for you. I don’t know what kind of camera you have but even some of the old models have the option of choosing a flash for different kinds of available light…you can try to play around with the settings and choose something other than “auto” 🙂

    @patuxxa, that’s a fantastic resolution! don’t give up and have fun with it!

    Reply
  9. Bobby

    Thanks for the tips!
    The one about using an object to set the focus was really helpful. . .i wouldnt have thought of that haha, even though it seems rather obvious 😛

    One of my biggest problems is getting clear, crisp, focused images of myself.

    Thanks!

    Bobby

    Reply
  10. Olivia

    Good tips! I agree that a good camera isn’t the be-all and end-all. Another tip i to just relax and take LOTS of photos. I always need a few test shots just to get me to settle in to the picture.

    Reply
  11. Kiran

    An cheap alternative to Photoshop is Gimp..it’s free! AND it has almost exactly the same features as photoshop. Pretty much. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  12. Kate

    Great tips! I wish I had a camera now! mine is broken so im stuck doing no good Iphone pictures! lol

    Reply
  13. Ashley

    Hi there! I recently started a Fashion blog that I am very proud of and would LOVE to have you all as a follower. The blog is called “All that Glitters” and is a go-to website for all things girly and glamorous in the fashion world. Also, it would be amazing if you could give me some feedback or suggestions using your fashion knowledge and experience! Thank you so much and feel free to share my link with friends! Have a glam day!
    All that Glitters: Girly Fashion Trends
    Twitter Page
    Facebook Fan Page
    -Ashley

    Reply
  14. MonicaShulman

    thanks, everyone, for the feedback! so glad you enjoyed the post and found the tips useful.

    Kiran, I’ve never used Gimp but I have heard great things about it. If you go on Flickr I’m pretty sure that there is a group dedicated to Gimp users so you can see just how creative people get with such simple software. it’s really amazing.

    Kate, don’t feel bad about your iPhone! there are some amazing apps that you can play around with even though you’re holding the camera yourself. my favorite and the easiest one is photoshop mobile but I also love shakeit, hipstamatic, polarize and 100 cameras. If you’re curious you can stop by my blog and see some of the photos that I’ve posted taken with my iphone…it can be a lot of fun even though it’s not ideal for a fashion blog.

    Reply
  15. Nikkia

    Great Tips!!! I got a Canon dslr for Christmas and I have yet to really play around with it because i’m intimidated. These tips are definitely going to come in handy. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • MonicaShulman

      don’t be intimidated! don’t forget that no one ever has to see the photos but you. all of the shots that I posted here, with the exception of the first one bc we (that’s my husband’s hand) and I were outdoors and driving around vermont on a road trip when we came upon this little abandoned house/garage.

      The last one is in an enclosed and very secluded backyard and there was NO ONE around…I was topless in the burbs after all. 😉

      Reply
      • MonicaShulman

        oops…I meant to say that all but those two were shot either inside my home or in a hotel room:) no one around except my husband who is amused by my need to take photos of myself!

  16. Bette-Blurr

    Ahh!!! Wonderful tips, thank you!!
    One small question, and please forgive my electronic
    ignoramus, how do camera remotes work?

    Muchismas Gracias,

    whoa!mygoodness

    Reply
  17. MJ

    This tips are fabulous, especially with setting up a prop in the place where you will be standing to get a good focus. I’ve been having a hard time with that lately!

    Thanks so much for sharing! Your photos are gorg!

    Reply
  18. MonicaShulman

    thanks so much everyone!

    Bette, it really depends on the camera. Some cameras, like the Nikon don’t really require anything other than turning your camera on and clicking the remote like you would the shutter. The camera reads the signal from the remote and that’s that. As long as your remote battery and camera battery work, you are good to go!

    Reply
  19. Caroline Mutiboko

    I have been looking for something as concise as this for ages, brilliant post. I always wondered how other bloggers seemed to have such beautiful images and came across Picnik just before Christmas. I love it and coupled with your tips am looking forward to taking fresh images for my next post !

    Reply
    • MonicaShulman

      you are very sweet. thank you! so glad that you can use these tips to take better photos. Definitely play around with picnik and with the setting on your camera…sometimes all the post processing in the world will not help if you don’t have simple things like exposure right (or at least close) in the original image. have fun!

      Reply
  20. Chelsea Rae

    I pretty much screamed when I read the tip about covering the flash with tissue paper. I never would have guess! It’s one of those ingenious ideas that are so obvious only after someone suggests it.

    Also, what should one look for when choosing a tripod? I know there are so many different kinds that work well for various types of photography. So, what is the typical qualification for a Monica tripod?

    Reply
    • MonicaShulman

      yay! so happy. yes, it’s a very simple thing but most people don’t know about it. when I was a smoker (ew.) I also used the top of the cigarette box. If you really want to get creative, take a small piece of white cardboard, and angle it underneath your pop-up flash (think of those aluminum reflector things that sun-worshipping tanners use when they lay out. With a little piece of scotch tape you can create an angle so that the flask will not only be diffused like with the tissue paper, but it will bounce off the white surface and angle up (bounce of the ceiling if you’re indoors) rather than wash you out. does that make sense?

      as for tripods, it totally depends on what type of camera you have. without getting into too much detail (which I’m happy to do of course, if you’d like) I would choose one that has several height options – you can collapse it for travel and carrying it but it can get as high as 5 or 6 feet so you can create more options for yourself. there are A LOT of different types out there and at different prices points. let’s talk about it some more if you’d like. you can always email me at monicalshulman at gmail dot com

      also, and here’s another tip, when you take photos of yourself, try to angle the camera a little down (rather than shoot down low and up) – this not only shows off your look more and at a cooler and fresher angle, but it also makes pretty much anyone look slimmer and taller.

      Reply
  21. Pearl Westwood

    What a great post! I really am awful at taking my own photos so thats for these tips, especially the one about the flash I am so pale that I look like a ghost half the time due to over-flash will be trying the tissue trick xx

    Reply
    • MonicaShulman

      the tissue paper trick is great for this issue that you’re describing…
      but, I should have also pointed out that sometimes a lot of light and a harsher flash can be very cool and can give an image a new dimension that it didn’t have before. just have fun with it! 🙂

      Reply
  22. Jessica

    Oh my god, Im in love with you pictures. I love that they all pull you in and you get a sense of emotion from them.. my fav is the one when you are on the bed looking out the window at the big city, it tells so many stories! Thanks to you and IFB for featuring you in the weekly round ups!

    Reply
  23. SHARLA

    thanks for this, it was greatly appreciated. the tips and all are exactly what i’m looking for as i’ve just started working on my blog.

    Reply
  24. turisuna

    Thanks for the tips, and that’s beautiful pictures of you. Recently I was trying to make self-portraits at home or indoor, but the results were not satisfying yet. But I will try it again and again just like your advice 🙂

    Reply
    • MonicaShulman

      exactly, just keep shooting and trying and you will get better at it. remember you’re shooting digital so you can ust keep going until you get the images you want. good luck!

      Reply
  25. Fashion Limbo

    That is some fantastic advice…especially the idea of using some tissue paper to cover a flash and soften the light, had no clue I could do that 🙂

    Reply
  26. liivvvvv

    another great tip…don’t be afraid to take millions of pictures during one set! don’t get discouraged if the first few pictures don’t seem right. just keep going until you achieve the perfect lighting, angle, pose, etc. for every 50 photos you take, even if one is perfect, it’s worth it.

    Reply
  27. Mattie

    This is such a great post. I thought I really couldn’t take quality photos because of my camera but will definitely use the tips you gave. There’s hope! Thanks, Monica.

    Reply
  28. Jo

    what a fantastic, informative post – thanks for the tips.

    your photo’s are absolutely beautiful – can’t believe they’re taken by yourself! awesome!

    xx

    Reply
  29. MonicaShulman

    hi, again, everyone! thanks for all the fantastic feedback on this post. I’m so glad that you all have found the tips to be so helpful. if you have any questions on anything, feel free to email me:
    ciaochessa [at] gmail [dot] come

    Reply
  30. Martha

    great post! 🙂 Your photos are stunning. I’ll be implementing some of your tips in my next outfit shots 🙂

    Reply