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