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Self portrait photography

Barry Chignell shows us how to take a great self portrait.

|  Portraits and People
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Words and images by Barry Chignell from Free Photo Resources.

Self portrait by Barry Chignell

Gear: Set-up:
A tripod, beanbag or at the least, a platform to place your camera on is essential. When placing the camera make sure that the image about to be captured includes all of the elements that you wish to include in the photograph.

Using a remote release will enable you to get ready before taking the shot, it will also allow the lens to focus on you once you are in position. Remember, if you focus before you move into position the camera may not focus on the right area).  If you don’t have a remote then you can use the self timer on the camera. One problem with this is focusing, I got round this by setting the f stop to 16 or more to get a greater depth of field and achieve focus all the way through the shot.

The use of a flash is personal choice but in darker conditions will be essential unless you are a human statue and can remain completely still with slower shutter speeds. The camera's built-in flash is too direct and as a result may wash out colour or create shadows behind you. If you have an external flash then this can be angled to bounce the light off of ceilings or surfaces to eliminate wash out or unsightly shadows (you will need to experiment with this). I will usually tone down the flash to 3/4 to 1/2 power or use a diffuser to soften the light.

If you're using a compact camera for your self portrait you'll probably find you have a scene mode that will help you produce a better shot. The Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj is one such camera as it features a Smart Portrait System to help you perfect your portraits. It's built-in projector's also handy for when you want to show off your self portrait results to your friends.


Before even starting out on a shoot look for inspiration.  This can be found on the web, in magazines, on album covers etc. Remember that you are trying to create an image of yourself not only for you but also or others, it needs to stand out so take your time at this stage and have ideas ready.

Choose a location that invokes a feeling, whether this be an urban feel, a tranquil one or a funny one it is important that this fits in well with the ideas you have come up with while looking for inspiration. Obviously there are plenty of urban areas and these provide different lighting, textures and colours which will all enhance the overall feeling of the portrait.

Again, the mood of the shot not only depends on the expression on your face but also the surroundings you are in and the lighting at the time. Dark shots portray a feelings from mysterious through to scary but getting these shots right is tricky. Personally I really like portraits where some of the subject is a silhouette - a lot can be achieved using shadows and light in the right way.

Self portrait by Barry Chignell

Composition and framing:
Rather than the normal straight on portrait which, in most cases, is less than impressive, try changing the perspective. Taking photos from ground level or from above the subject (you) will add a bit of originality to the photograph. Depth of field can be used to great effect, a friend of mine has taken a shot of a couple sitting against a wall. She took the shot from ground level and focused on the couples shoes and the rest of their bodies and faces were slightly out of focus, the effect was really great and gave an otherwise normal photo a ‘wow’ factor.

Background is a very important element to a photo and should be considered carefully.  Too mush colour or texture and you are in danger of losing you as the focal point, not enough and the photo could turn out boring. Using a slow sync flash is a great technique where you can capture the subject in focus but drag the shutter to blur the background and enhance the colours within the photo. Think about the depth of field that you want to achieve and how the elements in the shot will be effected by this, lights in the background can be used to create a cool bokeh effect if a shallow depth of field is used, this is a great way to enhance a photo. Cropping is an area that you can also play with to great effect, you can cut out elements of the photo that may not work and also create a great original composition.

Words and images by Barry Chignell from Free Photo Resources.

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