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Tips on shooting self portraits with a difference

Tips on shooting self portraits with a difference - Taking a photo of yourself levitating in mid-air or crawling up the walls is easier than you think and this article will let you in on the secret of how to do it.

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Portraits and People

This excerpt is from Chapter 4: Processing, of Self Portrait Photography by Natalie Dybisz. Visit ilex for more information.

Self Portrait Photography

With multiplicity, compositing is used to multiply elements in a picture. With trick images, it is used to hide parts of one image within another, creating the illusion of an impossible feat. This is where you get a chance to explore your surrealist side! Trick images need a little more care and attention than other composites, and are often more reliant on the minute detail that makes the overall trick look "real."

For the self-portraitist, producing these images can be a challenge, as it requires you not only to achieve one single composition, but to produce a series of composed frames that can be blended together. Unlike a clone image, which adds the content of one image to another and makes what is there surreally multiplied, the success of trick images relies on what “isn’t” there; that which has been taken away in order to create the visual feat. It is therefore important that the shooting process is done in a methodical manner to ensure that when the images are brought together in Photoshop, they merge with ease. Here, I illustrate the various different ways that you can approach trick photography, using examples from my own experience at both a basic and advanced level.

Sprung - self portrait
This trick self-portrait led to many "Spiderwoman" associations, but in terms of cinematic influence it was more inspired by The Exorcist.

Process: I took four shots: one with each of my legs on the wall, and another of my face, and a shot of the scene without anything in it. I was then able to composite one over the other, by placing the "blank" scene over the top of one of the images, erasing around the leg I wished to keep, and then bringing in the second leg.

Cleaning up: I removed the clutter by clone-stamping the wall, and then decided to tightly crop the image to omit the orb of the bedroom light. Finally, I adjusted Color Balance, and dodged and burned my skin.

Self Portrait One - Sprung

Sprung  is a self-portrait that I created one afternoon in my bedroom. It was quite spontaneous—shot within ten minutes—and demonstrates the simplicity of using this basic approach. It did not involve any assistance or aids, just the wall and my own body. In a sense the final image does not necessarily "lie," but is simply a collection of all four photographs that I took. By placing one leg on the wall, then swapping to another, then taking another shot with my head turned around, then another shot of the scene without me in the frame at all—and keeping the camera completely still throughout—I was able to easily merge the images by dragging one onto another in Photoshop and erasing the necessary part. I used the Clone tool to "paint" the wall over the clutter in one corner, and then chose to tightly crop the image to make the figure dominant in the frame. I then added final retouching of my face and skin.

Self Portrait Nude - Washed
This was shot in a hotel in Seattle. I used my Canon 40D and natural indoor lighting from the hotel room.

Self Portrait Two - Washed Up

Washed Up is another self-portrait created in a similar fashion—simply photographing limbs in their relevant positions across a series of shots. I shot this completely unaided with the ten-second timer. I ran back and forth from the camera holding one leg up, then another, then an arm and so on, in a manner that wasn’t as efficient as it could have been (had I used a remote, I could have stood in the same place repositioning my limbs), but through careful post-processing I managed to produce the illusion.

Self portrait - anti-gravity
A combination of careful preparation, nifty compositing, and further enhancement in Photoshop brought this ethereal trick image to life.

Use a table or chair for support

The next step up, so to speak, is in using a tangible prop such as a table or chair to help you achieve a position, and then using compositing methods to "mask out" the object in question. For my image Reverie, I laid across a table taking care to also shoot an image of exactly the same frame without me, or the table in it. Though it was easy to click the two images into place in post-production, I spent a bit of time adjusting the image to reduce the shadowing effect that had occurred between my back and the dark table, which was particularly strong as my dress was white. A good tip would have been to cover the table with a white sheet so as to reflect light back up at myself, meaning I would not have had to forcefully lighten the image so much via adjustment to Levels and Shadows/Highlights. However, with de-noising, the resulting image was still good enough to print at 70 x 70cm.

The Jitters (see page 85 of the Self Portrait Photography book ) is another example of using a prop—this time a chair—to support my position. I shot this image with a Canon 1DS Mark III. I found it difficult to position the camera and tripod within my limited bedroom space to create the effect I wanted, so I pointed the camera into a mirror and shot the reflection. I let the chair take the weight of my body while I clasped my hands around the lamp flex and tried as hard as I could to let my body drop naturally downwards without pulling the cable. By hiding my supported leg (the leg on the chair) so that it was behind my other leg, I made for an easier job in post-production as the manipulated area is less visible. It was fairly challenging to keep still as the chair was unstable on the soft surface of the bed, so I made sure I posed the shot several times and reviewed the images carefully.

Also check out Ilex Photo’s IlexPhoto Tool iPhone App which not only includes a depth of field calculator and a reciprocity simulator, but also top quality content in the form of an illustrated glossary and a shooting guide to help you get the best shot in any situation.

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