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How I Take Self Portraits

AlexandraSD

Bonjour Grin

Transgender lensperson, some self portraits, some other random stuff now and then, mostly family, landscapes, stuff...
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How I Take Self Portraits

6 Apr 2020 5:57AM   Views : 245 Unique : 152

My First Love

My first photograph that I ever took with a camera, was on the beach at Heacham during a family holiday in west norfolk. My dad had a Kodak disc camera, and I was enthralled by this weird device. I was probably 6 or 7 years old at the time, and after pestering my dad the entire holiday to let me take a photo, he finally relented, and I took a snap of the beach from the receding sea half a mile away. It was nothing special, but it was to me. My parents still have that photo somewhere.

By 15 i had my own 35mm camera, a year later at just 16 i was working for my local paper, very locally as i did not drive. I mainly took portraits for them. By 18 my images were being published in various underground rave scene magazines, and i also did a fair few weddings in the 1990s. I was always photographing other people. By the mid 1990s however, I realised things were not quite right with me, in fact i knew this from a very very early age, but things got worse in the 90s as i tried to fight who i am.

Accepting myself

I have to spell this out now, I am transgender, always have been, but i never really accepted it properly until 9 years ago when I finally came out to my family and friends, and i have never looked back. Previously my mental health prior to coming out, was not great, but since I have accepted who I am, my mental health has vastly improved ever since, which is why i get so pissed off these days when anti-trans morons keep saying trans is just a mental illness, it isn't, its not being honest with ones self, family and friends which causes the depression, ever since I came out I have felt so blessed with life, and very rarely suffer from depression any more.

Winter always seemed the worst time for my depression to which i used to attribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but really, the summer months were not much better back then either. But i hated winter, the limited daylight, long nights, crap cold weather. Yeah, it made everything worse, and the biggest low point was winter 2010, and i contemplated some pretty dark things. It was either come out, accept who i was, or end it all there and then. I could not do the latter, i thought about my family, my then 3 year old niece, the love i felt for her and wanting to see her growing up, i did not want to miss out on that.

How It All Started

But going back to the late 90s again. One day i went for a drive and decided to take some photos of me dressed up on 35mm film, got them I never took another self portrait again... until I got my first digital camera around 2002, a massive 3.1mp HP compact camera. developed in Max Speilman, and was mortified at how bad these quick snapshots of me were.

I never took another self portrait again... until I got my first digital camera around 2002, a massive 3.1mp HP compact camera.

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It would only take a 32MB card, so would not really fit that many images onto it. But it did the trick. My first shoot with it was at an abandoned church somewhere on the norfolk broads. It happened by chance, I was out in my car enjoying the hot summer while wearing, yes, a black pvc mini dress and some very high stilettos, typical badly dressed tranny back then. I also had this long, semi transparent long sleeved over gown thing, which really softened the images. I found this empty church, spent half an hour enjoying its quiet ambience and cool temperature, then i got the camera out, with the tripod.

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Looking back i probably should not have done that out of respect, but the church was deconsecrated and about to be turned into a private home judging by the building materials in the carpark and church yard. But you know what, i am still rather fond of these images because it showed me that me, a proper ugly duckling, could finally take a half decent image of myself.

Next up came that derelict carehome near spalding, lovely big bay windows, lots of gorgeous but subdued light. The images blew me away, I could not believe that the person in those photos was me. Actually the dress I wore was something i designed and made myself, thanks to my late lovely nan who taught me to use a sewing machine. This more than anything, spurred me on to do a lot more, and over the coming months that year I did all manner of self portrait shoots.

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That camera had a 10 second timer, which was perfect! I say perfect, there was no other option with a fully automatic compact camera, one of the early ones. But this little beauty did everything i needed to.

The canon 350d came next, this i bought as soon as it came onto the market, so i had used that 3.1mp HP compact a lot until now, but i always struggled taking good self portraits with this 350d, as the focus would often miss me completely, rendering half of my images or more completely unworthy. Again, a 10 second self timer was used. Then i bought an IR gadget which meant i didnt need the 10 second self timer, i could stand there, fire the IR gadget at the canon and use the 2 second self timer. This worked better, but my images still missed focus quite often.

The god awful Leica V-Lux 3 came next... what was i thinking???

Again, 10 second self timer, until i bought a remote trigger which used radio waves and not IR. The focus was slightly better, but i really hated pixel peeping as the pixels always looked ugly, wormlike, not very nice at all.But it had a tilty flippy screen, which allowed me to see myself in an image before i took it, for the first time. A few times i took my laptop out and tethered my 350D to that, but it was cumbersome and annoying.

Switching to Fuji

Then i switched to Fuji, bought the X-A2 on the basis that it was a selfie camera. That was a fine camera, my self portraits really improved with this, as the focus was pretty good when eye detect was on. But we are now in the smartphone age, and that fuji would not tether to my phone via its app to allow remote shooting, so i bought the Fuji X-E2, along with the pretty awesome 35mm f2 R WR lens, which did allow me to tether and shoot remotely.

I also have a canon m5 now, which I won in the xmas prize draw a couple of years ago, I tried remote shooting with that, but the focus kept missing me again, bloody canon lol so i obviously use my old fuji even now, and why not? It makes self portraits a breeze! As for the canon m5? I still use it often, but not for self portraits, now and then i will shoot birds with it, with a rubbish zoom lens, but i dont shoot to win prizes, i do it because i enjoy it, hence the images never really appear here. I also use the M5 for lots of video, even though my current samsung has a decent enough video, i use my canon to film me tending to my bonsai trees as a visual reference to the work i have done, also to capture its progression throughout the years.

But lets go back to the fuji.

The fuji app is so simple to use, and works flawlessly every time i use it. I have all the settings i need on this app, including self timers, so I use a 2 second self timer, which is more than enough time. Obviously holding a phone while tethered to the camera is a no no, so i have a light stand and a joby on top with my smartphone clinging onto it, and i place the light stand just out of shot, but i can more or less see the image even before it has taken.

I remember in the old days, well some still do this, photographers that is... the old self portrait in a mirror holding the camera. I have never ever done this, even though one image of me here looks as if this is how i took that image, but the exif data will tell you that photo of me holding the canon to my eye was taken on the x-e2. The thing is, what I do now, with my smartphone tethered to the fuji, is pretty much the same as photographing yourself in the mirror, except you dont have to be holding that camera to do it.

What next?

I am 46 now, and I still enjoy seeing images of myself, taken by myself. When I look back to the old me, that person never had much confidence, and i hated my small frame and skinny 52kg body, and dont even get me started on my looks, because then and now, i still say i am one hell of an ugly fecker, i really am, and no amount of compliments will ever change that. But i have fully accepted who i am now, and even insults seem like compliments these days, seriously, I get told i look like a witch quite regularly, but this just makes me smile, i am so cool with that, its unreal.

I did lose my photography mojo from 2017 right up until i met my current fella, and then it came back. Since then i have done more self portraits in these short few months than i have in the past 3 years. And more than ever I am so blown away by how i look, my smile is genuine, that twinkle in my eye never seems to fade these days, even right now as i type these last few paragraphs at 5.30am, recently diagnosed with suffering mild symptoms of covid19, i still feel quite upbeat.

Weirdly enough, i am not the only trans person who does self portraits, my twitter feed is full of selfies from tgirls, but their all so badly taken, usually indoors with radiators showing up, or stood in that same doorway as before, this is not something i have ever done, and while now i am doing self portraits in my home, to me, they dont look like selfies in someones home but properly considered studio quality portraits. I do not know any other tgirl who takes so much pride and effort with her photography, for me, it has to be spot on now, not some half arsed attempt to get more likes and comments, thats not why i do this, i do it simply because i completely enjoy the entire process, for my love of photography, which is a lifelong passion and shall remain so for many years to come, for me it is the ultimate art of self expression.

I will probably do many more self portraits over the coming years, but right now i am hoping this entire coronavirus nightmare scenario we find ourselves in, ends soon, purely so i can go out and take more images, more self portraits, and feel alive once more.

Comments


saltireblue Plus
10 10.6k 61 Norway
6 Apr 2020 3:04PM
Interesting insight to your selfie techniques, and a glance at your personal life, Lexy (do you still use that name?).
Good to hear you are at peace with yourself.

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AlexandraSD 8 769 United Kingdom
6 Apr 2020 3:28PM

Quote:Interesting insight to your selfie techniques, and a glance at your personal life, Lexy (do you still use that name?).
Good to hear you are at peace with yourself.



Most folk online still call me lexi, which is fine, alexandra is my middle name, as is starr, my first name is Robyn, legally now too, and in reality most folk still call me Rob, which again i am fine with, but everyone at work calls me Robyn.

I thought i would write a bit about my history and where the self portraits come from, as well as the method i now use, and methods prior to this. It took a good few hours to write as yesterday i didnt feel that great, but i finished writing it about half 5 this morning, after a bad night that mellowed out after a time, i wrote a blog about that too lol
dudler Plus
16 1.1k 1645 England
6 Apr 2020 5:16PM
That's interesting, Lexi!

I reckon self-portraits are just a great deal of hard work - but I don't have any drive to show myself ot myself, really. And that is a significant difference: the twinkle in my eye doesn't depend on the results in the same way as it does for you.

And that's fine: I enjoy your pictures, and the stories that go with them.

Some of the odler shots in the article are absolutely magic...
AlexandraSD 8 769 United Kingdom
6 Apr 2020 8:20PM

Quote:That's interesting, Lexi!

I reckon self-portraits are just a great deal of hard work - but I don't have any drive to show myself ot myself, really. And that is a significant difference: the twinkle in my eye doesn't depend on the results in the same way as it does for you.

And that's fine: I enjoy your pictures, and the stories that go with them.

Some of the odler shots in the article are absolutely magic...



Those older images were taken with a small memory card, and my pc at the time only had 500mb memory or something, so i never kept my earlier images til i got a cd burner, but i did print lots off, and those photos are from those prints.

I dont think self portraits are hard work anymore, much easier than before, but add in speedlights then it does get tricky, but i now shoot with continuous light so i get better results quicker, less faffing with lighting placements!

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