Please don’t look to me for any kind of technical expertise. I struggle with lights and triggers and have made stupid mistakes like loosing my tripod at a shoot which, as you can imagine, makes life very difficult when taking self-portraits!

I had a portrait shoot coming up but hadn’t taken photos in such a long time… my confidence just wasn’t were it should be, so I decided to take a few self-portraits beforehand. (I knew that if I could nail those, I’d be good for the shoot.) Early that Saturday morning, alone at home with beautiful sunlight seeping in through the windows, I jumped up and quickly grabbed my camera and a cup of coffee before starting to shoot.

  • The first problem I encountered: I didn’t have a tripod. The solution? I stacked two ottomans on top of one another to position the camera height roughly at my torso. But then the lens kept falling down, which meant that I took little half moon photos of the ottoman. I improvised by rolling up a tank top to prop the lens up.
  • The second problem? I didn’t have a shutter release so I had to use the self-timer. Sigh!
  • The third problem was particularly tiring. I was shooting against a plain white wall, so getting the camera to focus was a nightmare. I ended up using one of those standing clothing racks: pushing it in front of the clean wall, focusing and then quickly pushing the rack away and running in front of the lens just in time for the shutter to release. Doing this little dance routine back and forth about 40 times was exhausting to say the least, and after getting about two or three good shots I, decided to call it a day.
Faceless Self-Portrait by Wouda Mc Micken
Faceless Self-Portrait by Wouda Mc Micken
Self-Portrait by Wouda Mc Micken

Self-portrait: A portrait that an artist produces of themself.

Selfie: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam, and often shared via social media.

The main difference between a selfie and a self-portrait, for me, is the reason for the photo. Generally, selfies are taken alone or with loved ones to capture special moments to look back on over time. A self-portrait on the other hand has a considerable amount of thought put into it and usually bares a certain degree of emotion.

Self-portraits have been created from the earliest of times, but it was only since the early Renaissance in the mid-15th Century that artists actively started practising self-portraiture. Famous self-portraitists include Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol.

As photographers, choosing to create a self-portrait may be daunting decision. It certainly comes with its fair share of practical challenges. The rewarding part is, however, that you get to reveal and portray masked elements of your character.

A few tips for beginners:

  1. Stay true to yourself. Self-expression is the whole concept behind self-portraiture. So, if you’re a shy person and prefer not photographing your face, don’t. But also, don’t be scared to push yourself a bit. I, for example, don’t like having my face in portraits so my self-portraits were usually faceless. Earlier this year, I challenged myself to take an actual portrait, and I’m happy that I did.
  2. Reflect on what you’re feeling, going through and what you want to portray in this particular time in your life. Get inspiration and establish what you want to create before you start shooting and don’t be scared to improvise. Sometimes letting go and moving through the shoot (like a dancer to good music) is when the magic happens.
  3. You’ll have to decide whether you want to use natural or artificial light – both has its own list of pros and cons. I like shooting with natural light, not only because I really suck at creating my own light, but because it “feels” more natural to me. The difficulties that come with shooting in natural light is that the sun keeps moving. You can only shoot at certain times of the day and you have to move quickly if you don’t want to miss the shot.
  4. Practise in the mirror. This might sound and feel stupid, but it’s more efficient than missing shot after shot. Here’s a trick that I learned from my sister who is extremely particular about having her photo taken: Position a mirror behind the camera in such a way that you can see yourself and voila!
  5. Use a tripod and a shutter release cable or remote. As mentioned in the intro, these are essential photo gear for taking self-portraits. Without them, getting the shot can be quite frustrating.
  6. Getting the focus right might be challenging but I’m one of those who really like those out-of-focus images other people despise (each to their own, right?). Some people prefer using autofocus and others prefer manual. But, at the end of the day there are tonnes of ways to get your image in focus.
  7. Rest. After shooting, don’t go right to editing and retouching. Wait a day or two and look at your work with fresh eyes. This might seem like a trivial tip but it really helps. I hope these tips inspire you to try something new and explore the art of self-portraiture.