Monday, March 4, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Self Portraits

I've had many people ask me how I take my self portraits so I thought that I'd explain the process a little bit in a blog post.

When I first started taking self portraits I was using a basic point-and-shoot camera along with the 10 second self-timer. I would set up a tripod, put on the self timer and run back and forth between posing and resetting the timer again.

It was quite a workout at times, especially when I took pictures of myself up in a tree or in an odd location. I'd go from running to quickly composing myself for the picture seconds before the timer went off. For instance, the photo below is a prime example of a photo shoot that would make me out of breath:

Also in the above image notice the branch and flower covering my face. I've gotten better at fixing problems like these by noticing what foliage might be distracting or get in my shot. I've learned to cut them off first before taking a shot.

Ever since I got my DSLR it has been a little easier, considering that I don't have a 10 second time limit anymore since I got a wireless remote.  This saves me so much running time and I don't think I'll ever go back to the self timer.

While the remote is great, the auto focus on my camera doesn't work correctly when I use the remote so I find that manual focusing is the best way to get the correct focus. I'll focus on a single point on the ground (like a clump of grass) or sometimes set a prop where I'll be standing and then focus on that prop. Then I'll move to that point or prop and use my remote to take the picture.

Many people have also asked me how I make videos of myself. It's very similar to how I take a self portrait, but instead I don't have a remote or self timer. I focus on a single point and then press play and move to that position.  Then I start the scene, and once that's finished, I walk back and press the stop button.  Later, during the editing process I edit out the walking scenes.

If I want a pan shot, I set my camera several feet further than I had imagined the scene. Then while editing I zoom in and create moving key frames so it produces a moving pan shot.

The one thing about photographing and filming myself that I don't like is that it's hard to find movement and variation in images, unless I move the tripod every couple of shots. I've gotten better at doing this, but it is a bit of a hassle, because I have to go through the whole focusing process again. If I'm just a couple of inches away from where I focused, the shot is going to be out of focus.

I had this problem a lot when I first started using my DSLR. Here's a photo of a previous shoot that turned out blurry, because I used auto focus first before turning it to manual.  The focus is on the back window instead of me.

This may sound silly considering how many photos I've taken of myself, but I actually really hate getting my picture taken. I'm more comfortable behind the camera. When I take a self portrait I don't consider myself as the one in front of the camera, because it's still me taking the picture and directing myself. I'm not thinking about myself, but more of the image that I want to create.

When I take a picture of myself I don't have anyone behind the camera making fun or laughing at a pose that I might be doing (family members are notorious for that one).  For instance the photo below I would be very self conscious if someone other than myself would have taken it.  I felt goofy enough even without someone behind the camera.  (By the way the title is "Going Tanning").

Self-portraits are a great way to experiment and learn about photography without the fear of wasting a model's time if a photo shoot turns out badly.  I've had many terrible photo shoots of myself (too many to count), but I've been able to move forward and hope that the next one will turn out better.  

I hope I've covered most of the basic questions.  If you have any questions or tips/suggestions for taking self-portraits that I may not have talked about please share it in a comment!  I'd love to hear what you have to say!


  1. I use a wireless remote too! They're great. I was just wondering what video editing software you use? Your videos come out so great! :)

    1. Oh I know, having a wireless remote has changed my photography life! I use Adobe Premiere CS5 for my videos. Thank you :)

  2. Thank you for taking time to explain your filming techniques so clearly. You accomplish so much with very little high-tech gear. Great photos and videos, Esther.

  3. I feel the same way about having my photo taken. There's something about self portraits, though. They always come out so much more natural looking and usually more flattering. I just got a remote for my camera and am excited to play around with it.

  4. Such a wonderful tutorial! Thanks for taking the time to share it! If you ever get a chance, you could do one on how you actually edit your pictures or what settings you use on your camera. They always look so lovely!

  5. Hi Esther
    I love your blog. I don't have a blog yet. My mom will let me have one when I turn 16 (still have another two years but getting closer!). I love to take pictures of nature, especially animals. My camera is old but I have been saving my babysitting money, birthday money, etc to buy a new one. What camera do you have or what camera would you recommend? Also, what video camera do you use? I yearn to shoot videos, too, again with my passion being on animals in their natural settings (I live in the sticks, too but not in Indiana). Thanks for sharing your tips, blog and dreams:)!

  6. You're a young girl with a promising future, I love your blog.

    I love your Etsy shop, be sure to design wedding dresses.


  7. Great advice, thank you - creating self portraits is much more than just pushing a button, there is thought and process and i'm glad you've written about it

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