The time-honored art of the selfie.
Self-portraits allow artists to develop their skills and explore new ideas. “They’re a way to play and see how creative you can get,” photographer Blake Silva says. We humans have always been fascinated by images of ourselves. Ancient Egyptian artists painted and sculpted themselves working. Asian and European painters have been making self-portraits since at least the 1300s, and the self-portrait photograph is almost as old as the camera itself.
Explore self-portrait photography ideas.
When the only restriction is that you be in the photo, you can do whatever you like. Try using self-portraits to take your creative photography in new directions. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and you should feel free to fail. “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” Marcella says. “There’s no one to impress, and you’re doing it for yourself.”
Costume and makeup.
Try setting up the camera behind a glass of water so the light bends and distorts your features. You might also use cellophane and petroleum jelly to create a blur effect around the edges of your frame, or color gels to tint the whole image. You can also achieve a double exposure effect by shooting through a window at an angle. Position the camera so it captures you and the image reflected in the window. For a rainbow effect, set up a prism between your light source and your face.
Most equipment is optional.
Many DSLR cameras now come with Wi-Fi, so you can use an app on your phone or tablet to close the shutter. “I have my shutter on a two-second delay to get into my position. I do that fifty times and slightly change my facial expression or position every couple of times,” Marcella says. But you can use any camera with a timer, and even the camera on your phone can produce excellent self-portraits. (For years, great self-portraitist Robert Mapplethorpe used a Polaroid instant camera.)
A tripod can help set the camera at eye level and create space between you and the lens. If you’re focusing manually, a second tripod can give you something to focus on while you set up your shot. But you can also make do with whatever you have on hand, like a ladder or bookshelf. If you’re outdoors, look for a conveniently placed tree nook or rock outcropping.
Tips for eye-catching self-portraits.
To create successful self-portraits, you have to begin with patience and self-acceptance in mind. Don’t spend a lot of time comparing yourself to other photographers or other models, but do give yourself a lot of time to take the photos. Without help, it can take a lot of time to find the right camera settings, position, and expression.
Give yourself permission to get stuck creatively or run out of ideas. Getting stuck can actually help you develop strategies for getting unstuck. “It’s okay sometimes to feel like you’re not at your creative best, but don’t give up. Work to get back to it, but understand and be kind to yourself,” Marcella says.
Though self-portraiture can be completely solitary, and you can be your own art director, photographer, model, and possibly makeup artist and costume designer, you can ask for help.
Tips for editing your photos.
Put the final touches on your self-portraits in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Start by experimenting with Lightroom presets or making individual adjustments to highlights, shadow detail, hue, and saturation. Consider if the photo would look better in black and white or with boosted colors. You can also remove blemishes or unwanted objects with the Spot Removal tool.
To make major transformations to your photos, try editing in Adobe Photoshop. Experiment with face swapping if you prefer your expression from one photo but your position in another. You can also add creative touches like blur effects, or just use your portrait as a starting point and combine it with another image, or several, to create a photo composite. For a fun project, learn how to make a self-portrait collage with this step-by-step tutorial.
With patience, an exploratory mindset, and a willingness to see what happens, you can turn the simple art of the self-portrait into an exciting creative journey.
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