I love to take pictures but as a result am always the one behind the lens. How do you take your self-portraits? ~ Elisa
With patience, a chunk of unhurried time, and solitude. And a chunk of unhurried time. And patience.
Self-portraits... ahh, self-portraits. They've made me swear a lot. They're going to make you swear a lot. Especially if you're not geared up to create them. Many people use wireless remotes to shoot -- they get into position, holding the remote discretely in their hand, and click twenty frames without having to return to the camera. This is helpful because portraiture of any kind relies on timing and expression -- two elements that can be tough to manipulate when you're both the photographer and the subject. I don't have a remote, but I do have a tripod. I can't imagine doing a self-portrait without one, though it is possible with props and furniture. It'll just be more challenging. Kind of like not having a remote.
Watch for pretty light, when the sun is low in the sky. Or diffused, under a tree. Be kind to yourself and to your face. Position yourself and your camera to capitalize on the light. In this case, it was early morning. The sun was behind me. I shot into it and overexposed, wanting the shot to be dreamy. Because when you're stressed and haggard, you want to emulate DREAMY so that nobody will know that you're stressed and haggard. Authenticity is way over-rated.
See the photograph you want before you shoot. Do you want bokeh? Just your legs? Your face obscured by tall grass? A spinning motion blur? That might feel ambitious, if you're just beginning to experiment, but creative vision gives you purpose. Anything is possible. All it takes is a little backwards-engineering. Think about what kind of aperture, shutter speed, exposure, props, setting, and light you'll need to make that shot. Then gather those things together and try it.
Look through the lens and focus on a physical marker in the vicinity of where you think your eyes will be. Think of it as the 'x' on the floor on a movie set. In this case, I chose a section of hammock rope. Then I got into the hammock and the thing, of course, sank about two feet lower than I'd positioned the camera. So I lowered the tripod and did it all over again. Be prepared to get this wrong several times, and don't get discouraged. That's 50% of why a self-portrait is so tough: nailing the focus. So keep trying.
To make it easier, set the aperture a little more generously than you usually would for portraiture - say, f 5.6. This gives you a little more leeway (a broader focal range) in case your focus isn't exactly perfect. Once you've got it locked, switch the focus to manual so that it won't change as you press the shutter.
Shoot a couple of frames to test for exposure. Play around with over and under-exposure until you like what you see.
Set your camera to the continuous self-timer, telling it to take six or eight shots in sequence. Firing off a bunch in a row increases the likelihood that in that batch, there'll be something useable in terms of expression.
Click the shutter. The yellow light starts counting down. Get into position (leap over the tripod leg, stub your toe, land in the hammock, and almost flip over backwards). Then look sultry and relaxed. CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK.
Get back behind the camera to see how it worked and say OH MY GOD MY FACE LOOKS LIKE A DRUNKEN STEVEDORE or LIKE A STREETWALKER or LIKE A WHISKERED SEAL. Get over it. Remember that the only person with your hang-ups is you. Then do it again. Tweak camera position, exposure, or focus if you need to. Remember to breathe. When you think you're done, take fifty more frames. After downloading a hundred shots, be perfectly fine with deleting ninety of them, and grimacing at five of the remainder. Know that this is normal. It's no easy feat to reconcile technical proficiency, luck, vanity, and mental state.
An interesting self-portrait -- or even just one that you're happy with, if you're not generally happy with photos of yourself -- can make you see yourself differently. The creating of it makes you a better photographer and a better portraitist. Unless you kneecap yourself on a hammock pipe. That just makes you a klutz.
Got any self-portraits to share? I'd love to see them. Tell me what you found most confronting or most difficult about making them. Was it worth it?