Taking Better Self-Portraits

"Don't" #4: Don't go cutting your ear off, either. (Image: Public Domain)
"Don't" #4: Don't go cutting your ear off, either. (Image: Public Domain)

You can take self-portraits for any number of reasons. Maybe you want something to put up on your Facebook or Twitter profile, maybe you want a good shot for that online dating site, or maybe you’re just some kind of narciss—never mind. Anyway, the point is, sometimes you need a picture of yourself, and there’s nobody else around to do the job. Today, I’ll be going over some very simple do’s and don’ts for better self-portraits.

  1. No “Arm’s Length” shots. All this does is add  foreshortening and make it look as though you’ve got ridiculously long arms. Needless to say, not a good look. You’re not a knuckle-dragger!
  2. No duckface. I don’t know what triggered the duckface epidemic, but suffice to say, it doesn’t look sexy, pouty, or attractive in any way. It just makes you look as though you’ve been lunching on lemons.
  3. No mirrors. Besides being a cliché, this is something that’s really better left to disgraced Congressmen.

Okay, so that’s the don’ts. Now the dos:

  1. Find a support. If you’re using an automatic compact (a.k.a. “point and shoot”), you can find a collapsible, highly portable tripod for about ten bucks. It’s not quite sturdy enough for an SLR, but it does fine for smaller cameras. In the absence of a tripod, set the camera on something else that’s flat, level, and not prone to falling over.
  2. Compose your shot. Pay attention to what’s going to be in the frame with you, keeping the background free of distractions. Set the camera either at eye level, or slightly above, since shooting from a low angle will give you multiple chins (whereas shooting from a high angle is handy if you’re trying to camouflage chins). Putting a mirror behind your camera’s LCD display can also give you a good idea of what everything’s going to look like in the frame before the photo’s made (hat tip: Photodoto).
  3. Use the camera’s timer function, set to a long interval (ten seconds or more) so you have time to get into position without looking rushed, or so the camera’s not taking multiple exposures of bits and pieces of you. If, on the other hand, the camera has a remote shutter release or cable release, use that for a greater degree of control.
  4. Focus. Try one shot from behind the camera using whatever method you’ll be using from step three to see how your camera focuses. If it needs to be done manually, put something where you’ll be sitting/standing as a reference; if the camera will autofocus, make sure the face recognition feature’s turned on (if your camera has one; most do these days) and let ‘er rip.
  5. If you’re shooting with a camera that allows control over aperture and shutter speed, make sure you’ve set an aperture that gives you enough depth of field that your whole face is in focus (otherwise you’ll have a sharp nose and the rest of you will be blurry) and a fast enough shutter speed that you won’t be a blurry mess if you happen to move at all as you’re taking the shot.
  6. Have fun. It’s not every day that you have a subject who’ll gladly submit to your every whim, is happy to experiment, and doesn’t mind taking a few dozen shots at a clip just to get that one “right” photo. Take full advantage!
  7. If all else fails, just have someone else take the darn picture.

 More don’ts: Lamebook

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