Mon, Feb

Photo and video assignment: Self portrait

Camera Club
Go beyond the selfie and create profound images of yourself.
Gordon Parks self portrait

Click the link below for more videos.



 By Jason Lewis

The selfie may be the most popular type of picture today.  In many peoples' mobile phones, there’s a good chance that there are a lot of photos of them, and those photos more than likely are self portraits.  A selfie can be a great photo, but typically, it’s just a point and shoot shot.  There’s so much more that can be done with self portraits than looking into your phone and pushing the shutter button.

Self portraits can tell the story of who the photographer is, where he or she is, or what activity he or she is doing.  The photograph can be a straight forward picture of the photographer, or the environment (negative space) can be used to help tell their story.  Photographers can also set up creative shots and put themselves in it. 

Usually a photographer takes profound photos of other people, but typically are not in the pictures.  Self portraits gives photographers the opportunity to be the subject and to be a part of the vision that they are creating.  There's no need to hand the camera to somebody who does not understand the composition rules that you know, or look for another photograher who happens to be in the area.

The simplest way to do a self-portrait is to put the camera on a tripod, line the camera up, and either use the camera’s timer or use a remote shutter button.  Remote shutter buttons are inexpensive, and make it much easier than using the timer, where you’ll have to run back and forth to the camera to push the button.  With the remote, after setting the shot up, just hit the button as many times as you like.  The one draw back is that the remote in your hand may end up in the photo.  It’s simple to hide it, and usually it won’t be too noticeable.  You could set the camera on a two-second timer, hit the button on the remote, and then you’ll have two seconds to put the remote in your pocket and then quickly pose yourself.  One other way is to put the camera on an interval timer, if your camera has that feature.  With that setting, the camera will take a certain amount of photos over a short period of time.

The self portrait is greater than the selfie because there’s more that a photographer can do with the camera on a tripod, or sturdy object (table, desk, chair, etc.).  With the selfie, the camera is tied to a person’s arm, so selfies are always at arms length.  There are a lot more options with self portraits.  You can take the photo while looking into a mirror, take a photo of your reflection in a window, or set up a scene that you’d like to be in.  The photographer is composing the image, using composition rules, opposed to just holding the phone in their hand and pushing the button.

The two photos above were taken in New York about 10 years ago. The Canon 1D was on a small tripod and I used a remote shutter button to take the photos.  I was on my own for a couple of days, but I still wanted to be in my travel photos.  A few composition rules are at play here.  Negative space, perspective, filling the frame, the rule of thirds.
In this photo taken in New York, I was holding my Canon 1D at a low angle, so this is pretty much a selfie with a DSLR. The tall buildings make New York seem larger than life, and I wanted to be as large as the buildings to tell the story of my trip, so I used the low angle perspective composition rule to make myself look large.  I filled up the frame with myself and the building, and I used the sky as negative space to frame myself.
This is a long exposure with the Canon 1D. Maybe 20 seconds. I put the camera on a 10 second timer, and then got into the frame. When the shutter opened, I stood in one spot for a good 7-8 seconds, and then hopped to a second spot for another 7-8 seconds.
This photo was taken with a cell phone, looking into a mirror. When I was standing in that room, looking into the mirror, the image looked very interesting because there was one light source in the dark room. I simply pointed the camera phone toward the mirror.
This photo shows one issue that you may run into with self portraits. Sometimes, if you're by yourself, focusing can be a problem.  This photo was a little soft, and I sharpened it in Photoshop.  If there is an object near where you're going to position yourself, just focus on that object. In this photo, there was no object, so I kind of guessed, and I was slightly off.  Everything else about the photo is good. The Canon 1D is on a Joby GorillaPod tripod, I'm filling the frame, and I have the "A Phi A" letters in the negative space to help me tell the story. I could of had somebody else stand in, or just figured out how to manually focus by measuring the distance that I would be sitting from the camera.

This assignment can be done with a DSLR or a mobile phone.  Remote shutter buttons can also be purchased for cell phone cameras, and they are pretty cheap.  Less than $30 at most electronic stores.  Mini tripods can also be used for cell phones.  



For this assignment, selfies can be submitted.  But it should be a really good selfie.  Most selfies are just plain old selfies.  But many people will knowingly, or unknowingly, use composition rules to create some really great selfies. 

This photo was taken with an iPhone 7 (it might have been with an iPhone 4). I held the phone at a low angle to change the perspective, and that allowed me to use the palm tree as part of the negative space. I like wearing suits and smoking cigars, so that helped tell my story.

The self portrait does not have to be a solo picture.  Family members and close friends are a part of your story.  

The Canon 1D was on a large stone. This is in Big Sur. I wanted both my wife and I and the rock formation behind us to be large on the photo, so I placed the camera far from the rock so that I would get the whole thing in the image.  I lined up the rock and then had my wife stand close to the camera so that we would also fill up the frame. After focusing on her, I got in the photo.
My Canon 1D was placed on a concrete rail and I pointed it upward.  Both us and the statue fill up the frame.  I used a remote shutter button.
This selfie was taken with an iPhone 7. I followed some simple photography rules. It was a very sunny day with harsh shadows, so we took the photo in the shade. I held the camera low for a different perspective. I made sure we filled the frame. And this photo tells the story of us being at a high-class affair.