Self-Portraits: How a Selfie Can Improve Your Portraits


It’s always frustrating when you have an idea but either don’t have a handy subject, are too shy to ask, or are just really impatient and want to try it ASAP! This is why self-portraiture is such a great option. Another good reason would be If you are interested in trying a few new techniques but aren’t confident with how it may turn out.

It’s a great creative process that you can use to portray yourself in different ways. The down side is that you have to keep on checking the camera screen to see how the images have turned out although there are a couple of ways around this. You can hook up your camera to your computer to display the images while you take them (tethering). Another way around it (if your camera has this option) is to use the pop out screen on your camera. I unfortunately am unable to do either since the micro USB slot on my camera no longer works, it doesn’t stop me though!

Things that you might want to have on hand:

  • Tripod
  • Wireless remote timer
  • Mirror

Benefits of taking self portraits

  • You don’t need to find a model
  • No need for a model release
  • Great practice
  • Learn from being in front of the camera
  • Learn more about yourself
  • You may be more likely to test your limits
  • Gain self-confidence
  • Showing others a side of the photographer

You may feel very hesitant or even silly when you first attempt self-portraiture but I encourage you to keep moving forward with it.

Now that you know why it’s great to experiment with self-portraits, here are a few ideas that you can try!




Simple Portraits

You are just starting out with this and getting in front of the camera is pretty new. Just get some shots so that you have something to work with afterwords. If you need to work more on simple image edits and retouching this kind of image would be perfect!












Practice simple poses to see how the camera interprets it. I find that knowing how to pose properly can help you explain what you need from a model. It makes you notice how small movements can really change an image.




Self Portrait of Sarah Bowman





This is my favorite! I have a thing for hair movement. Capturing the hair in mid air looks so ethereal to me. There are also other options to show movement in your image. It could be garments flowing in the wind, items in mid air, or an action like running.









Creative Crops

You don’t need the entire face to make an interesting portrait. Zoom in and focus on interesting features. See how you can draw attention to different areas without showing the entire face.










Use Props

Play around with props, styling and makeup. Chelsea also used an interesting prop when she wrapped some bubble wrap for a picture Tony took of her. Check it out here!










Express different emotions

This is one that I am still working on to have more variety. I encourage you to capture different emotions. Try to explore rather than limit yourself to one, you may even learn something about yourself.










Before I became comfortable using other people in composites I practiced on myself.





Now that you have ideas to explore, I encourage you to go give it a try!

~Sarah Bowman

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9 Responses to Self-Portraits: How a Selfie Can Improve Your Portraits

  1. Alpha Wolfe December 1, 2015 at 4:39 pm #

    Very great article Sarah, I agree that you learn a lot by just being in front of the camera. I was just taking self portraits on Sunday, and I think I learned a great deal more about posing when taking pictures of myself, than when I was shooting portraits for a friends website. Posing an inexperienced model for the first time is always a really weird experience, I think I’d recommend that everyone practices with themselves first to get a basic idea of what they are going to do.

    Quick guide for anyone shooting self portraits with manual lenses on a mirrorless camera, (that’d be you Andy) focusing manually before you get in front of the camera can be an absolute pain in the ass. But you can make it a little bit easier by following these tips.

    #1 Use the focusing scale. Most manual lenses have a focus scale, use it to guesstimate about how much DOF you will need. Keep in mind that even though you may normally be comfortable with shooting portraits at f/1.4, your success rate will be much lower in front of the camera. Be generous with the amount of DOF you allot for yourself

    #2 Zone focus. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it pretty much means: calculate the DOF your subject will need; focus on the area you predict your subject will be before it enters the frame; then snap the picture as soon as your subject enter the plane of focus. This is a very common practice in the world of sports film photography, but it can be applied to self portraits as well. Find a marker or object, and place yourself so that your eyes are within the same focal plane as said object or marker. Get back behind the camera, zoom in 1:1 and focus on it. As long as you align yourself perfectly parallel with the object, you should be in focus. This technique will greatly increase your success rate, and should be used whenever necessary (using large apertures).

    #3 Use a smart device control app. If you shoot with Sony, or many other mirrorless cameras, you should have access to a variety of applications that will send of live feed from your camera, to a smartphone or tablet. This is critical in helping you pose before you take the shot. You can even trigger the shutter directly from your device and view the photo on it to check for critical focus. If these apps are not available to you, use a self timer and a mirror placed below your camera, leaning against the tripod.

    Bonus Tip #3, The smart remote method works best for headshots, since your device will be hidden below the frame. If you are shooting a full body shot, set your phone to trigger on a timer, then stick it in your pocket.

    #4 Chimping is your friend. I can guarantee that you won’t get this right on your first try. Only through trial and error will you be able to achieve sharp focus. Take a picture, check the results at 1:1, adjust your camera or yourself and try again. Eventually, like all other aspects of photography, the intricacies of the process will become second nature, and you’ll be nailing focus in no time. After 5 separate self portrait shoots, I was finally able to consistently nail focus at f/0.95 . Here’s the sample image

    Hopefully this helped anyone who was struggling with achieving sharp focus on a manual lens. I know there aren’t a ton of you out there, but I figured I’d write about it because I would’ve really appreciated a guide like this when first starting out.

    Thanks to anyone who took the time to read this!

    Kyle Wolfe

    • Samantha F December 1, 2015 at 6:52 pm #

      I’ve just put a prop where I’ll be standing and focus that way…. 😉

    • Jim December 3, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

      Thanks Kyle those are some great tips and you definitely nailed it with the self-portrait. Just thought I would add to your comment that for Android users there is a great freeware app called “qDslrDashboard” which can be downloaded from the developer. (you can donate from Paypal if you like it.) It really is an awesome app to teher a wireles Dslr to. It lets you change camera settings, do bracketing, focusing, focus-stacking and a multitude of other things. I have a D3300 so bought the little wireless add-on and found it very easy to connect. You can also download your shots to your tablet or phone but it’s kind of slow. I actually use it to see what birds are in my garden while I’m on my computer. I set my camera up in the window on a power adapter and set my tablet by my pc and can see the birds come and go. Obviously it doesn’t zoom so I then manually take the pic but it helps me get the pic I want. Once again, thanks Kyle, this really is the best way we learn though others tips and tricks.

      • Alpha Wolfe December 3, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

        That is really fascinating, I’ll have to look into that application. Thanks Jim! That’s also a really great idea to hook it up to an outlet and your tablet for monitoring purposes, very clever of you to do that. And no problem, it’s my pleasure to share with outers what I’ve learned, thank YOU for taking the time to read it!

    • Gary December 11, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

      Alpha, Thanks so much for the focusing points above as my first selfies using a remote were off.

  2. Matthew Friedman December 1, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Great article! I’ll try out more selfies!

    • mm
      Sarah Bowman December 10, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

      Thank you Matthew! I would love to see your selfies!

  3. Stephanie Boyd December 1, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    I love your article Sarah! It’s hard to look at photos of yourself sometimes so maybe by practicing this it will help not only with my portrait photography but in being able to look past the flaws we see in ourselves.

    • mm
      Sarah Bowman December 10, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

      Thank you Stephanie! I agree. I found it difficult at first to take images of myself (in some of my earlier ones I don’t eve have my face showing) but over time it became easier!

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