Now that I have indicated the urgency for more of US in the photos in this post and some reasons why we all need to be in more photos in this post, let's figure out how to actually BE in more photos, shall we?
Finding someone to take our photos occasionally isn't always an option and for those spur of the moment creations you envision, it for sure isn't going to happen. Maybe your budget is tight and you don't want to invest in a professional photographer, or maybe you ARE a photographer and can't bring yourself to pay someone else to do what you are perfectly capable of doing.
Self-Portrait Photography is the solution to this dilemma!
Say goodbye to family albums that are missing Mom. I am going to make this easy for you with ten steps to getting yourself into more photos:
Step 1: Have the right Gear
Remote. Remotes require practice, but it can be done. They are EXTREMELY inexpensive (the one I linked is only $8!) and they are very user-friendly (no complicated user manual is even necessary). I recently purchased a timer remote, also known as an Intervalometer. Sounds intense, but it is also under $20 and you can set up the number of images you want your camera to take and how often you want the images to be taken. Kinda amazing. It works great for Stop Motion, large group photos, documentary style photography, etc. More info on interval timers below in step 4!
Another necessity for self-portraits is a tripod. Balancing your camera on tables, fireplace mantels, stacks of books or other flat objects is risky and expensive if your camera happens to take a plunge. Tripods can be expensive. Consider Craigslist as they always have tripods available, and even if it is missing the top connecting piece, those are easily replaceable online.
Step 2: Camera Settings
Just like when you take any photo, you start with adjusting your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. This is no different for self-portraits, except that your aperture is the game changer. I find that shooting at f/3.5 or f/4 or higher yields a focused self-portrait and gives you more wiggle room to be able to nail the focus. You will discover that getting the focus right when you are doing self portraits is hands down the biggest challenge. A smaller aperture helps with this.
Step 3: Take a test Shot
Test out your aperture choice by setting your self-timer and jumping into the frame for a test shot. Review your photo. Are you in focus? If not, rethink your settings by either closing down your aperture some more or using a faster shutter speed to freeze any potential movement that can show motion blur and result in an unfocused image. Keep taking test shots until you nail the focus. Read the tips below on how to help with focus if you are still getting blurry shots.
Step 4: Set an Interval Timer
This is a must for taking self-portraits with a DSLR. This allows your camera to take a series of photos, with small breaks in between. Having an interval timer reduces the number of times you run back and forth from your camera and you can get multiple photos in one setup. This also allows you to make small adjustments like tilting your head or body slightly between frames to get more variety and see what is the most flattering angle and expression. I usually set the timer to take 20 photos, 2-3 seconds apart from one another beginning 10-20 seconds (depending on how far away my posed location is from the camera) after I press the shutter button. Your camera manual (or Google!) will give you all the details on how to make all of this work.
Step 5: Focus (Argh!)
The biggest difficulty to self-portraiture is nailing your focus. This is why having a smaller aperture and faster shutter speed is necessary to ensure focus. Another tip is to have something in your projected image that you can focus on that is within the plane of where your face will be. If you are sitting on a bed for your image, set the focus on the headboard or pillows. Remember to set focus by pressing the shutter button half way down. If you don't have an easy focal point, put a doll or toy or something in the spot you intend to be. During Halloween I bring out our skeleton and sit it right where I should be for focus and then move it out of the way once I arrive! If you plan to take your self portraits with your children, then it is MUCH easier to get the focus, just have the kids get in the frame first, set your focus and click the timer release! Still be sure and do a test shot though before you go too crazy and end up deleting dozens of out of focus images.
Step 6: Get in the Picture
Always get the children arranged where you want them if they will be in the photo, but make sure and leave a spot open for you. Take a LOT of pictures. Get up and check to make sure your focus and settings are good and then DO IT AGAIN. The great news is, no one needs to see these if they don't look the way you want them to. It is totally a safe way to experiment with flattering poses and facial expressions and get photos you like.
Step 7: Experiment with Light and Location
Find some great locations in your home that get beautiful light. Windows in master bedrooms or living rooms are usually great options. Here are my tips for a family indoor session that talks about what to look for with the light.
Experiment with the effect of light. Want a more dramatic look or feel to your photos? Try lowering the light, or using directional light from a small window in a dark room or a lamp near a rocking chair. Light is all around us, natural or artificial and it all adds a different mood to your images. Facing a large open window will add beautiful catch lights to your eyes and evens out wrinkles, etc. Directional light will create shadows that can be flattering to your face. EXPERIMENT WITH THIS. It can be fun, just try it!
Step 8: Experiment with Props or Activities
Using the list from my previous post here be creative. Try a morning hot chocolate, tea or coffee image of your profile drinking your morning cup while looking out the window. Set up your timer and adjust your focus and get some images of you being you doing the things that you love and represent who you are.
Step 9: Dress for Success
Don’t overthink this part too much, but after you have practiced and gotten down the basics of what settings, lighting, poses, etc. you like…try dressing up a little. Moms in dresses are my favorite, it just looks soft, beautiful and feminine to me; however, I only wear a dress on Sunday as a general rule so a self portrait dress is not necessary, just fun! Here is a post about wardrobe tips for you and your kids.
Step 10: Don't Give Up
All of the tricks and tips in the world are worthless if you aren't willing to fail and try again. You will not achieve a perfect self portrait on your first attempt. It really is all about practice, experimentation, and trying again and again. Be patient and don't give up on this. It is worth the learning curve, I promise!
Step 11: Let Go of Perfection
Though I am a big fan of photoshop, that isn't what this is all about.
This is about you showing your family that you matter. It is about showing them you existed in their lives.
It isn't about the roots in your hair, the wrinkles on your face, the extra ten pounds you have been fighting to lose for 12 years. You are YOU and your kids and family think you are beautiful. They don't care about any of that. Accept the things you can't change, and change the things you can. Be kind to yourself. Give the gift of yourself and have a little fun with this new project. I can't wait to see what you create!