The self-portrait for dummies (like me)

Today I’m sharing the progress of my blog with you. I added a welcome-picture to the sidebar of my blog. I was planning to do so for a while but it’s not easy taking an acceptable self-portrait. If you are anything like me, self-portraits make you want to pull the hairs out of your head. There is so much to think about!

profile 1

Let’s get started.
It is important to look your best. Ok, we are not super models. Maybe not even photogenic, but we are trying to have all the odds on your side. Light layers, don’t over-do it, try to look natural.
I put on some natural make-up, a little blush (don’t forget, good to get that healthy looking glow), and some lipstick. The usual. I wanted a portrait of me working on my Mac so I don’t want to look like I am going clubbing.
We apply the same rule for the hair. Keep it natural. I often wear my hair in a bun but I know that my face looks very round (to not use the F-word) in pictures when I wear my hair up. So I chose to let my hair down, not too many accessoires, that’s just not me. You can try to do something different but most of you will realize that the person in the picture doesn’t seem to be you and you’ll hate it, even if it looks good.

The setting.
Take your picture by daytime. When indoors try a place with lots of natural light but no direct sunlight, it will create heavy shadows in your face, anything but flattering. Face the window or have the window at your side. Even if you have a great view from your window, you shouldn’t have your natural light source behind you. If you want to take your picture outside try standing in the shade or take your portrait in the golden hour. (1h from sunset and 1h until sunset) The best way to take outdoor portraits is on a heavy clouded day, it’s like one giant soft box.
I took my portrait at the dining table with my Macbook in front of me because that’s where I usually am writing my blog and it seemed like the perfect setting for my blog-portrait. Think about what you want to do with the picture before you decide on where to shoot it.

Details.
My choice of clothing was quite logic. It is important to put thought in what you are wearing on your picture. Is there a shirt you get compliments on when you wear it? A color that looks particularly good on you? Note that black doesn’t always look good in pictures.
My light skin and blue eyes make me look good in pastel-colors. I chose the pastel-green shirt because it looks good with the color-scheme of my blog.

Taking the actual picture.
Okay this is the tricky part. Take a few test-shots before even being in the frame. Taking a picture of yourself means that you cannot push the button and see what it looks like at the same time. You need to fix your camera on a tripod or find another way to stabilize the camera in the position you want. I luckily have a tripod so I didn’t need to pull out the pots, pans and books. First my tripod was on the ground on the other side of the table but with a test-shot I saw that it was too far away and it didn’t look natural enough using the zoom. So I placed my tripod on the table. Way better.

To focus the lens on where you would be standing or sitting you need a dummy. I used my boyfriend to sit on my place, focus and then use the self-timer to take in his place. You can use a big object as well, it can be your teddy-bear as well or even your dog. TRICK: To avoid needing to do this every time you re-try your self-portrait (we are way more demanding when it is us in the picture then anyone else) now set your lens on Manual focus. This means that the lens is now focused on the last picture you took (the one with your dog) and unless you touch anything it will stay this way. So you can now go ahead and use the self-timer about a hundred times until your battery’s dead.

I keep repeating: Try to be natural. I look awful forcing myself to laugh and show my teeth, I look like a shark trying to attack a surfer. So I just look into the camera at the last moment and smile as if I am greeting a handsome stranger in a train. It sounds easier then it actually is! In one picture I have a funny grin, in the other I have my shoulders down, making me look tired. The best tip I can give you here is: Just try out some poses and faces and see what looks best for you.

Here’s some examples of my dont’s :

no go

Dont’s:
Okay. This is one of the first. As you can see, this is really bad.
The framing. There is no space left from the top of my head for the background, simply bad framing. Let’s zoom out a little bit.
The “smile” and the hair. I’ll get to that later.
The light. My natural light source was on my left hand-side. But there was too much of it creating these harsh shadows on the right side (left for you) on the picture.

DSC_0141

Dont’s:
The hair looks pretty good but is the reason why I hate this picture, it just isn’t me.
The smile? Uncomfortable shark!
Still this bad lighting, time to close the curtains a little bit. Slow down your shutter speed just a tiny bit to compensate.

DSC_0154

Dont’s:
This top is pretty cute but nearly the same color as the background, so it doesn’t make me stand out.
The weird grin, it’s not too bad but isn’t too flattering on my face.
This time the light is better!


Editing.
When you finally have that winning shot you are not quite ready yet.
There’s always something to improve. And there are so many tools you can use. I mostly use the Camerabag 2 app for Mac because photoshop is just too complicated and expensive. Camerabag is a lot cheaper (about 20$) and has all the tools you need + endless filters you can just apply on your photo and edit as you go. But if you want to edit your photographs for free I recommend Picasa, which I use to add text to any of my pictures.

I cropped my picture to focus on the subject of it: me. I still kept my Mac in the frame and the paper and pen because that’s just me, I love hand-writing. I adjusted the contrast so the picture looks a little more intense (not dangerous because there is no weird shading in my face) and wanted the colors to pop a little bit more so I adjusted the Saturation. Finally I added vignette (a darkish framing shadow) to pull the focus to the center of the picture and let the colors pop even more. For every picture you need to find out over and over again how to edit in it’s benefit, but that’s the fun of it!
I added a Polaroid-looking frame to cute it up for my blog, and because it represents me (I have a polaroid camera too) don’t forget to be yourself from your make-up to the editing.

Here’s my result before and after editing:
beforeafter

Thank you for reading and have fun, as far you can have fun making pictures of yourself! ;) Good luck, don’t hesitate sending me a link with your self-portraits for feedback and tips.

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