10 tips for taking self portraits when the camera doesn't love you

Girl in red dress and wellies

There seems to be those people in social media realm that just look brilliantly natural in every single picture they post no matter the angle, pose or face expression. Then there are people like me who mostly end up looking awkward with weird smirks and beady eyes, features that make me look like a combination of a confused alien and stuffed rodent, which is not exactly the look I'm going for ;)

When I look at my photos I start feeling self conscious about the way I look, which in turn makes me look even more uncomfortable in the photos I take. It's as if my face has too many expressions to choose from, and only once in a while when I'm lucky I manage to capture one of the ones that I like.

When taking self portraits the inner critic in us is probably at its loudest pointing out all the things we're unhappy about with ourselves. But that's exactly why I believe it's worth while to put in the effort in taking self portraits that can make us see our own beauty and uniqueness. I don't want to sound too wishy-washy or naive here, but I really believe self portraits have incredible potential to empower and make us feel good about ourselves, something the world and especially women could use a bit more of, don't you agree?

The other thing is that self portraits have amazing story telling capabilities and power to engage people. I've always found looking at other people fascinating  (not in a creepy way *nervous laugh*), and the same applies to when  I'm looking at pictures, having that human presence in there just gives it that instant relatable feeling and sense of communication.

So, I made a list of the tips I've used in my own photography that will hopefully give you more inspiration when it comes to taking self portraits. It's really not that serious when it all comes down to it, see this is an invitation to have some fun and be playful with it!

Winterlandscape and girl in a red dress

1. Stand really far away from the camera

Place yourself in a bigger context and no one will see the details of your face, awkward-face-expression-problem solved, haha :) No but really, showing your whole body in the picture from a distance gives you the possibility to play with the whole range of body language instead of just focusing on the facial expressions. We are all masters at reading body language, and there is so much you can communicate just by the way you stand, how hold your arms, how you carry your head etc.

(Ps. This pic was taken with an iPhone, so you don't even need fancy photo gear to take self portarits ;))

Fairylights and polaroids on a white wall

2. Put your back into it

Face away from the camera and let your back do the talking. I've always thought there's a a sort of intimacy and vulnerability in seeing someone from behind, it's a part of our body we can never see for ourselves unless through a mirror or a photo. This angle also allows you to invite people to share your point of view and what it is your looking at, which is a way to make your storytelling more personal and bring the viewer in closer to your world.

Let me just end this by a quote from a song by Ice Cube  "You can do it, put your back into it" (the next line goes "I can do it put your ass into it", but I'm not going to make that one of my self portrait tips ;)

Ferriswheel and fairylights on a table

3. Change the angle

Try experimenting with placing the camera in different relations and angles to yourself. What is it that you want the viewer to feel when they're looking at the picture? For example having a birds eyes view gives the whole photo a sense of playfulness and unexpectedness that you don't come across in normal day to day life. Ask what specifically photography can do that other mediums can't.

Stars in my hands

4. Focus on your favorite features

I've always really liked my hands, so I take a lot of pictures with them in my photos. I feel I can tell a story about vulnerability, intimacy and get across the feeling of touch by holding something in my hands. Focus on a favorite part of yourself and make that the angle of your self portrait.

Place the camera on the ground and take a photo of your feet walking out on an adventure, or capture a slow morning in bed by just focusing on the messy texture of your hair. You don't have to show everything to tell an interesting story.

Scandinavian kitchen and rustic table

5. Do something

Use props to show yourself doing something or in relation to something. Just because it's a portrait doesn't mean you have to pose statically. Showing some kind of a physical activity in the pic can actually make the overall composition more interesting and draw upon the imagination of the viewer. My go-to thing is to hold stuff in my hands, it's simple but it works.

Blue dress and flowers in front of wooden door

6. Crop the head away Marie Antoinette style

Sometimes the photo will actually speak stronger if you cut away the face from the composition and make it more about the things and composition. We're always drawn to look at the eyes and face of a person, so by cropping away the head we can guide the focus of our eye elsewhere.

Pile of knits

7. Be in the photo as little as possible

Try and see how little you can be in the photo and still call it a self portrait. Challenge the definition of what a self portrait is and how you can express you personality by using composition, things, textures and colors instead.

Three dresses and a girl

8. Make it a cover up story

Sometimes it's just impossible to get a single shot where you're happy about the way your face looks, but no need to give up on the photo idea, you just need to take out that face by covering it up. You can use your hands, flowers, a book, a glass of milk, or if you want to do it the Hollywood style stick a pair of sunglasses on your face and problem solved (just kidding, never do this, you will end up looking really douchey haha).

 

White dresses hanging in a tree

9. Play the supporting role

Put the main focus on something else in the frame and become the supporting role. Make yourself part of a pattern or blend in with your environment, that way you become just a piece of the composition instead of being the thing that draws the attention of the eye. I have this thing with white dresses so I made this photo inspired by them.

Also, can you see how I've used the same composition in this and the previous photo? Re-using a concept is a perfect way to improve your ideas, and they can end up looking really different.

Slow mornings in bed with a teacup and messy hair

10. Look down

The eyes can express so much, unfortunately it's just quite challenging to capture that on camera and make it look pretty (unless you're Bambi). I've got quite an animated face so i'm just never happy with the pics that i take where I look straight into the camera, my face does all these weird things I'm not aware of.

So, to calm down the circus that's going on in my face I often end up looking down. That tends to bring a more comfortable and peaceful feeling to the overall mood and a sort of gentle aura around the face. It's also a less confronting composition and can be more inviting as a photo.

 

As you can see most my tips for self portraits involve thinking outside of the "pose stiffly in front of the camera" concept and instead focuses on re-thinking the whole idea of what a self portrait is. Most of all, follow the things that come naturally to you and trust the simplicity of it, no need to make it more complicated than it has to be. Just start somewhere and explore further from there.

 

How do you feel about taking self portraits, is it something you enjoy or rather stay away from?

 

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