When was the last time you had a good portrait taken? Not a family picture. Not a snapshot. A nice picture of YOU, just you. If you are thinking back to your senior year graduation photos, it’s time to update.
For many of us, when we hear the word portrait, we think of those horrid “glamour” photographs. The kind where a beauty “expert” spackles on ten layers of makeup before suggesting on outfit suitable for a Dynasty theme party. Tack on the word “self” to portrait, and images of duck lips and photos shot in the mirror come to mind.
Taking a self portrait can be easy and fun. Maybe you want to spark up your relationship with a sexy shot for your spouse. Perhaps you have been working hard to get your figure back after a baby and want to celebrate your new look. Maybe you’re the one always taking the pictures, and you’d like to be in one (for once). Whatever the reason, here are a few tips from my years of experience taking self portraits. Yes, I’m an ego maniac, but in this case you’ll benefit from my narcissism.
1. Stabilize your camera- Photos taken with an autotimer tend to be blurry because the subject (you) is literally dashing into the frame. The more you can keep the camera from shaking, the better chance you have of getting a good photo. The best way to stabilize your camera is with a tripod. If you can’t buy or borrow one, place your camera on a sturdy piece of furniture, and hold it in place by positioning books around it. If you must use a mobile piece of furniture, like a chair, stabilize the legs on the chair as well.
2. Use the correct lighting- I read an interview with Kelly Osbourne where she said something like “if you have good lighting, you don’t need Photoshop.” Yes! You want natural light, but it needs to be soft. Harsh sunlight puts a spotlight on every blemish and wrinkle. Indoor lighting and the use of a flash can look fake. Choose a spot outdoors in a slightly shaded area. Indoors in a well lit room works well too.
Here are a few examples to show you the difference good lighting can make. Beware of direct sun!
natural lighting indoor, no natural light/no flash indoor, no natural light/flash indoor, direct sun outdoor, under patio outdoor
3. Keep your setting in the moment- I started taking photographs with a girlfriend about a decade ago. She and I would create elaborate sets, costumes, and story lines. Another friend was looking at some of our pictures and said “there is always some small detail that takes away from what you are doing- an outlet, a remote control.” Keep your setting simple and avoid little things that take you out of the moment.
At my old house, I often posed by a tree because it obscured most of the neighbor’s house, creating a simple, pretty scene.
In my new house, I do not have those kinds of trees. I generally pose while sitting or from overhead- seeing my neighbor’s AC unit would definitely take you out of my scene.
4. Be comfortable in your look- Do not misinterpret this advice and wear yoga pants and a ponytail. Be you. If you like costumes, funky makeup and crazy hair, go for it. I happen to love getting dolled up for a photo.
But if that kind of stuff leaves you feeling like a caricature, go for a look that is you slightly revved up. Think of what outfits make you feel really great about yourself. Maybe its a cute work out outfit, or an interview suit. Even a favorite sweater that makes you feel cozy and happy.
Makeup- in my experience, mineral makeup photographs the best. If you are fair skinned like me, and also have a tendency for under eye circles, dab on a pinkish highlighter under the eyes. It reflects the light and hides the circles. A white eyeliner on the inside of the eye can make the eye appear wider and brighter. A little bronzer or highlighter on the collar bones and shoulders makes your skin look fantastic.
5. Pose to the side/make sure to stand up straight- I don’t know many women that do not want to look thinner. Posing to the side cuts you in half visually. Even the most slender of women will get a few rolls when slouching. Standing up straight, smooths out those lines, but it also gives you a feeling of confidence. Want to make that line even longer and leaner? Throw on a pair of heels. Easy advice with big impact- look at these side by side.
6. Avoid the “say cheese” smile- You know that big toothy grin you bust out for snapshots? Now is not the time. Just like you want soft, natural lighting, you want a soft natural face. Play around with gentle smiles, little smirks, and even just a straight, serious look. The key is to really zero in with the eyes- whether looking afar or directly in the camera, connect with what you are looking at. As Tyra would say- smize!
7. Stretch out, not up- Many people try to get rid of a double chin by looking up to stretch the neck. The result is an awkward looking photograph. Keeping your head level, move your face forward slightly. This stretches the neck out but looks more natural and keeps your eyes connected with the camera.
8. Props can be a strategic tool- Even with all these tips, you might still have an area you are not quite so thrilled about photographing. A great prop can add a fun element to the photo and hide trouble spots. Make sure the prop fits the scene and looks natural- otherwise it’s a giant arrow saying “look here!!” (the magazine was used to cover a 7 month pregnant belly)
9. Convert to Black and White- There is just something magical about black and white. When color and lighting are off, it can be distracting. Black and white calms photos that are too busy, and let’s face it- who doesn’t love that old timey feel.
Pretty picture but doesn’t really put you in that moment
Now you are there.
10. You can always delete- jumping into a scene and posing effectively in ten seconds is not easy. Look at your face in the mirror and see what expressions and angles look best. This practice helps you know what to do when you do get in front of the camera. You might need to strike the same pose a few times before you get a good photo. That’s NORMAL. Photographers take hundreds of pictures to get a single shot. Simply delete what you don’t like and forget they ever existed.
Ok supermodels. You know what to do. WORK!