Looking for the next great model to use in your stock photography? Try looking in the mirror. Using a self-image is a tried and true tradition in the art world. Who can forget Vincent Van Gough’s startling insight into his troubled mind, or Norman Rockwell’s iconic painter using a mirror to capture his own likeness? Similarly, a photographer’s own essence can be their biggest asset.
The first challenge you’ll find when trying to be both photographer and model is achieving great focus. While the easiest solution is to have a friend or helper in the studio to do the physical focusing, chances are if you’re photographing yourself, you’re a one-man show. I have found two methods work well. The first is to use a remote shutter release that allows control of the autofocus feature on your lens. The trick here is to have a way to get the remote out of the picture before the shutter is released.
The second trick is to have a “stand-in”. I have Clancy. He’s an oversized teddy bear, which on a stool or sitting down is the exact same height as I am (fortunately, we are NOT the same width!). I can have him “sit” in for me to achieve perfect focus, and swap him out before the shot is taken. The trick to focusing for self-portraits is to ensure the eyes are always crystal clear.
Which brings in the second challenge – lighting. When working in a studio, there are two tried and true methods for achieving perfect lighting in a scene. The first is to have your “stand-in” to use while fine tuning lighting. Just make sure the object you are using will truly fill the space you are trying to light. Otherwise, it is a good idea to simply use softbox lighting to completely fill the photo area. Outdoor photography is a little trickier. Here I suggest using natural light as the main lighting source and utilize your on-camera fill to assist.
Implied in the previous two topics is the choice of shutter release methods. You can either use your camera’s timer or work with a remote shutter release. The timer method gives you flexibility to compose the scene and adjust camera settings before jumping into the shot, but the down side is getting yourself perfectly composed and settled before the shutter is released. While the remote shutter release allows you to calmly control the scene, you are giving up the ability make last minute camera corrections before each shot.
Either way you choose, be prepared to take a lot of pictures. It will be important to frequently check your shots for focus, lighting and composition to ensure you are capturing what you think you are. If you have the ability, shooting tethered – where the camera is hot connected to the computer for better viewing of the resulting images - can be a great help. There is nothing more frustrating than downloading a photo shoot only to realize that every picture is out of focus or otherwise not technically perfect.
You should also plan on checking yourself frequently between shots. Being the model, the make-up artist and the photographer of an image requires great attention to detail. Have a mirror handy and use it to check yourself often. Taking the time to fix straying hair or wilting make-up can make a big difference in the success or failure of your efforts (okay men, you man not have make-up, but you should still fix your hair!).
When choosing camera settings you will need to play a balancing game with aperture and shutter speed. Because it is difficult to control focal distance as finely as when you are standing behind the viewfinder, it is best to allow a broader depth of field to provide for margin of error. However, remember that you will need to sit perfectly still for the shot to avoid blur and this can be extremely difficult when using long shutter speeds. Bumping up lighting or shooting with a higher ISO can give a little more flexibility for these settings.
I like to shoot with a wide-angle or fisheye lens. These give you the ability to have the camera closer to you – even close enough to manually use the shutter release button for focusing and aperture control. They also allow for fun perspectives and unusual pictures.
Now that you have the technical aspects under control, it’s time to have some fun! The great thing about using yourself as a model is there is no one there to judge your efforts. You are free to lose your inhibitions and try different ideas out. Plus you are not on anyone’s clock but your own. Loose yourself in the activity and let your creativity flow.
Try interesting angels.
Think of creative concepts you can try to represent.
Don’t forget the darker side of life as well.
Once you’ve gotten the hang on things, try adding family members or friends to the sessions for added possibilities.
And finally, if you are planning on selling your images, you will need to provide a model release signed by you as both the photographer and model.
About the Author
Karen Foley is a freelance stock photographer who contributes her work exclusively to Dreamstime Stock Agency. Look for her blogs about photography and portfolio of work at: Karen Foley Photography.