Nov 2, 2012

How I Take Self-Portraits

I often get questions about what camera I use and how I take my FOTD photos so I thought a blog post to cover my procedure would be choice! I'll cover what equipment, camera settings, environment and edits I try to use. 


The equipment that I use when taking self-portraits are:
  • tripod; 
  • mirrorless DSLR; 
  • shutter remote; and
  • mirror.

The two particular items that I suggest are essential to taking a successful self portrait are a camera and a shutter remote. A remote prevents the stretched-out-arm-I-am-taking-a-photo-of-myself look and it most importantly prevents a warped face, due to the lens being too close. If you can't afford a remote, or if one isn't available for your camera, try the self-timer.

You can always place your camera on window sill or stack of books; however, a tripod makes life so much easier. The one in the photo was only $20, so you don't necessarily have to invest a lot of money. 

The camera I have been using for the past year is the mirrorless four-thirds Olympus PEN E-PM1. I used to use either my Canon Rebel XS (EOS 1000D), which is far too basic, or my Panasonic HDC-TM60 which is pretty poor quality photo-wise. The little PM1 has nice options, such as face/eye detection, interchangeable lenses, many customizable settings and high quality 1080i HD video (you can see here). The face/eye detection comes in pretty handy when taking self portraits because the camera will focus on your face and not something in the background, which is an issue I had with the Canon. 

The lens I use is a prime lens (fixed, no zoom) that I purchased separate from the camera kit. It's is the M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.8 lens. It has an wonderfully large aperture/f-stop at 1.8 and it takes beautifully sharp photos. A large aperture, which is a low number, such as f1.8, can give you very nice bokeh (pronounced boh-kay). Bokeh is when the out of focus area is blurred. You can see bokeh in most of my self-portraits because I use a large aperture of f2.2. The zoom lens that came with the camera is also a very nice lens, but I want MORE bokeh! :D

Olympus PEN E-PM1
I am actually going to upgrade to the Olympus PEN E-PL5 in a week or two because it has a more advanced sensor and, most importantly, a flip LCD touch screen. Because my current camera doesn't have a flip LCD, the mirror is needed behind the camera somewhere because it's easier and faster to see if I'm in frame while taking photos. 

Lastly....DO NOT USE A FLASH FOR THE LOVE OF NEMO!!! This is because a typical camera flash will always wash out colours, leave an unflattering glare in the eyes and on the skin, and creates shadows. I only recommend professional flash setups for portraits. Always try to use a setting with natural light or bright ambient lighting. 


Firstly, I always set my camera so that I take photos in the RAW format because I can't be bothered in setting my white balance and shutter speed every time. I set WB and exposure to automatic and I later adjust them manually in Photoshop or iPhoto. The RAW format saves every pixel, so a 12MP camera will save a 12MB RAW photo, whereas JPEG will be approximately half the size. RAW formats are more dull than JPEG, but they are easier to edit because they don't lose quality like a JPEG while adjusting in a photo editor. 

I also always set my camera to aperture priority. I like to use an aperture setting of f2.2 because of my bokeh obsession. The lower the number, the more blur effect you will get in the background. Some newer point and shoots also come with aperture priority and shutter priority settings. If you don't have an aperture priority mode (A) then you can try using the portrait mode (face icon on some cameras).

I use the face and eye recognition/priority setting so that it will focus on my face and I also use a Portrait setting that my camera has to help produce a natural skin tone. Everything else is set to automatic.


This is pretty simple, but I almost always take my photos in front of a large window during the day (sun or cloud). Lately, I have created a darker background by ensuring the lights are turned off and the only light coming through the windows is where I'll be standing. This creates a nice ambiance and creates a focus on the face.

I usually take between 20-60 photos until I am satisfied that I have three or four photos that I can work with. I've learned that I prefer the left side of my face over the right. :D


I use Adobe Photoshop to edit my RAW images. Photoshop has a nice RAW photo editor where you can adjust the photo like you would in your camera. I almost always adjust the exposure, black level, clarity, vibrance and saturation because RAW photos are a little lackluster. Reducing the clarity is the finishing adjustment for my flawless skin. It softens all my pores and skin texture and gives a soft glow. 

After everything is adjusted, I open it in Photoshop to edit out my red eyes. I have VERY red eyes because I suffer from dry eye and I wear contact lenses. That is basically all the edits that I do to my photos. 

I hope this has been helpful and gives some insight into the process of taking my self-portraits. If you have any questions, just ask in the comments and I'll try my best to answer them from the best of my knowledge.

1 comment:

  1. This was so helpful! I was debating asking you a question via twitter about what camera/ lighting you used, actually. I need to buy a camera, so I'll have to go somewhere and I'll bring your specs with me as reference! I love seeing your pictures.