Self Portraits

Sean Setters as Walter White Self-Portrait

By Sean Setters
I was lucky to have existed in a time that allowed me to purchase a DSLR camera long before I ever purchased a smartphone. But saying that, the time of your birth or the circumstances leading to the evolution of your own photographic journey shouldn't prohibit yourself from making a decision right now – to henceforth capture images of yourself that are more meaningful and productive.
Nearly all of us have done it. We've extended our arms a little higher than our head and snapped a quick shot of our faces just to prove where we were at a moment in time. Or maybe we snapped it just to show we were happy. There's nothing technically wrong with the now-traditional selfie. Except maybe that it's lazy. And the lighting is all-too-often terrible. And the image quality is typically lacking.
"Selfies" have been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. Even before the invention of the camera, artists carved their own likeness in stone, created charcoal renderings or painted themselves. In contrast to today, self-portraits from generations past took many hours (sometimes days or weeks) to complete. But why did artists devote so much time to creating their own self-portrait? Are all creative types just that vain? (I don't think so.)
Fast forward to today and the effort that goes into making a typical selfie is shamefully minimal.
Why Should You Create More Self-Portraits?
Devoting time to taking self-portraits has many benefits. First, taking a self-portrait allows you to test out new techniques or refine existing techniques so that you're better prepared to handle future situations. Most of my self-portraits were taken while I was testing a new camera, lens, or light modifier. After playing around with the new gear, I had a pretty good idea of how the gear would perform when used in a for-profit portrait session.

Sean Setters RoundFlash Self-Portrait

And here's an obvious benefit that is often overlooked – when it comes to testing gear, you're always available to be your own subject. Your subject won't likely get bored or annoyed if things don't go according to plan (especially if the photographer takes an unusually long period of time getting familiar with the new gear).

Sean Setters Living Room Self-Portrait

Need a profile photo for your website? Or business card? Create the image that you're most happy with. Don't rely on someone else's vision to perfectly represent who you are as an artist.

Sean Setters Mustang GT Self-Portrait

In case it's not overwhelmingly obvious, I don't usually like to smile in my self-portraits. I like the "intense" look and can usually pull it off fairly well. The funny thing is that I'm really very friendly, approachable and – dare I say it – possibly even a goof ball. But taking my own self-portrait allows me to be whoever I want to be (even if only in pictures). However, I found out the "intense" look isn't very good for online dating profiles. Smiling picture, check.

Sean Setters Smiling Self-Portrait

Self-portraits can also be inspiring. After taking a self-portrait one day, I thought it might look interesting as a magazine cover. So after a little bit of Photoshop work, I created something fun that I really enjoyed. That image led me to create several more tongue-in-cheek magazine covers in the series.
After flipping through the fake magazine covers found on my Facebook page, a client asked me to create one for him. So not only had I honed specific photography and Photoshop skills while creating the personal project (which snowballed from a single self-portrait), but doing so led to business I would not have had otherwise.

Sean Setters Suburban Rapper Self-Portrait

I'm not saying that there's never an appropriate time for a cell phone snapshot. But as photographers, we should take pride in the images we post for people to see. Instead of just capturing where we were at a moment in time, we should take the opportunity to hone our craft through self-portraiture so that we're even better prepared for tackling all of the photographic challenges that we might otherwise be ill-prepared for.
Self-Portrait Tips

  • Decide on your motivation for the self-portrait – are you shooting for fun, experience or to create an image to fill a specific role? Set a goal of capturing something worthwhile with your effort no matter what your motivation is.
  • Find a way to push the limits of your own creativity. Get inspired by looking at other photographers' self-portraits.
  • Use a tripod and a wireless remote (Canon RC-6 | Vello FreeWave Plus). A tethered solution with an external monitor/display can really help with framing your shot, as can a wireless tethering solution when used with a tablet (CamRanger | DSLR Controller).
  • Try to make sure that sufficient light is hitting your eyes (or at the very least, one eye) as the eyes are usually what people are most drawn to when looking at a portrait.
  • Be patient and have fun. If you don't find the process enjoyable, you're not likely to do it again.

If you're reading this, you've obviously made a relatively serious investment in (and commitment to) photography. Get the most out of that investment by creating images of yourself that you can enjoy sharing as much as creating.

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