How I Set Up and Shoot My Self Portraits

But First, Let Me Take A #Selfie

I admit it and I have no maybe a little shame:  I love to take selfies.  Ever since I got my first little point and shoot I would set my camera up on a shelf and model for the imaginary paparazzi.  This from the woman who hates having her picture taken <sigh>.  

iPhone self portraitsiPhone selfies

Now that I've got a few years of serious photography under my belt guess what...I still take selfies on a regular basis.  It's just a lot more of a production now since, unlike my trusty iPhone (which believe me I still use), I have a lot more equipment to set up and take down.

For me the science behind my preference for selfies is three-fold.  I don't like looking like a tool anymore than my genetic makeup forces me to (my lack of grace and poise is legendary, people).  By taking self portraits I can cut loose and experiment a LOT more than I'm able when someone else is behind the camera.  

And number two I can experiment with settings, lighting, and backdrops without having a model or (god forbid) a client tapping their toes impatiently while I fiddle around with all of my stuff.

Lastly, I can experiment with all kinds of makeup and styles that aren't necessarily part of my portfolio.  I have had a love for theatrical makeup and styling ever since my early twenties when I went to my first underground club.

Old Hollywood Glamour

My Selfie Gear 

My gear setup has evolved over the course of my selfie career so I'll just do a quick run-through of the basics.

Nikon D750
Nikkor 50mm lens
Altura TTL flash for Nikon
Altura wireless flash triggers
Light stands (1 or 2 depending on lighting that day)
32" Octobox
24x36" 5 in 1 reflector

And now the less than glamorous truth about my selfie studio: 

Yep.  It's my bedroom, folks.  Dim light and a bit cramped but the only place in my house where my kids know not to mess around in.   Behind where I stand is a plain wall that I can either use as-is or lean my foldable backdrop against.

selfie grunge, 90's fashion

While I do have continuous light soft boxes and even a ring light this is what I use most often due to its ease of setup and portability.  I usually take my selfies when my boys are playing on their tablets and I have to cram hair, makeup, styling, setup, and photography into that hour and a half.  

The Process

The first thing I do is envision the final shot that I'm aiming for in my head.  Do I need anything that I don't have?  Makeup?  Glycerin?  How long will this look take to make happen?

The next thing I do after I've decided on the type of shot I want to get is to set up my lights.  This step comes before setting up my camera because obviously I can't adjust my settings for light that isn't there.  The following image isn't mine but accurately displays my standard setup:

Now my D750 can utilize my cell phone as a wireless trigger and when taking self portraits I use this feature every time.  I can see myself on my cell phone screen and not only make sure I'm in focus but also make sure the scene is exactly how I want it.

When I used to shoot with a camera that didn't have this feature I would stick something where I intended to stand, usually a tripod but anything tall enough will work.  A vacuum even.  Then I set my camera up (I shoot in full manual mode so I adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO for the lights).  Lastly I make sure my face detection is ON (I used to go without on my D5300 but this way results in many more savable shots) and then set my remote timer on a 2 second delay so I have time to toss or hide the remote before the shutter clicks.  The remote I used was a ten dollar one purchased on Amazon that was compatible with my camera.

Getting the height just right takes some practice.  I usually take a test shot first to check the lighting, settings, and camera height and make adjustments accordingly.  Once I have everything the way I want it it's time to start clicking away.  

I'll be honest...for each selfie session I end up with just a handful of keepers.  The reason behind this is twofold:  First, I don't need twelve images of me in the same lighting/makeup/outfit.  Second, as I'm sure you can relate to, I'm SO critical of myself that I end up tossing the majority right out of the gate.

Another thing to remember when culling your selfie images:  Don't toss every single one straight away.  See what you can do in post-processing to save a few of the immediate "Oh no"'s.  A creative crop, a dramatic black and white, you never know what will turn a crummy image into a WOW image!