Shoot Film: Take a look at yourself

This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but I goofed, so it’s going up today. 😉 – jen


Ilse Bing

This week I’m going to inspire you to try an artistic staple, a tradition that stretches back over the centuries. Yes, I’m talking about self-portraits, people.

Self portraits are tough and they can make us feel vulnerable and exposed, but they are a huge challenge, often quite cathartic and certainly a learning curve and a wonderful historic discipline. Think Albrecht Dürer, Egon Schiele, Frida Kahlo, Robert Mapplethorpe or Nan Goldin just for starters.

Egon Schiele

Robert Mapplethorpe

Now think of the advantages; you know yourself better than anyone else, so who better to convey the real you? You have an instant willing subject and it is the perfect opportunity to take your time to experiment with creative techniques and improve your photographic skills and vision without badgering someone else to get involved. Me time = bliss!

Avoid by Eldad Carin

Let’s start by thinking about ideas. How do you want to portray yourself? Do you want to make use of your features, do you have anything unusual or distinguishing about your appearance that you want to feature? Perhaps you want to use props to say something about your personality, or where you are in your life or to tell a story about yourself. It’s important to try and imbue some sense of narrative or strong identity to your photograph, to convey who you are. Easy to say this (and I should take my own advice), but vanity is best left at the door here.

An Exercise in Self Portraiture by John Hill

Getting a selfie right is usually a process of trial and error, getting the perfect pose, exposure and focus. But remember, we are shooting with film, right? We need to nail this! No chance to shoot it over and over again. We just need to prepare well and take our time. The pay off will be worth it. Think about whether you wish to use b&w, which can be faulous for portraiture, a flattering and fine grain colour film such as Kodak Portra or something whacky if that’s the kind of guy you are! (Check back to my last post for film help) Be sure to use the right speed film for your light conditions.

Depending on your camera, chances are you will already have a self-timer on it. Use the smallest size aperture and therefore the widest depth of field you can get a way with, as accurate focusing will be less critical. Set your camera up with a tripod or on a stable surface such as a table or sturdy chair, get an object, a pillow, a stuffed toy or even another person and place them exactly where you will be. Set the focus and exposure, and mark the spot accurately with tape. Most old cameras will probably give you 10 seconds at best on the delay timer, so getting all the elements accurate before you fire the shutter is crucial.

If your camera has a screw fitting on the shutter release, you can pick up a long cable release usually quite cheaply secondhand. They are a flexible long length of tubing, with one end that screws into your shutter release and a trigger on the other. You have to be careful not to include the cable or trigger in your shot, but this will allow you much more time to get yourself set up before you take the picture.

Film by Ryan Jacks

So what if you don’t have a self timer, a cable release or even a tripod? Or maybe you use a polaroid or toy camera. You could try any of the following.

1. Try shooting in a mirror or another reflective surface. In most cases your camera will be included in the photograph, but you can experiment with holding it further away from your face or to one side. You could play with the idea of ‘reflected’ and use props in the mirror with you that say something about you; perhaps memorabilia, or other photographs of yourself as you were growing up ‘reflecting’ your personality. Or what about shooting yourself reflected back through the window of your favorite shop or your home or any building that says something about who you are. You could even photograph yourself reflected back in a puddle.

Testing… Christine Holm

2. A self-portrait doesn’t have to be of your face. What about your hands, your feet. You could aim the camera down your body from eye level. Or perhaps you could try photographing your shadow. Best done either early or late in the day when shadows are long, and choose a simple and light colored background such as a pale wall or path.

Polaroid Self Portrait by Leanne Surfleet

3. How about just turning the camera round and tripping the shutter, à la Facebook! Risky, but it can work beautifully, if you get the focus right. You may need to set the focussing ring to the focal length indicated to roughly the length of your arms. For example, 2ft and again use the smallest aperture you can get away with.

Car, Shades, Film by Lauren Skillen

Self portraits with film are a real challenge for many reasons; you can’t see yourself to know how you look until you get your pictures back. Setting up the picture is for sure more time consuming, you spend a lot of it running back and forth from your camera. Focus is difficult if you are using the self timer because you can’t see exactly what your point of focus is, plus there is always a chance you weren’t in the frame when the shutter fired! But they are a completely absorbing undertaking, a lot of fun and very rewarding to do.

So go spend some quality time with yourself and until next time, à vos argentiques, mes amis!

– Suzie Chaney runs Shooting the Breeze film photography e-workshops, blogs at Black-eyed Angel and sells her film photographs on etsy. Her column, Shoot Film, runs bimonthly on Mondays.

One comment

  1. hey! There is a picture of me on a website! Unexpected! Thank you for the link to my flickr, at least. : )

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