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81 down. 284 to go.

I’m halfway through my year-long self portrait project, and I’ve completed a quarter of my goal of 365 self portraits in 365 days.

A year of self portraits is a challenge every photographer should undertake. It forces a camera in your hands everyday and requires you to think about how to shoot the same subject in hundreds of different ways.

Plus, who else would let you photograph them anytime, day or night, for an entire year? Other than your dog, probably no one.

Self portraiture allows for practice with composition, focus and metering. It brings you to new places and forces you to think differently about what can be considered a ‘portrait.’ And over the past six months, I’ve learned a few things about how to make the most out of a year-long project.


Don’t worry about shooting every single day

Let’s face it, we’re all busy. And although the basic idea behind this project is to create a self portrait every day for a year, that might not be possible. Instead, create a schedule and carve out a couple hours a week to shoot. Setting a goal to shoot 3-5 times a week and allowing for inspiration to hit will help you avoid feeling over scheduled. It should be fun, not a chore. During each shoot, try to create at least 10 different portraits. (This might mean having to take 100 or more photos to get that many keepers).


Turn it into a party

Regardless of its name, self-portraiture doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. Invite friends along to explore either a new park or bookstore or city. Have them help find interesting props and backdrops. Don’t be afraid to expand the definition of ‘self-portrait,’ and include friends in the photos. Or, better yet, start a year-long self portrait project with a friend. Having a partner will help keep you motivated and inspired.


Experiment with different techniques

Self-portraiture is a great way to experiment with different shooting techniques.

Long Exposure- Slowing down the shutter speed to create a blurring effect can add a sense of mystery to a self-portrait. Place the camera on a tripod and set the shutter speed to 1/15 of a second or slower. Set the timer and make sure you’re moving when the shutter clicks. The amount of blur will depend on how long the shutter is open and how quickly you’re moving during that timeframe. The faster you move, the bigger the blur will be.


There are countless ways play with this effect. Move your head back and forth while keeping the rest of your body still to create a faceless look. Long hair can be left down and shaken  lightly back and forth to create a soft, hair-halo effect. Or, take a micro step to one side before the shutter closes to give your body a ghost-like appearance.


Playing With Props- Incorporating props into self portraits is a great way to keep things interesting, especially when you get sick of taking pictures of your own face. There are myriad ways to incorporate props into photos. Hold a bundle of flowers in front of your face and peek through the petals. Focus the camera on a colorful drink in front of you and stay out of focus in the background. Or cover your face with something like  a scarf, hat or book.


Post-process Editing- Editing portraits in Photoshop and InDesign can open up worlds of creative inspiration. Layer two photos on top of each other by opening Photoshop, selecting ‘duplicate layer’ on the first photo and setting the destination to the second photo. Line the pictures up and play with the opacity until both images show through. Or, cut out parts of a photo by bringing it into InDesign and layering white rectangles over sections of the photo.


Don’t Focus Too Hard- Getting the focus down is one of the hardest elements of self portraiture. But portraits with a soft focus can be just as compelling as portraits that are sharp. Open the aperture to f/2 or f/4 and position your body at different distances from the camera. Try to leave a certain body part in focus, while the rest is blurred out, or fully embrace the blur and leave your whole body out of focus. This effect creates a sense of mystery and gives portraits a dream-like quality.


Reflections- Look for mirrors, windows and other reflective surfaces to incorporate into self portraits. Position a mirror against a wall and set the camera on a tripod so that both you and your reflection are in the photo, while the camera is not. Or shoot directly into a mirror or window at your reflection. Look for windows or mirrors that are warped and will create interesting layering effects through the lens.


Getting Technical

Before shooting, there are some technical tips to consider. First, set the camera to self timer mode. Allow 20 seconds until the shutter opens so you’re not scrambling to get into position. Set the camera so that it’ll take multiple photos in a row with a second or two between each take. Change expressions or positions for each shot.


Unless you’re shooting into a reflection, use a tripod or something else to stabilize the camera. Set the camera on a tripod, table, chair or another flat surface and set up the shot. Find another object–like a second tripod, a lamp or a chair–and focus on that until stepping in front of the camera. Always shoot on manual focus, otherwise the camera will try to refocus before every shot.


Share Successes and Failures

Stay motivated by sharing your progress over social media. Announcing the project to the world will be an extra boost to go out and shoot. And who cares if you only make it halfway through? All that means is you took 180 more self portraits than before. This is a project designed to test your creativity and get you shooting. Regardless of how it ends, consider the work you did a success.






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