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Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone

From: The Practicing Photographer

Video: Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone

As I sit here in early 2014 I'm basking in the joy of the fact that my native It was a lot of trial and error.

Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone

As I sit here in early 2014 I'm basking in the joy of the fact that my native tongue now officially has a new word that I can use freely and that word is selfie. The Oxford English dictionary made it an official word last year. Since then, the President of the United States has been seen shooting selfies. So, I no longer feel nerdy or insecure about shooting selfies. In fact, I'm embracing selfies and now applying actual gear to the process. Hi, my name is Ben Long.

And this week on The Practicing Photographer I just want to give you some tips, because I'm tired of seeing bad selfies out in the world. And it's time for us all to start doing a better job now that it's an official word, and since the leader of the free world is shooting them. There's not that much to a selfie. Obviously, you need to get the phone in front of you, point it back at you, and take a picture. That said, there are things you can do to get better selfies, and they are pretty much just the same things you would do if you were shooting a picture of somebody else. One of the things that strikes me about, selfies that I see that are, that are, well, that are bad is that people are just ignoring some of the most basic things of portrait photography.

You need good light, you need a good angle, and you need all the basics of good photography. A stable shot and good exposure. So good light is the first thing, and that means just looking around for nice diffuse lighting, nice even lighting. Putting yourself into a lighting position where you're taking advantage of that light and then taking a picture. How you choose to do it, whether you do it with your phone or your camera doesn't matter. As long as you can hold the camera or position the camera in such a way that it doesn't put you into some unnatural posture.

Having to do this is not going to yield a very good photo. Similarly, shooting from down here is not going to yield a very good photo. Few people look good from below. I went out yesterday with my iPhone, and shot some selfies. I was preferring to think of it as. Self portraiture, because that sounds much more serious in terms of photography goes. But really, they were just selfies. I was using an iPhone 5S, and a Glif. Which is a really cool little thing you can just snap on to the bottom of your phone. On either the long or the short axis, depending on whether you want portrait or landscape shooting.

And the you get a tripod thread. So I was, at Lake Tahoe, out on the end of a very beautiful pier. I set up my tripod. And screwed my iPhone onto it. I had already decided that I had an idea where the good light was. There was a beautiful shaft of light that had lit up across the lake. Now this may seem a little bit strange, because I was shooting with the sun at my back without a flash. So I knew that the camera was going to expose for the background and possibly leave. Me in shadow, but I liked the idea that this.

Oh wow, this is going to sound really conceited. But I really liked the idea that positioning myself in front of that shaft of light on the water, water, would kind of create this halo of light around me, so I thought I'd go for that. Secure in the knowledge that the iPhone has enough dynamic range that I would be able to brighten the shot later. It was a lot of trial and error. I had the phone mounted on a tripod and I was using a Bluetooth remote control to trigger it. So, from a technical end everything was set up very well. The problem was getting the framing. So, I had to position the shot, then go and get in the shot, take a picture.

Go back, see if the framing was okay, If it wasn't, adjust the shot, go back, take another one. I was really playing with the composition of how my body was intersecting the horizon. Really trying to think about how much do I want my body above the horizon, how much do I want it below. I was, when I was going back to review my test images, looking for the things you look for any time you're shooting a picture of somebody, was there a weird intersection of something with my head, was there a mountain growing out of my head, was I positioned properly in the shaft of light? All of those things that you would do if you were shooting somebody else, but that are very difficult to remember to do.

When you're shooting a self-portrait. I finally decided to get the camera down lower. Now, you may think, but you just told me not to shoot from down low. There's a difference between shooting down low at arm's length and shooting down low from 15 feet away. At that point I'm far enough away that what lowering the camera did was change my position in the frame. To make me fill the frame a little more, well fill the frame a little more, but also be a little more flat in terms of my perspective. I just like framing better. But mostly what I was doing was trying, again, to control my relationship to the horizon.

It took me a while but once I finally got the positioning set I was ready to start shooting. This is the hardest part because you feel ridiculous. You don't know what kind of expression to make. You don't know if you should smile, or not. You don't really know what you look like. The first thing to do at that point, is to take a very deep breath. And this is something you can tell other people when you're shooting their portraits. Taking a deep breath relaxes your face. Relaxes your posture, it puts you back into your body in a particular way that gives you a very natural look. And there's just that moment where you get through to the end of the breath that you can take that picture.

You don't want to be so self-conscious about it that you tense up at that moment, but just try breathing through some shots. Take a deep breath, let it out, take the picture. And you'll probably find you get more of a relaxed look than the scared, caught in the headlights, forced smile thing that you can get. I tried turning my body this way and that, because I had no idea what pose might look good, I had my hands in my pocket, out of my pocket. It was a very cold day. I was wearing this arctic parka. So I put the hood up to see if that made any difference. Knowing full well that it was going to darken my face. I went through all of those.

And then decided yeah, it may be dumb to shoot with the sun behind my back. Especially as I turned around and realized that there was just a beautiful soft light on my hand. So I then did the reverse angle. I didn't get the dramatic lake shot behind me. But what was on shore was really pretty, also. And it was putting this diffuse line in front of my face. The sun was shining behind some clouds. So, it was this beautiful diffusion situation. I had to map out the shot again. Figure out the composition, and then I had to go through the whole process of feeling uncomfortable shooting a bunch of self portraits of myself.

If you, now one thing that makes this a lot easier is I was shooting with an iPhone, which has got a auto focus. On the fly as I'm moving around. If you're shooting with an SLR, you have another problem which is, you don't know if the autofocus is necessarily set on you. So, make sure that your camera's set to automatically select an autofocus point. And then, when you half press using your remote control, you know, you'll come into focus then. You can, of course, also use your self-timer. The problem with a self-timer is you lack focus when you press the button and you're not in the frame.

So there's a chance you're actually focusing pretty far behind you. At that point you need to focus at a spot on the ground, reframe your shot, and then go stand at that spot. So, like any other form of photography selfies, or self portraits, whatever you want to call them, take practice. A lot of practice. One nice thing about doing them with the phone is I always have it with me. So I got a lot of chance to practice in a lot of different environments. Not just practicing the mechanical end and the technical end but practicing being comfortable on camera, being natural on camera, learning how to relax, and learning something about what my own expressions feel like.

The more you do this, the more you know wow, I can feel it. I'm making a really dumb face right now. And things can change. So, my challenge to you this week, is get out and try some self-portraiture.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for The Practicing Photographer
The Practicing Photographer

88 video lessons · 52840 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 3m 3s
    1. Creating an unaligned HDR image NEW
      3m 3s
  2. 1m 35s
    1. Introducing The Practicing Photographer
      1m 35s
  3. 8h 40m
    1. Choosing a camera
      5m 27s
    2. Looking at light as a subject
      2m 22s
    3. Using a small reflector to add fill light
      5m 45s
    4. Editing photo metadata with PhotosInfo Pro for iPad
      6m 30s
    5. Let your lens reshape you
      7m 26s
    6. Compositing street photography images with Photoshop
      7m 44s
    7. Expand your filter options with step-up and step-down rings
      3m 56s
    8. Shooting without a memory card
      3m 6s
    9. Give yourself a year-long assignment
      5m 28s
    10. Working with reflections
      1m 26s
    11. Exploring mirrorless cameras
      7m 25s
    12. Batch processing photos with the Adobe Image Processor
      7m 30s
    13. Limiting yourself to a fixed-focal-length lens
      2m 13s
    14. Creating tiny worlds: Shooting technique
      4m 15s
    15. Creating tiny worlds: Post-processing techniques
      11m 41s
    16. Shooting macro shots on an iPhone
      3m 18s
    17. Using a tripod
      3m 33s
    18. Wildlife and staying present
      5m 58s
    19. Batch exposure adjustments on raw files
      6m 52s
    20. Why Shoot Polaroid
      11m 12s
    21. Seizing an opportunity
      4m 4s
    22. Four photographers do a light-as-subject exercise
      12m 24s
    23. Shooting macro bug photos with a reversed lens
      4m 54s
    24. Varnishing a photo for a painterly effect
      13m 36s
    25. Shooting wildlife
      7m 24s
    26. Discussion on how to shoot architecture
      12m 27s
    27. Using a lens hood
      4m 48s
    28. Working with themes
      2m 48s
    29. Setting up an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    30. Processing an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    31. Two perspectives on travel photography
      12m 28s
    32. Scanning Photos
      5m 37s
    33. Photo assignment: shooting an egg
      3m 13s
    34. Reviewing the egg shot images
      6m 47s
    35. Shooting in your own backyard
      4m 38s
    36. Jpeg iPad import process
      3m 17s
    37. Shooting a product shot in open shade
      9m 34s
    38. Reviewing the product shot images
      4m 5s
    39. Warming up
      3m 26s
    40. Taking a panning action shot
      10m 17s
    41. Scanning polaroid negatives and processing in Photoshop
      8m 17s
    42. Shooting a silhouette
      3m 9s
    43. Going with an ultra-light gear configuration
      5m 29s
    44. Working with masks and calculations in Photoshop
      12m 38s
    45. Working with flash for macro photography
      4m 55s
    46. Colorizing a black and white photo in Photoshop
      5m 10s
    47. Using duct tape and zip ties in the field
      4m 14s
    48. When the on camera flash is casting a shadow
      3m 4s
    49. Using Lightroom on the road
      6m 28s
    50. Listening to your camera to get good exposure
      2m 20s
    51. Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone
      7m 18s
    52. Switching to Lightroom from another application
      9m 48s
    53. Photographing animals in wildlife refuges
      6m 41s
    54. Shooting level
      2m 42s
    55. Photoshop and Automator
      8m 54s
    56. Shooting when the light is flat
      3m 23s
    57. Discussing the business of stock photography
      9m 48s
    58. Shooting tethered to a monitor
      3m 21s
    59. Making a 360 degree panorama on the iPhone
      4m 45s
    60. Understanding the three flash setup
      3m 34s
    61. Shooting a three flash portrait
      4m 6s
    62. Understanding the differences with third party lenses
      4m 43s
    63. Understanding why files look different on depending on device
      5m 25s
    64. Working with a geotagging app on the iPhone
      4m 43s
    65. Using high speed flash sync to dim ambient light
      7m 29s
    66. Using your iPad as a second monitor
      5m 46s
    67. Understanding exposure with a leaf shutter camera
      3m 28s
    68. Photography practice through mimicry
      8m 8s
    69. Canon wireless flash with built in radio control
      5m 59s
    70. Posing and shooting pairs of people
      5m 35s
    71. Shooting with a shape in mind
      3m 15s
    72. Shooting tethered to a laptop
      4m 40s
    73. Softboxes vs. umbrellas
      2m 55s
    74. Getting your project out into the world
      6m 25s
    75. Exploring how to think about shooting a new environment
      3m 56s
    76. Discussing the book "The Passionate Photographer" with Steve Simon
      6m 4s
    77. Highlighting iOS 8 updates on the iPhone5S
      10m 46s
    78. Exploring manual controls with iOS 8 and ProCamera
      5m 30s
    79. Understanding how to compose with an empty sky
      4m 54s
    80. Using an iPhone to make a print in the darkroom
      7m 16s
    81. How to use glycerin as a photography tool
      2m 16s
    82. Understanding micro focus adjustment and Lens Align
      11m 19s
    83. Working with hair in post
      3m 28s
    84. Taking a quick portrait and directing a subject
      5m 50s
    85. Getting inspired through the work of others
      11m 22s
    86. Taking a flattering portrait with flash
      4m 21s

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