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Updated: Mar 5, 2023

We are nearing the end of our 8-week Self-Portrait Photo Challenge in the Self-Portrait Studio with a new round launching February. Up until this point we have kept our self-portraits minimal with few props, so the focus of the image stays on us. This week the members will gather all the skills they have learned so far in the challenge to go big, creating set designs while bringing in color, texture, and a sense of place. I'll be right there doing the challenge along with them and bringing you behind the photo sharing my process. Keep reading to see the mood board, inspiration, and editing process for my Central Park theme self-portrait photoshoot.


The concept: Central Park/Autumn in New York meets Disco Bestie

Each self-portrait begins with a story. I treat myself like a client and begin each session with a larger creative idea to anchor the photos. Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places so I keep a journal of ideas handy and jot them for future sessions. I build out the idea by creating a moodboard using a variety of sources including art, song lyrics, magazines, graphic design, and Pinterest. This ensures I have a visual story solidified for the photo session using this template. Prepping is key to avoid taking a bunch of photos and hoping for the best.

For this photoshoot I knew I wanted outdoor images combined with the feel of a "set". I love the shrunken backdrops in the images below that create such a clearly defined space within the larger image, anchoring the subject and separating them from the surroundings. I referenced Pinterest, sourcing inspiration for tone, pose, and wardrobe.

The Session

I love the idea of having a backdrop in a natural setting, so out of place and compositionally compelling. With the plain white wall trend dominating Instagram photos for the last 3 years, I'm always thrilled to see a unique take on backdrops, especially a less curated one that doesn't quite fit the subject. Using the shrunken backdrop ideas in the moodboard I bought a 6x4 ft. plywood board from my local lumber store and painted one side matte black and the other mortadella pink. The pink was reflecting too much light once I moved it outside so I decided to go for the black, which was a better fit for the warm fall tones I had in mind.

Sidenote: plywood is heavy! This video shows me setting up the backdrop and walking the board from the studio to the perfect spot in the trees. I paid the price the next morning and required several trips to the chiropractor to fix my back. Next time I will purchase a thinner plywood so the backdrop is easier to move, or ask a friend for help.

I used this tripod with a bluetooth remote clicker and shot all of the photos on my iPhone 11 Pro Max. I always shoot with the back camera lens for the highest quality images. Since I'm not shooting tethered and cannot see the images I spend a few extra minutes adjusting the tripod height, ensuring the phone is level for minimal distortion. I've done this so many times it's second nature to me but if it is your first time I recommend taking a video before you start shooting, trying out a few poses to gauge the best lighting and proximity to the camera. I also recommend shooting a little further back then zooming in, especially if you are tall like I am. Here's how the final images turned out, pre-edit in Adobe Lightroom.

The Edits

t is very tempting to edit or delete a self portrait that makes you feel exposed, or unattractive. When I find myself disliking a photo I always ask why. Often the answer is that I've tapped into a vulnerable emotion or an old wound, one I'd rather not open up for public scrutiny. In these cases I try to add edits to the image that enhance the emotion being expressed, adjusting the grading, exposure and colors to set the tone. One of my biggest joys has been to evolve my own signature editing style using Goldenbrand presets for Lightroom mobile, a free app.

Watch the video below to see our Golden Presets in action and to view the final images.

I hope you love them as much as we do. Thanks for reading this look behind the photos. If you'd like to see more like this, leave a comment and let me know and if you love what you've read so far, this post is for you!


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