Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Explore who you are, and who you might be, with self-portrait photography. Photographer Lisa Haukom shares her no selfies allowed policy along with her best tips for self portrait photography.
Selfies and self-portraits are not one and the same.
Trust me, there is a difference. Selfies are by nature a spontaneous, flattering, capture of how you look in that moment. They are also by definition taken with the front facing camera. Ultimately flattery is rarely the goal of a self portrait — it turns out a glamor shot just isn’t that interesting to look at. I prefer the realism of a self portrait and enjoy the process and intention behind them. Part of the planning process is using the back camera lens on your phone — the one facing away from you. More on this later. Unlike selfies, because self portraits tell a larger story, they tend to live beyond that moment.
You are your own muse.
Self-portraits are an excellent way to evolve your self perception and trust me when I say that the post self portrait session glow is very real. Each time I wrap a session and sit down to look at the photos (it's imperative that you don't skip this part), I see myself in an entirely new way, with both increased compassion and satisfaction. It brings me so much joy to carve out this time for myself and bring a creative story to life through photography. Here are a few other reasons why self portraits bring me so much joy.
A visual benchmark.
Self portraits are a fantastic visual benchmark of your progress. A quick flip through previous sessions will show how much you have evolved creatively in a short period of time. We always cap off our 8-week challenges by revisiting the first prompt in the series. Members continue to be astounded by the quick evolution of their personal editing, confidence, and style in that short period of time.
Creative ideas are flowing.
Self Portraits are an opportunity to get comfortable in front of the lens and explore my creativity in ways I hadn't before. It is so freeing to create on your own schedule with no expectations or money from clients on the line. You can take as long as you want, shoot whatever you'd like, and experiment with new ideas daily.
There is no one to impress but yourself.
SPS members are encouraged to share images they feel are unsuccessful along with the ones they feel most proud of. Both offer an opportunity to expand our perception of what a successful image needs to look like. We learn why we prefer certain images over others and that success doesn't mean perfect. When the only restriction is that you must be in the photo, you can do whatever you like and it doesn't need to be perfect.
Preparing for a self-portrait photo session
Solidify your visual story.
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.
Keep the set up and tech simple.
Even though I usually have several set ideas, style, and make up options ready to go — I always start with the most straightforward one first. I've found it helpful to warm up a little with some simple shots first then add props or more complex settings later. One of the ways I keep things simple and stress-free is by shooting everything on my iPhone, with the selfie side facing away from me. This ensures I'm using the highest quality lens for the images. I pair this with a bluetooth remote or a 10-second timer app, allowing me to move freely through my poses.
Work with natural light.
I prefer to work with natural light and keeping my first look simple also allows me to snap a few test shots, ensuring the exposure is correct and saving me time editing the photos later. I always check the camera and look through the images during the shoot. I've made the mistake of not checking them in the past and was dismayed to see the framing was off in the majority of the photos.
Edit for aesthetic not perfection.
It is very tempting to edit or delete a self portrait that makes you feel exposed. When I find myself disliking a photo I always ask why. Often the answer is that I've tapped into a vulnerable emotion, 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. For many images one of my biggest joys has been to evolve my own signature editing style using Goldenbrand presets and Adobe Lightroom.
Explore who you are through self-portrait photography using the camera in your pocket.
I would love to see more people exploring who they are and who they might be, through self-portrait photography. It's important for you to know the self portraits you see in my Instagram feed take patience and self compassion to create. It is easy to look at them and assume they are good because I used an expensive DSLR camera or because they are photoshopped. Neither are true. Everything you see was taken on a mobile phone camera. Each photo we share inside the Self Portrait Studio and my editorial client gallery are also taken with a mobile phone camera. This is by design — if it is easy, you will be more likely to give it a try.