Self-portraits are an amazing way to experiment with different photography techniques. You don’t even need a model! Cool self-portraits also can enrich your online portrait portfolio, and jazz up your About Me page, letting visitors see who’s behind all those great shots.
Ready to start shooting? Here are some creative self-portraits you can try!
1. Work that Silhouette
Silhouette photography can produce a self-portrait with a dramatic feel. Best of all, whether you’re shooting in a studio or outside, this is a pretty easy creative portrait to pull off. All you need is a bright light source in the background.
If you’re going to shoot outside and use the sun as your light source, you’ll get the most dramatic results at sunrise or sunset when the sun is low in the sky. But don’t limit yourself to using the sun: when shooting outside, you can utilize anything from streetlights to a bonfire and even the moon as your light source.
Don’t use the auto settings on your camera, since it will likely set the wrong aperture and shutter speed as it tries to “fix” the silhouette effect.
It’s just one reason why using the right camera for portrait photography is important, as opposed to a simple point-and-shoot. You’re going to want to keep your ISO low, use a fast shutter speed, and set your aperture according to the lighting situation.
2. Do an Extreme Close-Up
Sometimes what you leave out of frame can be as important as what you leave in. One way to produce a creative self-portrait is to take a close-up of a particular facial feature. For example, focus on just the eyes or mouth. By leaving some of your face out of the frame, the viewer’s eyes will be drawn to your focal point all the faster.
3. Partially Hide Your Face Behind Objects
Similar to the technique above, partially hiding your face can make for a cool self-portrait with an eye-catching focal point. There’s plenty of options in terms of which object to hide behind; it could be an object that’s important to you, your hands, your hair—anything you want to place in the foreground, really.
4. Shoot Your Hands
A self-portrait doesn’t always have to include the face. One self-portrait tip is to try shooting just the extremities or other body parts.
Photographing your hands is one great option. Our hands are unique, as they can tell a whole story about a person’s life through their callouses, wrinkles, and scars. What you do with your hands is up to you, whether it’s grasping an object, holding someone else’s hand, or simply posing. For some inspiration, check out this collection of hand portraits by photographer Tim Booth.
5. Create a Soft-Focus Lens Effect with Household Materials
There are a variety of lens filters out there that can help you produce a creative self-portrait. But, if you want to have some fun with it, you can create similar soft-focus lens effects using household materials. One technique is to put some clear plastic over your lens and secure it with an elastic band, and then spread Vaseline on the plastic near the edges of the lens. Just make sure not to get any Vaseline on your precious portrait photography lenses!
Similarly, you can use a piece of gauze or cheesecloth. Just cut an “X” in the material and use an elastic band to attach it to your lens. Then pull apart the ends of the fabric around the edge of the lens so it’s frayed a bit.
Both these techniques create soft edges that will frame your subject and add a sort of dreamy feel to your self-portraits.
6. Make a Diptych or Triptych
Another portrait idea: just make more of them! Diptychs and triptychs are made up of two and three images, respectively. Combining the images side by side allows you to tell a story with your self-portraits. You could shoot yourself from different angles, change the lighting, zoom in on different parts of the face, or simply capture different facial expressions. If you shoot in burst mode as you’re performing an action, you can showcase different moments within that activity.
7. Pick a Color Scheme
Choosing a particular color (or several similar shades) to dominate your shot can result in a cool self-portrait. Using a consistent color scheme can create a sense of harmony between the different elements in your portrait. It also just looks cool—which is why this technique is often used by fashion photographers.
So, has someone told you that blue is your color? Try wearing something blue and posing in front of a blue background like the sky or a photography backdrop. Do you have piercing green eyes? Try shooting a close-up of your eyes with a green background in view.
8. Shoot in Black And White
The best portrait photographers often use black and white photography to great effect. Shooting in black and white can lend a feeling of timelessness to your portraits.
Removing the color from your image puts more emphasis on the contrast. So you’ll want to pay special attention to the highlights and shadows in your shot. One self-portrait tip? Play with the contrast in post-production. Subtly increasing the contrast can take a drab black and white photo and really make it pop.
Black and white photography also draws attention to the different textures in your image. Shooting against a background with a rough texture like a concrete wall is one portrait photography idea to try.
9. Use Interesting Shadows
As a portrait photographer, you know proper lighting is essential to a great photo. But the absence of light is another tool you can use to create cool self-portraits. A well-placed shadow can make your portraits more dramatic. If the shadow hides part of your face, it produces a sense of mystique.
Also try shooting in areas with harsh light that will cast a pattern of shadows on you, like next to some window blinds or underneath some palm tree fronds.
10. Grab a Friend
Self-portraiture doesn’t have to be a solo affair, so why not recruit a pal or a loved one for your shot? Try to have some fun with each other and see if you can take some portraits that capture the feeling of your relationship.
Another cool self-portrait idea? Bring your pet into the shot. People tend to love pics of animals. Your furry friend can help you take an awesome self-portrait!
11. Show Off Your Personality
Just like when you’re shooting portraits of other people, the best self-portraits are ones that seem to capture a piece of the subject’s personality. Some ways to achieve that with your self-portraits would be through action, facial expression, treasured objects, clothing, and location.
Think about what makes you unique. Are you a bit of a goofball? Then show it off by making some funny faces. Are you a great dancer? Capture yourself in the middle of your best move. You might feel silly at times, but not being afraid to make a fool of yourself is an important part of producing creative self-portraits.
12. Use Burst Mode to Capture a Series
Your camera’s burst shooting mode can come in handy when shooting any self-portrait. It allows you to choose from a few images in case you accidentally blink at the wrong moment.
It can also be used to capture a series of cool self-portraits that you could turn into a collage. Try pulling a different expression for each of the different shots or letting your camera capture you as you perform an action.
13. Get Creative with Framing
While framing is one of the fundamentals of photo composition, it tends to fall to the wayside when it comes to self-portraits. One reason for that is it’s easier to take shots from an unusual perspective when you’re behind the camera.
But with a tripod and a little planning, it’s not hard to incorporate an interesting frame in your self-portraits. The possibilities for creative portraits are endless, whether it’s a doorway, a window frame, an object with a hole in it, some foliage, or even your hands. Having something in the foreground that will frame your shot adds a sense of depth to your self-portraits. To ensure you remain the focal point of the image, have the frame close enough to the camera to be out of focus, or have it silhouetted against a brighter middle-ground.
14. Play with Angles
When photographers first start out shooting portraits, there’s a tendency to shoot from the front with the camera at eye level. To make things more interesting, see how it changes the look of your portraits when you put the camera way down low or up above your head. That simple self-portrait photography idea can make a world of difference by changing your perspective and what gets captured in the background.
Also, when shooting your self-portraits, don’t feel like you have to look at the camera. Experiment with how shooting from the side and the back can make things more interesting. It will also make you look more natural, like you’re participating in the scene rather than having your mugshot taken.
15. Shoot Yourself in a Reflection
Boring bathroom mirror selfies have become omnipresent these days, but don’t despair: there are still plenty of creative self-portraits you can make with a mirror. For instance, try using a small handheld mirror held at arm’s length to capture an interesting shot of yourself in the reflection while leaving room for some details in the background. Many portrait photographers have also used broken mirrors to great effect.
Keep your eye out for other reflective surfaces that could make for interesting self-portraits, whether it’s a window, metallic surface, or a puddle of water. Shooting self-portraits in reflective surfaces also offers the added bonus of enabling you to shoot from behind the camera—making it that much easier to compose your shot.
16. Combine Different Colors of Light
Color gels are fun to experiment with and are an easy way to create stunning effects for your portraits. Start experimenting and you’ll be taking better portraits in no time.
One self-portrait tip to try: use two colors of light coming from different directions. One example would be to use red and blue light against a dark background to achieve an effect reminiscent of futuristic art from the 1980s, like Blade Runner. You’ll look like you’re awash in light from a street filled with neon signs.
17. Play with Prisms
Prism photography is a trend that has been gaining popularity online lately. It involves using glass prisms to bend light to create reflections and glare effects. By placing a glass prism just in front of your lens, you can introduce stylistic reflections that will compliment your portrait.
Prisms can also be used to project a rainbow of light. When used creatively, the rainbow effect can help create a cool self-portrait.
18. Create a Surreal Effect in Post-Production
Photoshop is a powerful tool for adding surreal effects to your self-portraits. With just a little effort, you can take a plain portrait and create something otherworldly.
One cool self-portrait idea that’s easy to master is this mask illusion. It involves removing your face from your body and making it look like it’s a mask that you’re about to put on.
This is just one example. The possibilities are endless, so use your imagination. The point is that it’s not that hard to create an eye-popping self-portrait that will make anyone who sees it do a double-take.
19. Capture Motion Blur
Slowing down your shutter speed and performing an action in front of the camera is an easy way to capture a cool self-portrait with some motion blur. When it’s done haphazardly, motion blur can make a photo look amateurish. But when it’s done right, there’s no better way to convey a sense of movement in your images. For some inspiration, check some of the portraits featuring motion blur in photographer Bill Wadman’s Dancers In Motion.
20. Create a Double Exposure
When shooting on film, creating double exposures involves an intricate process. But digital photography makes it simple to use this technique—and achieve some mesmerizing self-portraits.
If it’s your first time experimenting with this portrait photography idea, it’s a good idea to start with a dark portrait shot as your base photo. Then choose a brighter image that can be layered on top of it. It works well if the brighter image is something that has a lot of intricate details or texture.
There are a number of ways to blend the two images in Photoshop that will let you tweak the look of the end result. But the simplest way is to just layer them in Photoshop, and change the blending mode to “screen.” And voila, you’ve got a cool double-exposed self-portrait!
A Few Final Tips
Combine some of these ideas to create some truly attention-grabbing self-portraits.
Use a long timer and burst mode so you don’t have to rush into the frame. Plus you’ll have several shots to choose from.
Always keep in mind all the fundamental rules of photographic composition (like the rule of thirds, leading lines, etc.); they apply to self-portraits, too!
When you’re ready to show off all the lovely shots you’ve created using these techniques, don’t forget to incorporate them into your online portrait photography portfolio.
When potential clients see all the fun portrait photography ideas you have, it will help you get more portrait work. So don’t forget to include a pricing page on your website, as that encourages clients to take the next step rather than skiping onto the next portrait photographer.
Now that you’re armed with all these creative portrait ideas for shooting cool self-portraits, it’s time to get shooting—after all, your model’s all ready to go!
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