Ramblings About Photography - part 12 "Selfie Sunday"
Some time ago, I got a question by fotoforays, whether I would make a tutorial on how to take self-portraits (like the one I posted on one of the last „no edit Fridays“) without a tripod or special equipment.
To be very honest, at first I thought this was a joke, because… well… „Tutorials on making selfies“… Hello?! I mean… we’re all serious photographers, aren’t we?
Well, I’m not. So I loved the idea. And I also realized, that I put quite some thought in it. So, I decided, to give it a go and I promised to put something together. There is just one problem: I don’t do tutorials. So, please note, that this not a tutorial, but more like some thoughts on planning a self-portrait shooting.
Planning a self-portrait is not really different to planning any other portrait, except that the model is also the photographer (which in some cases is not a good idea. I won’t mention names here) and the fact, that you cannot look through the viewfinder.
I will hardly lose any words on the artistic aspect btw, but mainly talk about the technical side. So here are some points to consider.
1. Focal lenghts
You probably heard, that with portraits, the focal lenght is of special importance. Why is that? Shorter focal lenghts (shorter than 35mm) can create extreme proportional distortions, depending on how close you are with the camera to your subject. I wanted to use the term „big nose syndrome“, but thank God, I googled and… well… it’s better not to use this term. At least not for what I’m trying to tell.
The classic focal lenght for portraits lies at about 80mm, so – if you are using a camera with a crop-sensor (for example APS-C with Canon DSLRs or DX with Nikons) - you are good with a 50mm lens or longer, because on these cameras the angle of view of a 50mm lens lies in about the range of an 80mm lens on a full-frame camera. If you have no idea, what I’m talking about, don’t worry, I will make a post covering this subject soon, so just bear with me for the moment.
Does that mean, you can’t use shorter focal lenghts? No. Of course you can use shorter focal lenghts. Just be aware of the proportional distortions, which can have a very disturbing or even (unwanted) comic effect with focal lenghts of less than 35mm.
Let’s use the example of the 50mm lens (80mm on the crop): My arms are simply not long enough to cover my whole face, when hand-holding the camera, so I had to use the kit-lens of my Canon at about 30mm (about the angle of view of a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera, so we’re good with distortions and my nose doesn’t look bigger than it is in real life, which is big enough anyway).
Or think about the classic selfie-camera: Your smartphone. Smartphone cameras have very, very short focal lenghts of sometimes only 6 or 8mm. Why do these extremely short focal lenghts have comparatively little proportional distortions? More on that in the post about focal lenghts, which will be one of the next posts, I suppose.
2. The closest focusing distance
Another important factor is the closest focusing distance. Originally I wanted to make a close-up shot of my eye (without the use of a tripod, because I was lazy) and my arm was long enough to have my eye fully covered in frame, but I wasn’t able to focus, because of the closest focusing distance of the lens I wanted to use, so I had to go with more of my face. I’m still sorry for that.
3. Controlling the frame
To compose a hand-held shot, when you can’t look through the viewfinder, is not really easy. How to do it anyway? Three ideas came to my mind.
1. Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot and hope. And shoot again and hope again. Using a wider angle and cropping in in post works pretty well. Many selfies are made exactly that way.
2. Use a mirror and the display of your camera. Control the composition with the reflected display image in the mirror. This can work pretty good.
3. Use the front-camera of your smartphone or (and that’s how I did it) the swivel-screen of your camera. My Canon EOS 700D (T5i) also has even a touchscreen, which comes in handy here. I can just tap on what I want to be in focus and the camera’s autofocus does the rest.
b) Depth of field.
Another crucial thing. The shallower the depth of field, the harder to focus. If you are using a deep depth of field (by using a small aperture = larger number) it is much easier to focus. Smartphone cameras usually have a very deep depth of field because of the small size of the sensor
Go for the eyes. Can’t go wrong with that :)
You might switch on your stabilizer, because hand-held-shots from the extended arm… you know what I mean…
4. Artsy and general stuff
Here some ideas:
- Soft, even light makes skin look more smooth and hides imperfections. But you also run into danger that your face loses it’s character and the picture looks boring.
- Frontal view makes your face look more roundish.
- Looking down creates double-chins.
So, the perfect way to look fat and in a selfie is to use a frontal point-of-view with soft light and you looking down. But you can use that to your advantage of course. I, for example, have a very slim face, so frontal view with soft light, looks better with me (at least IMHO).
- A point-of-view and also light from below makes you look very unappealing, maybe even creepy, so you might want to avoid that. Except of course, you want to make a creepy shot. Looking up a bit and a slight point-of-view from above, makes you look more friendly.
- Try to get some catch-lights in the eyes. That makes them look alive. Eyes without catchlights look dull and dead – something you can use of course, if it serves the idea.
- If you are shooting b/w or do a b/w conversion, a red-filter smoothes out skin-imperfections and reddish spots. A yellow-filter increases the contrast. So if you want to have a punchy portrait, go with yellow. If you want to have a smooth one, go with red.
The list can be endless… So, again, this is not a tutorial, but only some thoughts on selfies.
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