Tips for Taking Self-Portraits (a.k.a. Awesome selfies)

The biggest problem I’ve encountered as a photographer, and a mom, is getting in the frame. I’m not a big “selfie” taker. One look at my personal Facebook and Instagram feed, and you’ll see what I mean. There are precious few pictures of just me. I may snap some i-phone shots of myself with my husband on a date night, or when I’m doing something fun with the kids, but that’s about the extent of it. Part of the reason is I’m not a huge fan of being on the other side of the camera - I don’t think most people are - but a large part of it is also the limitations and restrictions of “selfie’s” in their traditional sense. In general, the image quality on a cell phone, especially in selfie-mode, is very poor. And unless you have a selfie-stick (which you can assume, by now, that I don’t) you’re limited to arm length compositions.

I mean, he’s still seriously cute, and the composition isn’t bad, but for one, my son is way more aware of the camera, what with the flash in his face, which makes the moment much less sincere, and secondly, that low quality!

I mean, he’s still seriously cute, and the composition isn’t bad, but for one, my son is way more aware of the camera, what with the flash in his face, which makes the moment much less sincere, and secondly, that low quality!

This is an example of a “selfie” I took with my son in our living room this afternoon:

Getting quality photos of myself with my kids is one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered as a parent, knowing and understanding the value of getting in the frame, being present with my kids, in their memories, and in their pictures, but struggling to find a way to do it with photos I could be happy with. I’ve been working at it for a while, have had considerable practice, and have done a lot of research trying to figure out the best, and more importantly most convenient - because if you have children, you know it’s all about convenience, which is part of the appeal in cell phone cameras, amiright? - ways to get great quality, beautifully composed images that I’d be proud to display in an album for my children. Images that tell the story of our lives, from one candid moment to the next.

Here’s the result of setting up my nice camera on a mini tripod, learning the right settings to use, investing in a remote (a whopping $10 investment guys), and lots - and I mean LOTS - of practice getting my focus right.

Settings: ISO 1000, f/1.4, ss 1/160 with a 35 mm lens  He has NO idea the camera is going off here. I do, of course, but it’s much easier to forget when it’s not in hand, and flashing in your face.

Settings: ISO 1000, f/1.4, ss 1/160 with a 35 mm lens

He has NO idea the camera is going off here. I do, of course, but it’s much easier to forget when it’s not in hand, and flashing in your face.

Sounds like way too much work, right? Maybe you should actually just stick to your iPhone camera after all, because who has time to learn all that?! Well…I do, since it’s my job and all. And because I spent all that time, I can offer a few quick tips to make your life a little easier, and a whole lot more picture-perfect.

tip 1: Get a tripod

And I don’t mean go out and spend hundreds of dollars on pro gear. Aside from your camera (which I’m assuming you already have, if you’re reading this), you’ll only need to invest, at most, another $20 to have everything you need to capture the second picture above for yourself (minus the adorable two year old, obviously). I frequently use this tripod from Amazon. I love it. It’s versatile, sturdy, holds the weight of my Nikon D850, 35mm lens, and even battery pack, plus, it’s so affordable! The best part about this tripod, is it’s small, and I can fit it just about anywhere. In the photo above, I placed it on the side table next to the love seat in my living room. A tripod is essential for self-portraiture, unless you have a friend, partner or willing spouse you can hand the camera, and show them where to stand, and how to press the shutter for you. Next up, another helpful tool:

Tip 2: Get a remote

This isn’t necessarily an essential, but it will make your life a lot easier, and more comfortable, not having to jump up and run back and forth to the camera to press the shutter before the self-timer expires. Also, I promise, this is the last thing I’ll tell you to purchase. And it’ll cost you a whopping $7. This one is pretty generic, will likely work with any entry level DSLR, and worked perfectly for me with my first few real cameras (a Canon Rebel xti, but shhhhh…don’t tell anyone…I’m a Nikon girl now).

tip 3: Setting up your focus point

This was the hardest one for me, so hopefully this guide helps you achieve your results faster (and less painfully). To start, it’ll probably be less frustrating to use a smaller aperture (f4 or higher) at first, so you have a larger depth of field to work with. (If the terms Aperture and depth-of-field frighten you, and f4 looks more like a algebraic formula than a camera setting, no worries, we’re putting an in-person workshop together for February 2019, where we’ll be teaching you the significance of these terms, and how to apply them in practice.) One way to set up your focus successfully is to position a stand-in of some sort, like a pillow or a stuffed animal (something that can be moved easily and quickly without breaking) wherever I plan on being, and set my focus point on that. More importantly, make sure you set your focus mode to manual (usually a switch on the front of your camera, depending on the model, and most lenses have an AF/MF switch right near the mount you where you can quickly change it) so your focus point doesn’t move once you’ve set it.

Keeping these 3 tips in mind, you should be well on your way to some beautiful self-portraits with your favorite people (or pets)! And if you’re interested in signing up for our February workshop, where we’ll be going over some introductory camera settings, exposure basics, and all the essential elements you need to know about light to unlock the potential of your camera, sign up for one of our hands-on workshops!

~Dacia

Dacia Banda