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How to Take a Great Self Portrait

Victoria grew up in Vermont, studied architecture in New Mexico, and currently works as a designer in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Why Take a Self-Portrait?

Ahh, the selfie. While smartphone self-portraits may seem like a fad for teenagers to post on their Instagram accounts, having a nice, high-quality portrait can be an extremely useful marketing tool. Sure, you could hire a photographer or have a friend take your picture, but when these resources are not available, or if you just want to test your creativity, taking your own portrait is an easy solution.

Required Tools

  • Camera (preferably with a self-timer, flash, and front-facing screen)
  • Background or setting
  • An outfit
  • Yourself!
  • Tripod
  • Props
  • Wireless remote control for camera
  • Photoshop or other editing software

1. Know Your Camera

Whether you are shooting with a professional-grade digital single-lens reflex (DSLR), such as I do, a point and shoot, or even a smartphone, it is important that you understand the different settings and the effect they have on the final product. You could go through and read your whole owner's manual, but who has time for that? I think the best way to learn your camera is to get out there and practice. It may take some trial and error, but the satisfaction of teaching yourself a new skill is worth it.

By knowing how to manipulate the settings on your camera, you can increase your versatility and capture nice pictures under a variety of conditions.

2. Use a Tripod

While it is not absolutely necessary, I highly recommend using a tripod. By using a tripod, you are able to stabilize your image, producing a crisper, cleaner image, especially while shooting in low light conditions.

Using a tripod also allows you to be further away from the camera, allowing a full body shot if desired, and will eliminate the awkward "holding my camera as far away as possible while trying to keep my arm out of the shot" pose, as well as reflections if you are wearing (sun)glasses (nothing ruins a self-portrait for me more than a glasses reflection of the camera being held out—unless it is intentionally done of course!).

3. Choose Your Background

Your selection of background will often depend on the intended usage of the photo. For example, the image below was to be used as a profile image on a professional website, so I chose a neutral background (we've all seen those photo fails of embarrassing items in the background, right?!).

To achieve the look in this image, I stood in front of a sunny window covered with a sheer curtain, creating the backlit effect you see. In Photoshop, I was able to adjust the levels to white out the curtain further (it was actually a light blue), essentially fading out the background entirely while producing a nice glow around the edges.

A self-portrait for professional use

A self-portrait for professional use

4. Prepare Yourself/Gather Props

As with the background, your outfit will probably vary based on where the photo will be used/who will see it. If you are taking a professional photo, you will likely want to limit the amount of jewelry and makeup; however, for more casual, fun pictures, props can be a great way to liven up your picture or even change your look completely.

For example, one of my favorite props to play with is wigs (Arda Wigs has a great, affordable selection) and makeup. Portraits are a great way to express your personality and creativity, so don't be afraid to experiment!

Accessorize with jewelry, hair pieces, furniture, etc.

Accessorize with jewelry, hair pieces, furniture, etc.

5. Find a Focal Point

When I first got into photography and began taking self-portraits, I found that getting the camera to focus correctly was the most difficult part. If you are using a self-timer or a remote most cameras require the lens to be focused before the countdown can be enabled. This typically means that you are behind the camera while focusing it, not in front of it, so how can you be sure that the focus will be correct once you are in place?

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A trick I learned early on was to position yourself near a connection, such as the corner of a room. You can then focus your camera on where the walls meet, and when you move into a place, you should be in focus. Another method I like to use while shooting outside, say, in a wide-open field with no objects to focus on, is to bring a pole that is approximately my height and use that as a marker. I set up the pole, focus on it, remove the pole and position myself in its place, then snap the picture. This method does take a little more time, so it helps to have a remote control.

Whichever method you use, it will take some practice to get it right. Even then, not every photo is perfect, which is why I use the continuous shooting mode, taking several photos a second. Often this means that you will get several images that look very similar; however, I find that even a slight shift in posture can make a huge difference in the photo (especially if you were blinking!).

For this photo, I set a stuffed animal in the chair in order to set the focus.

For this photo, I set a stuffed animal in the chair in order to set the focus.

6. Pose

Posing is another aspect of self-portraiture that can take practice, more so for some than others. It takes some trial and error but eventually, you will find which angles work best for you. You can also try looking online for examples of poses if you are stuck.

One of the benefits of self-portraits is that you are both the model and photographer, which not only gives you complete freedom but also allows you to be more relaxed and not worry about being awkward or embarrassing (because let's face it, who doesn't make some interesting faces while trying to take a good picture?).

Have fun with your poses!

Have fun with your poses!

7. Edit

Photoshop is one of the greatest tools of our time. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating . . . but not by much. When used properly, Photoshop can turn a less-than-perfect photo into something much better. For example, I really liked the photo below but felt it could be better.

In less than 30 minutes of work, I cropped and resized the image (expanding the canvas on the left side), recreated the part of my hair that was out of frame, erased some fly aways, fixed my hairline where it is thinning (yay stress!), touched up a few blemishes, and adjusted the lighting and contrast.

The downside to Photoshop is that it is rather expensive and can take some time to get good at. Luckily there are many helpful tutorials available across the internet that can be found with a simple search (ex: how to whiten teeth in Photoshop).

If you are not able to afford Photoshop, there are a variety of free programs on the internet (Pixlr is a popular one) that allow you to apply filters, adjust lighting, etc. They don't offer nearly as many functions as a full editing program but are often enough for a beginner.

A before and after of image correction using Adobe Photoshop.

A before and after of image correction using Adobe Photoshop.

8. Share!

The best way to improve your photography is to share your work with others and get their feedback. Take a lot of pictures, practice, and refine! There is no shame in being proud of a photo of yourself, so get out there and take some great ones!

Feel free to share your favorite self-portraits in the comments!

Note: All of my self portraits in this article were shot with my Canon Rebel T3i and an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens.


Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 06, 2015:

Congrats on HOTD! You are obviously and experienced and talented photographer.

I've written some photo basics tutorials, myself. I learned at my father's knee; he invented and made a remote control for his twin-lens reflex film camera long before such items were commercially available to the public. (In the 1950s!)

It had a 25 foot cord with a controller on the end. He was even able to be in the photos of family gatherings this way. You'll often see in these photos that one of his hands is concealed behind or under something; that's where the controller is hidden!

I absolutely can't stand this craze of "selfies" taken with cell phones. They look awkward; you can tell because of the angle, and often the arm holding the phone/camera is partially in view. Ugh.

You've suggested the same focusing-help tips I would have given.

And now--for the tutorials I'd like to see! I agree that Photoshop is rather a Jekyll and Hyde program; easy to learn the basics; difficult to become a master. I have the basics down, but what I struggle with is trying to create layers to make a collage. (Ever try to get 7 cats to sit still together at the same time in the same place for a portrait?!?!?)

My version of PS is older; v.6.0, and I cannot afford to upgrade.

Voted your article up, interesting, useful and awesome. Oh, yeah--also pinned! ;)

Tony Sky from London UK on February 04, 2015:

I really enjoyed this beautiful article and learned a few tips and tricks which will come in handy.

Many thanks,

CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on February 04, 2015:

Great hub! Very useful and you're awesome! Well deserving HOTD award...congrats!

Felix J Hernandez from All over the USA on February 04, 2015:

Good one and well prepared.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 04, 2015:

Congratulations for HOTD!

An interesting and informative tutorial for taking self portrait.

All your pictures are just--Wow!

Normally I do not take my own picture but I love editing/ Photoshop feature. I love taking pictures of my family, Nature, Birds etc.

Enjoyed going through your hub and learnt something from it.

Thanks and voted up!

Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on February 03, 2015:

Congrats on HOTD, Victoria Anne. This is a well done tutorial, very informative. You're an excellent photographer who knows her stuff. The self-portraits are beautiful. You have elevated the selfie. Voted up and useful.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 03, 2015:

This looks like great info, and I enjoyed reading it. However, I don't expect to be taking any self portraits anytime soon; not, at least, until I find a better model to pose for them.

Jean Bakula from New Jersey on February 03, 2015:

This is very helpful. I've needed a professional picture for my writing purposes, and when friends take them, they always come out awful. You have a lot of good tips here.

Eileen from Western Cape , South Africa on February 03, 2015:

Very informative hub ! I have Photoshop but there is a learning curve - your tips are most welcome . Congrats on HOTD .

Shasta Matova from USA on February 03, 2015:

Congratulations on HOTD. I tried to take some portraits once, and they turned out pretty good. I'll have to try it again using your tips.

Richard Bivins from Charleston, SC on February 03, 2015:

Awesome advice and congrats on the HOTD. This is actually a topic I'm really interested in. I've never taken a cell phone selfie but the need for a self portrait is there. I'm going to try out your tips. Thanks.

Anika Diaries on February 03, 2015:

I wasn't sure about the focal point thing earlier, but will soon apply the trick you shared in your 5th point. Good one!

poetryman6969 on February 03, 2015:

It certainly helps to have a lovely model. The skirt and boots photo is particularly fetching.

Hector Herrera from Dominican Republic on February 03, 2015:

I enjoyed this hub very much because it opens the new world of exciting pictures by following your tips.

Victoria Anne (author) from Las Vegas on February 03, 2015:

Hi FlourishAnyway, I use Adobe Photoshop CS6. The newest version is Adobe Photoshop CC, which is what I would recommend getting if you can afford it. The CC stands for Creative Cloud, which essentially means that Adobe products are now on a subscription basis rather than a one time purchase. Photoshop and Lightroom (a photo organization tool) are bundled for $10 a month. While some people may prefer a one time payment, the logic behind this system is that by paying your monthly fee your products will automatically be upgraded, saving you from having to buy a later version. If you are one of those people who'd rather pay once you can find CS6 (with less features of course) for a few hundred dollars. Head over to Adobe's website if you'd like to try a free trial of CC. Thank you for reading and sharing!

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 03, 2015:

Congratulations on HOTD. This is a fabulous tutorial. Voted way up and more. Also pinning. What version of Photoshop do you recommend? I went to purchase it and was so confused by the options I didn't buy anything. I'd rather not buy one version then turn around and have to purchase another more expensive one later.

mySuccess8 on February 03, 2015:

Selfies or self-portrait photographs have become a global trend that is fast gaining in popularity. You have given great tips on taking better-looking self-portraits that suit the purpose of these photographs. Your photographs are beautiful. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

Victoria Anne (author) from Las Vegas on August 29, 2014:

Thank you Glimmer, I'm glad you found it useful :) It does take some practice, that is for sure!

Claudia Mitchell on August 29, 2014:

Wow - That's really cool, although I find it hard to take pics of myself. I thought I mastered it when I took a selfie for my picture here. These are really good. Thanks for the tips.

dragonflycolor on July 31, 2014:

I use Fotor to help edit. It's a great tool. Thanks!

oldiesmusic from United States on July 10, 2014:

I use Pixlr since I don't have Photoshop (too big for my old laptop) -- the Pixlr Editor in particular, which has almost the same tools as Photoshop has. Thank God for Pixlr cos it's free. Haven't downloaded the mobile app though, I'll try downloading it.

Beautiful editing on your beautiful pics. Very useful hub.

Victoria Anne (author) from Las Vegas on July 07, 2014:

Lisa, I don't have a lot of experience with either but I think Pixlr is a little better for editing, especially since it has a smartphone app as well. Picasa seems to be better for organization though. Another free alternative to Photoshop is Gimp, which has a lot of tools but is harder to learn.

LisaKeating on July 04, 2014:

Nice job and nice pictures. I do not have Photoshop. I use Picasas to edit my photos. Do you think Pixlr is better? Thanks for shoring this information.

Victoria Anne (author) from Las Vegas on June 30, 2014:

Thank you LJ Mikels, and I'm sure your photos are beautiful!

LJ Mikels from Las Vegas, Nv on June 28, 2014:

I really enjoyed this. My selfies are always big fails (how do you hide a 48 year old's sagging neck?). But I enjoyed all the tips.

Victoria Anne (author) from Las Vegas on June 27, 2014:

Thank you KonshesGirl and swilliams for your kind comments, and thank you for reading!

KonshesGirl, I think my friends would probably say I could be a contender in Selfie Wars as well ;)

swilliams on June 26, 2014:

What a beautiful article! And you make a beautiful model. Thanks for providing such useful information! Voted up!

Kristen from Nassau on June 25, 2014:

Great Hub! I've been taking "selfies" for at least 20 years...we just didn't call them "selfies"...we were simply conceited, lol!

Now my 19-year-old daughter is a true contender in the Selfie Wars and takes at least 10 per day. I mean really?

Anyway, thanks for the great advice.

Victoria Anne (author) from Las Vegas on June 24, 2014:

Thanks for reading Dan, I'm glad you found it useful :)

Dan Lema from Tanzania on June 24, 2014:

This is very helpful, thank you for sharing it...!!