Assignment: Self-portrait

We've talked before about creating self-assignments.  They make you step outside of your usual shooting preferences and help you learn new techniques.  I have an old photography book (about film) that lists hundreds of assignments for practice.  I hadn't read it in years, so when I came across it in my library, I opened it and found some old notes concerning things I was doing.  There were several things unchecked, including a self-portrait.  I decided that would be my next project. Self-portraits are nothing new and have been done throughout antiquity by artists in painting and sculpture.  The artists would often incorporate their own images in major works that were not specifically about themselves.  Michelangelo, Leonard da Vinci, Rembrandt, and many others have created many self-portraits.  Of course, photographers through the years have continued to use their cameras to shoot themselves.  So, it's an old tradition, and I figured it made for a fun little self-assignment. 

The funny thing is - and this may be why I never did it years ago - when you start thinking about how you want to be depicted, it gets more complicated.  What kind of pose will you choose?  You may want to highlight your various skills or possessions; you may want to portray a mood or emotion. You are doing a self-assignment, so you don't want to just shoot something silly like this.

You can make your own choice without the discussion of all the psychological rabbit holes that surround your personal decision.  I chose to show some of my musical instruments because the music room gave me control and had the space to move around. 

I put my camera on a tripod and made sure the field of view allow plenty of room.  I bounced a flash into the ceiling and used a reflector to bounce light back from the front window.  I wanted to reduce the shadows because I was going to be standing in different locations in the final composite.  Four different shadows would have caused more post processing.  I shot four different photos in manual mode to keep the aperture and focal point constant.  If you tried to shoot something like this in one of the automated modes, you would have had obvious photographic inconsistencies. Since everything, except my position, was consistent from photo to photo, I didn't have too much work to do in Photoshop.  Mostly, I added masks to allow only the appropriate part of the four layers to show through.  Here are a couple of the original shots and the final composite.


self portrait

The entire process only took a couple of hours.  It provided practice in several techniques: planning the shot; working through the photography set-up; and working through the post-processing.  Give your self-portrait a chance to help you learn and have fun.