So yesterday I posted a self portrait as part of my photo project. As promised here are a few little tips about how to shoot portraits of yourself holding an object.
I take quite a few shots where I am holding objects in my hands. I’ve found it’s a way to make the objects more interesting, or to convey emotion in a photo. Setting up the shot can be a little tricky but it’s worth persisting!
More often than not, I take these photos when I don’t have anyone around to help and over time I’ve learnt a few things to make the process easier. Anyone watching me take the photo would probably think that I’ve lost the plot a little as I am balancing things all over the place and jumping around, but I’ve learnt not to worry about what anyone else thinks :) 1. Be prepared to be patient
These photos take a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to the camera and it will take time to get the shot that you want. Make sure you have a bit of spare time so you’re not rushing and getting frustrated.2. Dress for the occasion
At first I was going to just take the shot wearing my jeans and t-shirt but then realised that it wouldn’t look all that pretty. I wanted to make a light and airy photo where there would be some contrast with the conkers so it was an opportunity to have a look through my wardrobe and find something more suitable.
Don’t forget to consider your background when choosing what to wear. Even though it may be blurred if you’re using a shallow depth of field, make sure that your clothes contrast in the right way so as not to distract from the main subject of the photo.3. Wash your hands
Even if you think your hands and nails are clean, give them a bit of a wash before you start taking the photo. I always find I have ink dots on my hands or that I need to trim my nails.
If you are wearing nail varnish make sure your nails are neatly painted. The camera will pick up any little chips in the paint or specs of paint on your finger tips. 4. Make the most of natural light
I don’t use any lighting equipment and rely on natural light for my photos. Choose a nice spot indoors by a window, or even better get outdoors to make the most of the light around you. Beware of shadows, particularly when the sun is lower. 5. Get the angle right
Use a tripod where possible, but if you haven’t got one there are ways to improvise. Using a 50mm lens, I stood between 1-2 metres from the camera. Ideally you want the camera to be slightly higher than the level of your hands and tilting down slightly to ensure that the object you’re holding is visible. I have taken many failed photos where you can see my hands but not what I’m holding!
If you don’t have a tripod you can improvise using walls, chairs, piles of books, or whatever you have nearby that is suitable. I have often folded the camera strap and wedged it under the back of the camera to get a little bit of tilt. Just make sure that you have something soft on the ground in case your camera isn’t as steady as you think!
6. Choose a wide aperture
I find that an aperture of between f2-f3 suits these photos best. Although my lens will shoot at f1.8, this often produces such a shallow depth of field that the majority of my subject looks out of focus. An aperture of f2.8 for example will ensure that your body is blurred while the object you’re holding remains in focus. 7. Manual focus
You are set to fail if you try to shoot a shallow depth of field using auto focus. Chances are, the autofocus will set as you stand near the camera to set off the shutter and so by the time you move you’ll be totally out of focus.
Instead, you need to set up the shot using a stand in for yourself. If there is no one else around to help do this you’ll need to find a tallish object. I was in the garden and so grabbed a tall stool from the kitchen and placed a peg basket on it with a peg clipped to the handle…glamorous right?! Doing this enabled me to manually focus exactly on the spot where I would hold the conkers.
Once the manual focus is set, place some markers on the floor (anything that won’t blow away will do!). Place a marker for the distance your hands need to be away from the camera, and place another marker for your feet then move your stand in model away. Each time you set the shutter you won’t need to guess where to move back to.
Life is easier if you have a swivel screen camera. I learnt to take photos using one but I don’t have this feature on my DSLR! It means a little more time and patience but it doesn’t make it impossible.8. Try to stand near a mirror or a window
When you’re on your own reflections are very useful! You can test the height for holding out your hands and have an idea of what the final shot will look like.
You can also make sure your clothes are looking neat enough and having gone out of shape. I always find that one cardigan sleeve will slip or I’ll have random folds in my clothes…reflections help sort this out before the shot is taken.9. Check your self timer settings
Even though I often use a remote, it’s absolutely no use when your hands are full :) Instead I rely on the self timer.
Set your self timer to a long amount of time e.g. between 10-20 seconds, and make sure it’s set to take as many pictures as possible; mine will take up to 9 each time. If possible, choose a longer interval time so that you get chance to make adjustments between each shot.10. Hold your hands away from your body
When your hands are close to you, the angle of your arms can look a little funny and uncomfortable in the final photo. By stretching, your arms look a bit more natural and this also results in your body being kept slightly out of focus. 11. Test different positions for your hands
It is really easy for hands to look kinda ugly in photos if they’re not in the right position. I find that holding one hand under the other works best for me, but it’s a case of trial and error to find what position works best for you.
Thumbs and little fingers are the hardest to get right as they tend to stick out at funny angles. Try to make sure that you achieve a balanced look with thumbs at the same angles and heights (another reason why mirrors and window reflections are useful).12. Start shooting
Once you’re happy with your set up it’s time to start shooting. Either have a table nearby so you can pick up your object on your way back from pressing your shutter, or, try and hold the object in one hand until the shutter is pressed. You’ll soon get used to the right position for your hands so that you can quickly get back in place before the photos are taken.
Don’t be afraid to move between each shot as this will give you more of an idea of the positions you like to stand in and the height at which to hold your object.
No doubt it will take quite a lot of shots to get a final photo that you are happy with. I think I took about 150 (9 each time) before I got the image I wanted!!
I’d love to hear if you’ve given this ago! If you haven’t tried it before, maybe give it a go this weekend :)