Self-portrait tips for the camera shy

Self-portrait tips for the camera shy

This is not the original version of this post.

The version of this post that I initially sat down to write was called “10 faceless self-portrait ideas for the camera shy”. Because as an introvert, a woman and a human being I experience self-confidence issues surrounding my physical appearance and as an artist who has been shooting self-portraiture for close to a decade, I’m very familiar with ways to hide my face in a photo.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that anonymous self-portraits can have great value as a creative form of expression. Faceless portraits have a number of benefits:

  • They create anonymity that can make us more comfortable in front of the camera
  • They invite the viewer to put themselves into the story
  • They solve the problem of awkward facial expressions
  • They allow us to move the focus to other elements – the eye is naturally drawn to faces in images, by removing this element we can direct the attention elsewhere
  • While a traditional portrait often relies on the face as the focal point of the image, a faceless portrait forces you to think outside the box and this makes it a great tool for exploring creativity.

The problem I had while writing the original post was this:

Self-portraits are about more than just a pretty face.

Whatever our reason for shooting self-portraits, be documenting our lives, expressing ideas and emotions or creating art, every single one of us deserves to be represented in our photos. We’ve been trained to be our own worst critics, to think we need to fit neatly into a stereotypical standard of beauty to make taking and sharing an image of ourselves a valid thing to do.

Writing an article that was essentially a guide to hiding faces in photos felt like it was buying into this flawed way of thinking.

For the aspiring creative, self-portraits are an amazing medium for expression. Shooting a self-portrait provides the freedom to be as artistic as you like, and the convenience of having a ready and willing model whenever inspiration hits. Self-portraits are also ideal for the camera shy, giving the space to experiment without judgement. When shooting alone, we gain the freedom to make mistakes, take terrible shots that never have to see the light of day and maintain full creative control over the final images.  

Here’s the thing – while all of us are beautiful and unique in our own ways and self-portraits have incredible value in helping us discover this in ourselves, it’s still not always easy to jump effortlessly into embracing the way we look on film (or screen).  

So, what I decided to put together were self-portrait tips for the camera shy – ways to take the pressure off, to feel more comfortable putting yourself in the frame, to look past the superficial and create something more meaningful.

Hands and Feet

If you’re not used to being in front of the camera or need a gentle place to start then including just a small part of you can be a helpful entry point. There’s no reason a self-portrait has to include all of you – as long as some part of you appears in the frame, you become an element in the story that is being told through the photo. Including just your hands, feet or other body parts can be a great way to introduce a human touch while also allowing the viewer to put themselves in the picture. Try shooting from your own perspective, looking down at your feet or holding your hands out in front of you, or for a more traditional portrait, put yourself in front of the camera but crop the frame so only part of you appears.

Create a character

This is a technique I use when shooting conceptual self-portraits, where there’s an underlying story or message that needs to come across. Decide what the concept of your photo is, then put a character into that situation and look at it from an outside perspective – how would that person act or react in that situation? By filling a role when you step in front of the camera, you can separate your own personal feelings on your appearance from the story you’re telling and play a part rather than shooting a photo of yourself.

Use props

Props are a great tool for adding interest to a photo as well as giving you something to interact with. One of the biggest difficulties in self-portraiture (or photos in general) is knowing what to do with your arms/hands/face/body and a prop gives you an object to base your pose around. Genuine interaction with a prop can also help in making an image look more authentic and less set up.

Use body language

The general consensus among portrait photographers is that the more uncomfortable a pose is to hold, the better it looks in the photo. Dynamic posing adds strength, form and interest to your composition. Simple options include creating triangle shapes within your pose by bending arms and legs, twisting your body or arching your spine to create curves. Creating tension in the muscles and ensuring you maintain good posture will also naturally make your body look more streamlined and intentional.

Play with focus and motion

Don’t be afraid to experiment with how you shoot. Deliberately taking your photo with some or all of the image out of focus can produce a beautiful moody or dreamy aesthetic. Likewise, shooting with a slow shutter speed to capture motion can give a deeper glimpse into a moment, rather than just one static frame. Leaving something to the imagination can actually make your images more engaging as they give the viewer room to contemplate and interpret from their own perspective. It’s also much easier and more natural to capture yourself in motion rather than holding a static pose. If your camera has a burst mode, try taking several photos in a row as you move or set the 10-second timer and keep moving until the shutter fires.

Change up your angle

Our natural inclination when shooting a portrait is to have the camera head on but this is actually not the most flattering angle for most of us. Shooting from below with camera angled up or from above looking down can literally put a new perspective on your scene, as well as removing the element of having a camera pointed directly at you. Even just a slight tilt can make a huge difference if you want to maintain more of a straight on view but experimenting with more dramatic angles can give you some new creative options.

Get reflective

While the idea of a “mirror selfie” might make you cringe, there’s a lot more that can be explored creatively within this concept. A photo of your own reflection shows both the way you see the world and your place in it – what you choose to include in the frame can say just as much about you as the way you look. Mirrors are the obvious choice but think about where else you could find your reflection in windows, puddles or shiny surfaces. You can also choose to include the camera in the shot or use creative angles to keep it out of view.

Go faceless

Yes, I’m including this (just once, not 10 different ways) because it can produce some striking results. Adding an element of mystery, this technique can reveal just as much as it hides, especially when combined with effective body language. Crop your frame creatively, turn away from the camera or use props or posing to obscure your face but do it in context so it makes sense with the story you are telling through your photo.

I wanted to finish this article by providing a few links to photographers who are doing amazing and creative things with self-portraits. Each of these artists has interpreted the medium in their own form of expression yet none of them rely solely on their physical appearance to make beautiful portraits.

Brooke Shaden – surreal and conceptual fine art

Fiona Lark (I also found this video on Fiona and her art very inspiring)

Ezgi Polat’s series of mirror selfies with her cat Cliff

Kika (kutovakika) – creative self-portrait photography