How to Take Better Self-Portraits

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In a day and age in which selfies with our mobile phones are usually the method of choice for taking self-portraits, it might be hard to believe that there are ways to get good photos of ourselves.

And those methods do not involve holding your phone out at arm’s length and snapping away, either.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-selfie, I’m just more for great self-portraits.

The good folks at Mango Street recently put out a video extolling the virtues of a good self-portrait and even gave a few tips for making self-portraits more compelling.

Check out the video below, and get a step-by-step summary of their tips too!

Step 1: Stabilize, Frame, and Trigger

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First, you need to give your camera a solid base so you can capture tack-sharp self-portraits.

Naturally, a tripod would be your best bet here, but even if you don’t have a tripod, you can get creative and stabilize your camera in a variety of other ways.

For example, you can set it on a tabletop and get some height by stacking books underneath it. It’s not a pretty setup, but hey, it works!

Next comes the framing…

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It can be tough to frame the shot when you aren’t actually in it, so there will be some trial and error here.

It’s easier to go wide and crop later, so if you have a zoom lens, work on the wide side. If you have a prime, back up your tripod (or handy stack of books) so you have too much space rather than not enough.

Lastly, trigger the shutter using your camera’s self-timer or a remote.

Most cameras have short and long timer options – 2, 5, 10 seconds and so on – so opt for the longer time frame so you have time to get into the shot before the shutter fires.

A lot of new camera systems have accompanying smartphone apps, so you might be able to trigger the shutter with your phone, too.

Step 2: Nail Your Focus

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Once you’ve stabilized your camera, framed the shot, and figured out a way to trigger the shutter, you need to work on getting the focus right.

Much like framing the shot, nailing the focus when you’re on your own can be a bit of a struggle, but there are things you can do to make the process easier.

For starters, work with a slightly larger aperture than you might usually use.

Instead of f/2.8, go for f/5 or f/5.6 to give yourself a little more depth of field.

Just that difference of a couple of stops will give you much more room to work with to be sure you’re in the area of focus in the shot.

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You can also use props to find a good focal point.

Put your favorite teddy bear, a plant, your dog – anything, really – in the spot you’ll be and simply focus your camera on your stand-in.

That should be enough to ensure you get self-portraits that are actually focused on you!

Step 3: Act Out Natural Movements

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If you aren’t on the candid portrait bandwagon yet, you should be!

The great thing about candid portraits is that they appear to be so much more genuine and authentic than posed shots.

That’s not to say that a posed self-portrait can’t be beautiful…

It’s just that acting out natural movements can help elevate your self-portraits to another level.

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The question is, how do you do that?

It’s easy, really – just set the interval timer on your camera to fire off a shot every couple of seconds, set it up to take 20-40 frames, and get into a candid groove.

With that many frames, you can bet that there will be at least a handful of images that capture you in a genuine moment in which you might have forgotten that your camera is even there.

Step 4: Get Creative

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The difference between a mobile phone selfie and a truly drop-dead gorgeous self-portrait is often the level of creativity that’s involved.

When you have to hold your phone in front of you at arm’s length, you don’t have a ton of options for composing the shot.

But by using a camera that’s stabilized and triggering the shutter remotely, you have plenty of options for getting more creative with what you do in your self-portraits.

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Try a long exposure self-portrait. Give shooting through something (like plastic wrap over your lens) a try.

Work with different lighting – natural light, direct flash, indirect flash, and ambient light.

Heck, ditch the candid shots and try a variety of poses too.

The point is that seeking out ways to capture your unique personality and style will help you create self-portraits that not only make you proud but make other people say WOW.

Final Thoughts

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Taking a great self-portrait doesn’t have to be a long, complicated process.

In fact, as you’ve seen in the steps above, better self-portraits can be had in just a few simple steps.

All you need is the right gear, sharp focus, a willingness to try candid shots, and a few tricks for ramping up your creativity.

You can try one of the tips above or try them all – either way, you will find that you have the tools and ideas you need to take better self-portraits.

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