Why Self-Portraits?

I did three 365 Days projects–a self-portrait every day for a year. I did not start on January 1. I completed three years of that, and then continued with a photo every day. And I’m still going, actually. (Though to be honest, it feels like cheating sometimes, since I take a lot of mindless photos with my iPhone now.) It was a transformative experience for many reasons. I think I’ll actually make several posts about it. In this era of endless selfies, I want to talk about self-portraits (and self-portrait projects) and why they are important.

self portrait with camera

First, let’s define self-portraits.

I’m talking about more than just duckface smartphone selfies. Self-portraits can include that, sure, but it’s a much wider field of possibility in my mind. Generally I’m including “real camera” photos. To me, it’s more about intention, thought and creativity behind the photo, and also often being not physically attached to the camera device.

Why take self-portraits?

–It’s easy.

You are always around! No worries about finding a model or someone to get in front of your camera.

You are your own best director! No need to try describing your ideas with words to someone else. Just do it yourself!

–It’s no-risk.

If you look silly in a photo, there’s no one else to judge you. Often you are alone when taking photos, so literally there is no one else around to observe or judge your actions. You can be completely ridiculous and have a good laugh at yourself.

Plus, hello, you have a delete button. On the camera and on your computer.

–It will push you.

I started my first 365 in March 2007 with a tiny 3MP Nikon Coolshot that I’d had since 2004. In May 2007, I bought myself a bigger and better point & shoot bridge camera (Sony DSC-H7). The following May (2008), my now-husband surprised me with my first DSLR, a refurbished Nikon D40x. That same December (2008), I bought a used Nikon D80. In August 2010, I bought a used Nikon D300. In January 2013, I *finally* went full-frame with a brand-new Nikon D600. In November 2015, I upgraded to a new Nikon D750.

For each new camera, I took a version of this photo:

self-portrait with new cameraYou may have a vision or idea, but it may be tougher than you think to achieve that look. You might start playing with different settings and modes on your camera. You might try out new editing techniques.

The more photos I took, the more inspiration and ideas I had from the flickr community I was part of, the more I wanted to try and do with my camera and post-processing. As I grew in my self-portrait journey, my equipment grew up along with me.

Also, I am a complete and utter dork. And I OWN IT. I give zero ****s about doing something silly or weird for a photo. That is some serious growth and self-actualization…all from taking my own picture for years on end! 🙂

Silly self-portraits

–You will get used to the camera.

I don’t think I ever had a serious problem feeling camera-shy, but after three years of being in front of the camera every.single.day, I am really comfortable. Now–I don’t usually love my face, but I have definitely accepted it. And taking so many photos of my own damn self, I have no problem acknowledging and enjoying when I take a flattering photo. And hey, the more photos you take of yourself, the more great photos of yourself you will have!

self-portrait collageBonus–when you need a good photo for social media profiles or what have you, you can choose from all the beautiful photos you’ve taken of yourself by yourself! (And I don’t mean selfies in the car!)

–You will develop more of a style.

I don’t like just looking at the camera and smiling. I realized that I much prefer a more dramatic scene, like looking away or with a serious expression, and/or photos without my face in them at all! Gasp! Maybe you will discover that you prefer certain angles, or lots of action in your photos, or a lack of action. You will almost certainly go through a phase of making everything black and white.  You may start making everything super saturated, or super hazy.  (I encourage you to not to get stuck in either of those styles; keep trying different editing styles.)(Several photos in this post are no longer a style I like or use.)

–You can tell your own story.

Use your face, your clothing, your body, your environment to tell a story. The story could be about an event that particular day, or an emotion you feel, or something in your life, or even a joke!

Here’s a memorable one from June 2009. I titled this, “These boots aren’t made for climbing, but that’s just what I did.” In the caption I wrote, “These boots are walking me into a new adventure–I accepted a job today!” (I also included the outtakes of the actual climb up this short wall as a fun extension of the story.)

DSC_1598_WEB(PS–some days you probably won’t have a story. THAT IS OKAY and perfectly normal.)

My 365 flickr sets literally tell the story of my life in those years. That is priceless.

–It develops discipline and creativity.

Nothing like doing something for three hundred and sixty-five days to push your creative mind! (Though again, you don’t have to do 365 days of self-portraits to get the benefits.)

I found that every time I set up a little shoot or scene, my vision changed or transitioned, and I would end up with photos that looked different than my original intent. It’s good to give yourself some time to play once you have everything set up. For example, one day it snowed, and I put on a fancy dress and went out onto our roof to take photos. In this case I didn’t have anything in mind more specific than “fancy dress in the snow,” but several interesting shots came out (notice I didn’t edit or crop all of them):

self-portrait in the snow(Notice only two of these I’m looking at the camera, and there are no smiles to be seen.)

Now imagine the difference if I had simply taken a smartphone outside with me and just taken pictures of my stupid face in the snow while holding the phone. There’s no story there, no style, nothing interesting that says hey, I’m the one who took this.

–Every day can be easier than weekly.

That sounds crazy, right?

A weekly photo means that you need to decide when your week is. Does it start on Sunday, or Monday? Do you have to take the picture on a certain day? What if that day ends up super packed and then you don’t have time to do the mega awesome idea you had? It becomes too easy to let it go and say, oh I’ll do it next week.

As proof, here’s the extent of the 52 Week Project I began in 2015. Great fun but then I totally fizzled.

selfportraitsJust keep clicking. Every day. You will develop the habit, and you will be proud. Some days will be shi**y photos. AND THAT’S OKAY. Tomorrow is a new day! What photo will you take?

–You will fail.

And that is a good thing. Whatever failure means to you–missing a day, taking an ugly photo–the thing to remember is to KEEP GOING. Like Dory says, Just keep swimming! We are humans, and we are not perfect. The hard thing is to push past that. To acknowledge that, whoops I messed up, but I won’t let that stop me!

DSC_7008-3_WEBNow go forth and take some self-portraits!