So I love portraits.

Since I’ve moved into a new complex and the locals are getting used to us, the culturally relevant and respectful portrait opps have been sparse.  So what do you do when there is no one to shoot and your creative juices are flowing?  In my case, the self portrait.

I love the self portrait.

Around 3 months ago I had the idea to do a 30 day self portrait series with a certain amount of creative resctrictions.  The restrictions were as following:

  • I could use two strobes, but they must be in the same position and power settings.
  • I had to take the shot at the same time of day
  • At that time, I had to stop what I was doing and incorporate what I was doing into the shot
  • If I wasn’t home, then no worries
  • I had three exposures to play with
  • Same focal length, camera settings, etc

The setup

  • 35mm 1.8 Nikkor
  • Taped off: Tripod Location, Camera mount on RRS head & L Plate, taped off tripod head settings, Taped off my position
  • Wireless Remote Shutter release
  • Shot against a white, concrete, bland, cold, Chinese plastered wall

So take a look at these next 14(hardly 30, we will address that) images from a 30 day self portrait series and then we will discuss what you can learn about photography, lighting, and yourself after these images.

Congrats.  You made it through 14-some-odd pictures of one ugly guy.  For that, you deserve some application.

Things I learned

1. Make sure your restrictions actually help. If you will notice, towards the end of my self-portrait series lots of other stuff other than me ended up in the pictures.  Truth be told, I was bored with the same focal length, distance, setup, etc.  Though the idea was good, I was tired of having gaffers (consistency, remember) tape on my camera, my tripod, my floor, my wall, etc.

2. It’s a series; make the pictures connect somehow. Talk about balance.  First I say loosen the rules and now I say figure out a way to make it all connect.  Naturally there is a bit of coherency since YOU are the subject. However, a bunch of pictures of yourself that you took is not necessarily a self portrait series.

3.Plan Ahead – If you are planning on getting 30 pictures in 30 days, you need to do some planning – especially if you want them to be interesting.  Much like a 365 project, it’s really difficult to do if you aren’t ready for it.

4.Learn – Man, do I just sound like a Jr. High Basketball Coach now?  Seriously.  Do it with the point of learning, EVEN if its learning how one lens reacts to certain conditions or how a white wall with two strobes in a 10ft x 10ft room will react at 6pm.  Be conscious of what it is you are doing and what effects that has on the outcome of your capture.  I now that sounds like pretty obvious advice – and it is to some degree – but I guarantee you that the more conscious you are during those 30 days the better photographer you will end up being.  Be aware… and expose right(kidding, kinda)

5. Notice what variables might be changing – Same setup, same strobe powers, same lens, camera, position – different exposures.  Why.  Well, I moved alot and that has an affect on strobe placement results.  How will that work with a future client when you have everything set the way you want it and then all the sudden they, like people tend to do, move.  For you LOST watchers out there, as Daniel Faraday would say “We are the variables, Jack! We change the equation!”

Also, I live near mountains and on the 4th floor of a big apartment complex.  The seasons were changing and the ambient light in my office/studio changed very rapidly from one week to the next which in turn changed the effects on the later shots.  My rules were set – I inadvertently, through my rules to maintain consistency, cause inconsistency.

One last thing that I won’t include in the “What I learned” section.  Just find a way to shoot.  For me this was inspired out of moving to a different location that to eventually get the kinds of shots I want, is going to take time.  Not picking up your camera does NOTHING to help progress towards that end goal.  I am a people person – I love shooting people, however, I live in a very culturally paranoid place.  Don’t stand still – if you know the shot you want to get but don’t have the subject, figure out how can create that shot with YOU in it instead.  All that being said, don’t settle for the self portrait.

It’s like fasting – people do it for a reason.