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Brooke Shaden's How-To Guide To Self-Portraits, A Creative Outlet As We Practice Social Distancing

The social distancing procedures taking place across the world have limited photographers and the subjects we can photograph. While there is no doubt that this presents a challenge, it also creates an opportunity to try something new – like self portraiture. In this comprehensive video tutorial, Sony Artisan of Imagery and self-portrait artist Brooke Shaden shares everything you need to know about creating self-portraits and how we can use it to take advantage of the circumstances we’re currently under.

During social distancing, Brooke Shaden shares how she makes dynamic self-portraits, from composition to shooting techniques to gear, and tips for how you can do it too. 

“For me, self portraiture is just an image that represents the self in some way,” explains Shaden. “It doesn’t have to be your face or even your whole body. It could just be a finger, it could be anything. It’s something that you make by yourself – so you’re going to be operating your camera, and modeling, and dealing with lighting, and all of that stuff.”

Here's the video and you can see some of the highlights below.

How To Compose Your Self-Portrait

Composing for a self-portrait is very different from composing any other image because you aren’t behind the camera taking the photo. “I would recommend erring on the side of a wide frame rather than trying to keep it tight,” explains Shaden, “only if you’re trying to get your whole body in because that can be tricky. Sometimes you cut a foot off or you’re just not sure how high the frame goes – it’s really difficult to tell sometimes. So I would recommend erring on the side of a larger frame and cropping in if you can.”

“That said, of course it’s super fun to get creative. So if you’re going for something really close up, that can be another good way to combat being really uncomfortable with self-portraiture. So maybe just focus on taking a picture of your hand first or just a certain body part – even your hair. Try going with really, really close-up shots like that which can even be done by holding the camera out with the other hand if you want. So maybe a wide shot is better for you, maybe something really close, but just be aware that getting your whole body in the frame can be challenging to begin with so do whatever feels right for you.”

How To Focus Your Self Portrait

Getting your focus to be completely perfect in self-portraiture is often a challenge. Brooke says she doesn’t know the answer to getting her eyes absolutely perfect in focus for every shot because that’s not her concern, and challenges photographers to worry more about creating than getting it perfect.

“I challenge you," says Shaden, "especially during this time, when we just need to make stuff, don’t worry about all of those details if you can help it. Don’t focus on perfectionism, just focus on action. So when you use your remote and if you have a lens that does auto focus, it will automatically focus on you – so that’s pretty simple. So if I were to click, it would focus on me or wherever your focus point is set to of course. With Sony in particular you can set it to eye autofocus so that will help in terms of getting the eye in focus.”

If you don’t have a lens with auto focus, Shaden also explains how you can use manual focus.

“You’ll just set something up in your space – wherever you want to be standing or sitting or or laying or floating or whatever you’re going to do – and focus on that thing. Just focus it on that spot and move that thing out of the way and take its place. And then you can shoot everything from that same spot. It doesn’t give you as much flexibility in terms of you being able to move around the frame and try different things, but it works great. And in fact, I solely used manual for about seven years of my career so it works, it’s totally fine.”

Brooke's Essential Gear For Self-Portraits

There are a couple of different ways to create a self-portrait. Shaden prefers to use a wireless remote because it doesn't have to be connected to anything and is easiest to keep hidden. If she's without a remote, she uses the 10-second timer feature on her camera.

“I’m using a Sony camera. I have a Sony α7R III and a Sony α7R IV. It shouldn’t matter what camera you have in terms of getting a remote. You can find a remote that’s compatible with pretty much any camera. This particular remote is the Sony RMT-DSLR2 remote and what this particular remote lets me do is the two-second button. When I push that, it starts the timer on my camera for two seconds. Super simple. There’s also a regular shutter button that clicks immediately but that’s really tough with a self-portrait because you can’t react since it goes immediately – so you would be holding the remote in your hand every time. That’s a little bit tough."

"If you plan on doing video, you can also start and stop the video. That’s how I create my videos – by sitting down in place, starting and stopping. The great thing about a remote of course is that it’s not tethered. You don’t have to run back and forth, you can do multiple shots at once. A great way that you can also get around having to check your camera a lot is to use an intervalometer. This will allow you to set your camera to take intermittent shots every so often. So if you want your camera to go off 20 seconds for example so you have time to move around, you can do that.”

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