By Guest Blogger, Charlotte Trotman
When I have spent most of my life behind the camera (thanks Grandma for your Kodak when I was 7), how come I now have over 800 self portraits to my name? I blame Flickr entirely! All these people doing 365 projects and I thought ‘How difficult could it be?’, so I jumped on the bandwagon. I chose the self portrait route and now I have so many pictures of my ugly mug and am still going. I must be crazy!
So…self portraiture – or ‘an exploration of narcissism’ as it’s been called. What keeps me plugging away at it? Certainly not narcissism! Different strokes for different folks, but I committed myself to a self portrait project because I wanted to learn more about photography primarily. I also needed a release – a way of expressing myself when words fail. Self-portraiture becomes addictive because you want to make every image better than the last – whether creatively or technically, and also frustrating when you realize you only have one face to work with!
What makes a good self portrait? I’ve been asked in the past for tips or tricks and I’m usually stumped for a reply as I’ve been doing them for so many years and forget the basics – I just get on with it I guess! But here are a few basic points that I think are important (sorry if I’m teaching you to suck eggs here!)
– Don’t approach self portraits as self portraits. Personally it scared the bejeebus out of me when I did that so instead, approach them as you would if you were taking a portrait of someone else. Think about the light, composition and the narrative.
– Get a tripod and a remote – or at least a remote and a sturdy stack of books to rest your camera on! I say get a remote because using the timer is all well and good but your focus will be off. Also, you wouldn’t take a portrait of someone else which included your arm, would you? So back away from holding your camera at arms length and clicking away!
– Think about your background. If shooting in your house, unless everyday clutter is part of your set up, be aware of your surroundings. I’ve found that having a lens with a high maximum aperture like a 50mm 1.4 is a godsend as it will blur the background and isolate the subject. Perfect for when you don’t want to do any tidying up but still have a photo to take (btw I’m not lazy, just honest!)
– In regards to light, try not to use on camera flash as it creates harsh, flat lighting. You don’t need fancy studio equipment to make sure the light is interesting though – natural light is free so if you shoot primarily in your house, get to know your windows really well and what light they offer you. Think about the angle of light you want entering the frame, what kind of shadows you want. Photography is ALL about light – use it to your advantage because it makes or breaks a picture!
Creativity I would have to say is the biggest battle in my SPs – you go through times where your mind runs wild with too many ideas to keep up with and then ruts where you have nothing but tumbleweed floating through your noggin. I’ve learnt to keep a notepad close at hand and jot things down when they strike! I get a lot of ideas running at the gym. It’s the MTV channel that does it – look at the music videos and the crazy exposures, styling and lighting systems they have going on! Idea overload! It’s much like looking at films and being wowed by the cinematography. In regards to the movies, I actually pause the film if there’s a scene that blows me away and take a shot on my iPhone to remind me to do something similar at a later date. Flick through magazines – I found some crazy makeup for a fashion shoot one day and decided to copy it, and one of my favourite close ups was born. And of course it goes without saying to browse the web for inspiration from others!
Emotions and feelings, as I’ve said before, play a large part in my work too. I was having a restful weekend in Marlow a few years ago – a log cabin overlooking the Chilterns, mist rising up from the river below. Perfect! I felt so calm that I wanted to capture that. I probably should have brushed my hair in hindsight but hey – my favourite ‘narrative’ shot was born out of those feelings! I look at it now and get transported back and feel relaxed
Lines from a poem or a song start ideas bubbling away too, and props! I was sent a Krispy Kreme hat as part of a group challenge and I thought, donuts make everyone happy, right? – so I wore a sprinkle filled smile…basically half a donut with a straw stuck into its bum. Sometimes however, its all too easy. You see a place that has perfect light and is the perfect location and all you need to do is figure out where to put yourself and fire your remote off.
God I love it when that happens!
However, when I have no ideas whatsoever, I just set up my camera in the area I want to take an SP, work out the light, composition, the DoF I want, then stand with my remote taking some test shots. I would say 80% of my SPs have evolved this way. Don’t ask me how – you just see something on the back of the screen that sparks *something* and an idea is born. If you don’t want to get into any ruts though, set up personal projects. Create a series. Set yourself challenges. Could be a week of using your 50mm, a week of backlighting, a week of props – you name it!
Someone once told me when I was stressing out over my photography (and generally throwing my toys out of the pram – happens a lot in a 365 project!) that not everything has to be a work of art, and not every photo a masterpiece. When all is said and done, the most important thing if you get into self portraiture is to have FUN and enjoy the process. Learn as you go along – about photography, and about yourself. It’s cheaper than therapy and way more fun 😉
Charlotte Trotman is still not sure how her’s became one of the most recognizable faces on Flickr. She’s just a gal who’s got a thing for her camera and a shortage of models. Now in her third year of practiced self-portraiture, Charlotte (aka Charlie / crustydolphin) is also training her lens on other bits that catch her eye. Follow her on Flickr & Twitter. View her portfolio.