11 min read

How to Take Self-Portraits: A Budget-Friendly Guide

11 min read

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Self-portraits are immensely popular in various genres. Many painters, including Frida Kahlo and Rembrandt, reclaimed their identities through their self-portraits.

Anyone can take expressive and eye-catching self-portraits. You don’t need expensive camera equipment or a professional photo studio. Even if you live in a simple home filled with simple props, you can take great photos. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve this!

If you want to learn how to take a self-portrait, make sure to follow this guide carefully. Before you know it, you’ll be a skilled self-portrait photographer who makes the most of every shoot!

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Why Take Self-Portraits?

girl taking self-portrait in small mirror using mirrorless camera

Self-portraiture comes with countless benefits. You can use it to improve general photography skills, like lighting. You can also use it to get a better idea of how your camera works. It’s a way to familiarise yourself with interesting photography techniques.

Understanding the art of shooting self-portraits can help you in other areas of photography. It can help you understand what it’s like to be a model. As a result, you might find it easier to empathise with your subjects. If nothing else, at least you’ll be able to find your best angles!

Many photographers have found confidence in this genre. Taking photos of yourself can help you feel more comfortable in front of the camera. If you experiment with different poses, expressions, and angles, you’ll find it easier to look at yourself in pictures. (It’s like listening to your own voice. It’s awkward at first, but then it gets better. Eventually, you get so used to it that you start to see beauty in it.)

Camera Equipment for Self-Portrait Photography

mirrorless camera standing on a tripod on the beach

If you want to learn how to take self-portraits in any location, you need to start by investing in the right equipment. Fortunately, self-portrait photography doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. In general, this is the equipment you need to get started:

  • Camera
  • Lens
  • Tripod
  • Remote control (commonly referred to as ‘remote’)

A remote will allow you to take photographs from a distance. Instead of running back and forth to take a picture, you’ll be able to use the self-timer feature. Most remotes have one button that acts as a shutter.

If your mirrorless or DSLR camera has Wi-Fi capabilities, you can use a smartphone app to focus on yourself, adjust your camera settings, and take photos of yourself from a distance.

It’s very important to use a tripod in this genre, especially if you want to take creative self-portraits. It’s much safer to work with a tripod than without one!

What If I Don’t Have a Remote?

LCD screen of a DSLR camera showing a smaller camera in focus

Even though a remote control will make your life easier as a self-portrait photographer, it’s not a necessity. Another method, though slower, can help you take sharp self-portraits. For this method, you need to use manual focus and a stand-in object. This object can be a stuffed animal or any solid item that you’ll be able to focus on manually.

First, visualize where you’ll be standing when you take your self-portrait. Place an object there and focus on it. When you’re done, set your timer and stand where you originally placed the object.

Though time-consuming, this method can help you take creative self-portraits without the use of a remote control. An easy solution to the time issue is to replace the stand-in object with a family member or friend. That way, you’ll get a better idea of where you’ll be standing and what every image will look like.

Self-Portrait Photography Settings

abstract self-portrait of woman taking photo in a window reflection

How you take a self-portrait has a lot to do with the settings you use. Portrait photography comes with its own unique set of appropriate camera settings. You don’t have to follow these rules all the time, but it’s good to be aware of them.

In general, portrait photographers prefer to use a shallow depth of field. You can achieve this by using a low f-stop, like f/1.2 or f/2.5. A shallow depth of field will separate you from your background and create a beautiful blur. This could make you look more flattering.

When you use a self-timer, you’ll have the option to choose between manual focus and autofocus. If your camera can automatically focus on you when you press the shutter from a distance, you’ll find it much easier to take self-portraits. However, if this option isn’t available, refer to the previous note on manual focus to make the most of your shoot.

If you’re using a smartphone camera, you can easily elevate your self-portrait photography skills. All you need to do is manually adjust your settings.

Start by shooting in portrait mode. Portrait mode will blur your background and give your photos a professional look. If you want to have even more control over your camera settings, use a manual smartphone photography app.

How to Feel Comfortable in Front of the Camera

close-up of woman with tattoos pulling a face

Even if you’re an experienced photographer, you might not feel comfortable sitting in front of the camera. To make the most of your shoot, you need to overcome your fear of looking unflattering. Keep in mind that even the most experienced self-portrait photographers don’t look good in every picture!

If you feel tense during your shoot, try to capture your emotions in a funny way. Depending on the kind of camera you have, you might be able to use your self-timer and burst mode at the same time. This will allow you to take a series of photos within seconds.

Take the most ridiculous photo possible. By letting loose, you’ll be able to relax in front of the camera and realise that creativity doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with perfection.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of showing your face, you can experiment with faceless self-portrait photography. When you take a photo, your face doesn’t have to be in the frame at all. Your picture can just feature one part of your face, your hands, or your silhouette. The point is to capture an emotion that is meaningful to you.

Start With a Story

self-portrait of person sitting outdoors and playing guitar

A good photo tells a story. A story can quickly help you build the foundation of your shoot. Without it, it can be difficult to come up with original ideas.

You can find inspiration almost anywhere. Start with the details. Quotes, song lyrics, or even keywords can lead you to interesting story ideas. Watch a film that resonates with you or join a photography group. Make sure to write all of your ideas down in one neat space.

Also, don’t procrastinate too much. When inspiration hits, it’s good practice to act on it as quickly as possible. The more you wait, the easier it will be to lose motivation.

Create Foregrounds Using Objects in Your Home

close-up self-portrait of woman whose face is partly hidden by a neon green foreground

Foregrounds are a very easy way to take incredible self-portraits. They’re objects that are closest to your camera lens. The larger your aperture, the more blurred these objects will be. Cover a part of your lens with something, but keep a distance. Avoid touching your lens.

You can use foregrounds to frame your face, get rid of distractions, or add a pop of colour to your shots. Here are a few things you can use:

  • Flowers
  • Glass cups
  • Paintbrushes
  • Sunglasses

Anything that’s transparent or semi-transparent tends to work very well as a foreground. Look at various objects in your home. If something doesn’t look interesting, give it a shot anyway. The most unexpected things can make your self-portraits look outstanding!

Use Your Smartphone as a Guide

girl taking self-portrait using smartphone camera indoors

Some cameras, like the Canon 60D, come with flip screens. These features are incredibly helpful, but they’re not very common. An alternative to this is using your smartphone’s selfie mode. Take several photos in different locations to get an idea of what your professional self-portraits will look like. This is a great way to find beautiful light that looks good on your face and discover your best angles.

If you wanted to improve your posing skills and get better at using facial expressions, practice in front of a mirror. This will help you take more flattering pictures of yourself.

To get a better understanding of self-portrait photography posing, make sure to join our self portrait-photography course. We’ll teach you how to look natural in front of the camera and make the most of your surroundings.

Experiment With Different Types of Natural Light

The more lighting options you have, the more interesting your self-portraits will look. Here are some quick tips on how to improve the lighting in your images.

Keep in mind that these aren’t the only lighting techniques out there. As you experiment with these, you’re likely to discover many tricks of your own.


abstract self-portrait of girl holding a guitar

If your light source is behind you, it will create backlight in your photo. There are two easy ways to use this type of light:

  • Slightly overexpose your photographs. This will create a soft glow around your face. You’ll need to use a higher ISO number to compensate for the additional exposure.
  • Create a self-portrait silhouette. This is when you keep your exposure normal or slightly underexpose. Your facial features won’t be visible, but the general outline of your body will create an interesting silhouette. You can experiment with different props and poses for creative results.

Backlight looks particularly appealing during the golden hour, when the light is soft and flattering.

Side Light

close-up self-portrait of girl in side light outdoors

This is light that hits only half of your face. If you’re shooting indoors, stand with your side to a window. You don’t need to face your camera directly. The window light will create a natural light transition that will make your self-portrait look painterly.

Side light is great for mysterious self-portraiture. It can add depth and emotion to simple expressions.

Speaking of shooting indoors, indoor self-portraiture doesn’t have to be boring or limiting. If you want to take your work to the next level, check out our course for photographers on a budget. We’ll share tips on posing, turning boring shots into creative ones, building your own photography community, and much more!

Direct Light With Shadows

natural light self-portrait of girl standing next to window blinds

Direct light will hit your face directly. This is easiest to do when the sun is shining brightly. (Make sure you never look at the sun directly, no matter how cool your photo idea is!) A self-portrait taken in direct light has a strong contrast and eye-catching textures.

Direct light is known to be rough and unflattering. However, it can have the opposite effect with the help of shadows. Leaves, hair, branches, etc., can all create beautiful shadows on your face. They can help you tell your story in a fun and effortless way.

Use Lamps and Torches When It’s Dark

self-portrait photography indoors using artificial lighting

When natural light isn’t enough, don’t be afraid of using simple artificial lights. The torch in your phone, your desk lamp, and even the light in your oven can all help you take outstanding self-portraits. A few other things you can use are string lights and sparklers.

You can use the same natural light techniques for this. Backlight, side light, and direct light can look just as flattering when created using artificial light.

Merge Your Self-Portraits With Other Genres

double exposure self-portrait featuring water and a silhouette

You don’t always need to take photos of your face. You can merge self-portrait photography with other genres. For instance, if you like abstract photography, you can use long exposure techniques to take eerie self-portraits. If you like underwater photography, you can create double exposures using a photo of yourself and a photo of water.

Even if you don’t have the resources to pursue a genre like underwater photography, you can still use its elements in your work. Make a list of all the genres that you like and try to include them in your work somehow.

This might be challenging, but it could help you strengthen your imagination. The more you use your creative senses, the easier it will be to come up with original ideas for your self-portrait shoot. This skill is highly important and has the potential to help you for years to come.

Experiment With Different Camera Settings to Keep Your Work Exciting

Taking pictures isn’t just about pressing the shutter. Your camera has many settings that you can easily manipulate. Even if a certain technique seems unusual, try it out anyway! Change your settings so that your unique needs are met.

Exercises like this will encourage you to leave your comfort zone more often. When you leave your comfort zone, you’re likely to find many opportunities to elevate your self-portrait photography.

Here are a few of the many things you can do with your camera.

Long Exposure

portrait of black girl surrounded by streaks of light in the dark

Long exposure is when you use a slow shutter speed. If you photograph lots of movements with a slow shutter speed, you’ll get abstract results. All of these movements will turn into long streaks of light.

This is a common technique in dance photography and astrophotography. You can use it in your self-portraits to create haunting photographs.

Colour Temperature

self-portrait of girl in the dark with colourful bokeh in the background

If you want to give your self-portraits a specific colour look, manually change your colour temperature. This feature is available in most cameras. (Yes, smartphone users, this option is available for you too!)

You can experiment with extreme adjustments to give your photos either a warm or wintry atmosphere. This is perfect for when you have a specific theme in mind or when the weather isn’t giving you the tones that you need.

In the example above, I manually adjusted the colour temperature in my camera to create an icy atmosphere in my self-portrait. Then, I took a photograph of my reflection in the mirror. The reflection helped me create a double exposure effect, which you’ll learn how to create later in this guide.

In-Camera Double Exposure

Christmas-themed self-portrait of girl surrounded by string lights

Some cameras have an in-built double exposure option. This allows you to merge multiple images and create artistic overlays. If your camera doesn’t have this option, you can manually merge several pictures in an editing program. If you’re using a smartphone, you can use an app like Blend Editor or Photo Blend that will do all the work for you.

Read your camera manual to familiarise yourself with your camera’s potential. You’re likely to find many helpful tips in it. Carefully analyse your camera and all of its buttons. If you see something that has creative potential, experiment with it. You might come up with a new photography technique of your own! Most importantly, remember to priorities your camera’s safety at all times. Don’t experiment with anything that seems risky.


girl taking self-portrait using a Nikon camera in a mirror reflection

Taking creative self-portraits doesn’t have to be stressful or discouraging. Self-portrait photography is a deep and meaningful genre with a lot of potential. Be patient with it and don’t be afraid to try out unusual techniques.

This genre is a fantastic way to get creative, capture interesting emotions, and have fun with every photo! You can take your own self-portraits to express your feelings, boost your confidence, and improve your photography skills.

Remember to tell a story through every image, experiment with different angles, and use a tripod when you can. If you need more guidance, make sure to check out our Indoor Self-Portrait Photography On a Budget course.

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Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.
Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.

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