Learning to photograph myself has been difficult thus far, but at long last I've come to accept that it's as simple as just letting go.
By the time 3:00 hit, I had my bags packed. I clocked out, ran out the doors and darted across the street to the bus that was getting ready to take off. The cold weather has finally come around in Arizona, and with it came grey, overcast days. I knew that I had precious little time left to take pictures in my favorite spot, and I fully intended to use it.
I’d been thinking about this for days, but the idea had been in my head for weeks now. I’ve been snapping pictures of my friends, family, coworkers and strangers for quite some time now. I love taking candid pictures to capture the true personalities of the people in my life; When they let their guards down, I raise my camera and prepare to document their quirks and charms. Despite my obsession with photographing people, I’ve rarely tried to capture myself. I’ve shot into mirrors before, but my face would always be obstructed by the camera and lens. The exception is, of course, the Lubitel 166, but in every instance of self-portraiture I’m squinting to see the image in the waist level finder. My camera face is anything but appealing, and thus those images will never see the internet. NEVER.
And that brings us to the biggest problem; I’m so self-conscious that I refuse to let myself be photographed. I’m the type to “untag” myself in photos if they don’t capture me at the best angles, in my best moments. I know, vanity… It’s a fatal flaw. The point is that I’ve never found satisfaction with photographing myself. And yet, in my endless hours of browsing galleries on Lomography and Flickr, I can’t help but find inspiration and awe in the images of those who had successfully executed self-portraits without the use of mirrors.
And so, I decided to try it. I began to brainstorm; I considered locations, cameras, lenses. I was certain that I wanted control of both aperture and shutter speed, and that I wanted the precision of good glass. The Lubitel 166U was a solid choice, but I ended up with the Canon AE-1 for this session instead; After all, I had some new Redscale XR to test, and I’d read some rave reviews about shooting at low ISO settings. (Note: I should have used my 50mm 1.8, as that’s a typical portrait lens. Still, I opted for the 28mm 2.8 because I wanted to include more of the tree/fence as part of the image).
By the time I got off the bus and into my apartment, I had everything planned out. I reached my location and started setting up. And then, the fateful moment; How to proceed? Do I pose? Do I smile? Do I face the camera? Do I avoid it? Will the lab techs laugh at me if these don’t come out okay? Will they laugh at me for taking pictures of myself in the first place? With hundreds of concerns and time slipping away quickly, I knew what I had to do.
I turned on the self timer, hit the shutter button… And I just let go. Wind, run, pose, click, repeat. I knew full well that I wouldn’t like all of the images. In fact, there was the possibility that I wouldn’t like even one. The thing is, I can control every aspect of the image, except for myself. There are no settings, no adjustments that can improve what I am. Knowing that, I was able to get over myself.
The Redscale XR performed wonderfully; The tones that can be achieved are wonderful, with a hint of vintage and a touch of style. While these may never find it to Facebook, I can genuinely say that I’m happy with the results. It’s definitely me in the images, and I learned a lot from this first run! I didn’t always beat the 10-second timer to my intended position; In some cases, I couldn’t get to my seat on the tree, or couldn’t find the footing that I needed. Knowing I was out of time, I just did whatever came naturally. The old me would have cringed, but that’s not the case anymore. I’m not planning on taking more pictures of myself anytime soon, but at least I’m comfortable with it now. The next round will be much better!
Have you ever felt the way I did? Have you been scared to appear in your own images, been worried about the results? Maybe, but perhaps not. More importantly, have you ever attempted self-portraits? I recommend giving it a try sometime! I think it may be more valuable knowledge than I once realized… Understanding how to place myself will really help photograph others, too, especially if I ever want less-spontaneous photographs of my friends and family. Half of learning is experimentation, you know?
Want to take pictures of yourself? It’s easier than it seems… All you have to do is forget everything. All you have to do is let go. Oh, and have fun with it!
I’ve included some of the shots I took of myself, as well as some other tests from the same shoot.