How to Take the Best Self Portraits! // Education
Throughout our relationship my wife & I have gotten pretty good at taking what we call “tripod selfies.” We just got back from a six day road trip across northern Arizona & really stepped up our game! I’ve had a ton of feedback & questions about how we pulled off the shots, so here is my step-by-step guide to doing it the way we do! Keep in mind that these suggestions work best for couples/groups, but I’ll offer some suggestions for solo travelers & creatives as well. Well start with what you need, go over composition, give some tips for posing, answer those tough questions about focusing/camera settings, then end with some extra tidbits on getting variety in your self portraits!
Let’s Start with Gear!
First off, you could check out my “What’s in My Bag + Why” blog for specifics on everything I have, but this is all you’ll need for great self portraits:
DSLR Camera with a self-timer function
Sturdy, tall tripod
Lens that can autofocus with your camera body
That’s it! Specifically for our Arizona trip & the photos on this blog I used only these three things - Nikon D750 Camera, Tamron 24-70 f2.8 lens, & a Zomei carbon fiber 65-inch tripod. If you don’t have any of this type of equipment yet, but are looking at getting into photography here are a few suggestions - Any starter DSLR nowadays has a self-timer function, so everything from the Nikon D3300 to a Canon Rebel will do. The more important aspect is lens! If you have a starter camera, it likely has a cropped sensor, so I suggest a cheap 35mm prime lens for portrait lengths similar to what you see here. If you have a full-frame or professional grade camera already, just know that the majority of my photos were shot around 50mm with a few at 35mm or 70mm. For tripods, I think Zomei is the best value I’ve seen so far. I also recommend one that gets up to about eye-level so you have more flexibility with composition!
Let’s Talk Composition!
While all the “rules” & “intention” of composition can be saved for another blog, it is extremely important to be able to compose your overall image before you jump into frame! This is where it is easiest with a partner. I always place my wife into the frame first. Lots of “step up, step back, half step back up!” but it does the trick! Being a seasoned photographer can help, but here are a few questions to consider before moving forward:
Where will you be in the frame?
Is the background distracting? Are there natural lines that could hurt or help your image?
Have you left room to crop if you end up off-center? (this is a big one I have to use!)
Is your camera straight or level? (you can fix that in editing if you leave room to crop/straighten)
Is the tripod situated at a flattering angle? (higher ground or position reduces double-chin)
After considering these aspects of composition, let’s talk about posing!
Strike a Pose!
This section is more specifically for couples. First off, like most photographers, I have very poor self-awareness in front of the camera. I’m great when photographing other couples where I can move my feet & see what to change, but I’m usually not great when put in front of the lens, so this is where my wife shines! Most of our poses come from prompts I use during sessions with clients, but Hanna definitely has her favorites. Here are a few tips & ideas to help with posing, but keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun! It’s easy to get frustrated or self-conscious when photographing yourself, but a positive attitude can show through & make all the difference!
Cuddle up & pull out your best inside joke. What’s that thing you say to always get a laugh?
Kiss 3 places on their face NOT on the lips. Do it quickly for something more fun!
Nuzzle into their temple/ear/neck/cheek. Whisper what you had for breakfast in a funny voice.
Try something hip, maybe just soaking in the scenery looking away from the camera or completely taking in each other’s presence
Make sure you know which side who will be on
Decide on more playful or more romantic poses. We like to switch it up, but we also make these decisions based on environment or outfits. It’s easy to be more playful in casual clothes!
Clarify your next pose before you start the set focus or start the camera timer (next section)
Now the most asked questions - Camera settings!
Camera Timing & Focus!
The most common questions I got with these photos was about how to trigger the camera & how to get shots in-focus. For other camera settings I use manual mode or aperture priority depending on how fast the light is changing. The purpose of this blog isn’t to explain all of how your camera works, so here are my settings for timing & focusing!:
Set the Self-Timer function in-camera to 10 seconds. 15-20 seconds may be better if the ground is uneven or you need more time to pose
I set mine to take 3-5 photos 1 second apart to get a variety out of each pose
With your partner in the frame, compose your shot, then discuss pose & positioning
I use live-view on my camera to place the focal-point on Hanna’s face, focus & start the timer with the shutter button. Be sure your camera is set to choose your own focal-points if you aren’t familiar with these settings
Use an aperture number at f2.8 or higher. This is dependent on your lens, but f2.8 will give you the portrait depth of field, but help maintain that both subjects are in focus with less room for error
Be aware of movements while posing! Don’t move too fast or too far out of your focal plane. If you want movement in the pose try swaying or rocking back & forth
*Tips for solo selfies: This can be more difficult since you don’t have a partner to compose your shot around or lock focus on, but here are a few ideas - Nikon, Canon, & Sony all have phone apps that you should be able to set a composition then use your phone to lock focus & take the photo! You could also set your camera to face-detection focus (if available) & use a wireless remote trigger to press the shutter & if everything goes as planned your camera will find your focus & nail it! You could also try composing your shot next to something like a spot on the wall or boulder you’ll sit on, set focus & timer, then just in the shot just as we do with couples.
Get Some Variety!
In our experiences I think one of the best things we started to do for our tripod selfie venture was to focus on getting some more variety instead of spending a hunk of time trying to get one perfect shot. Here are tips on how to do just that:
Move the tripod! This is something I used to always forget to do, but simply moving the tripod can give you totally different composition opportunities close or far, side to side
Move yourselves! Say you’ve got the background composed just perfectly, but you want some close-ups & far away shots, try simply moving closer or further from the camera. This can also change your depth of field when you adjust focus
Change your focal length. That’s why I use the 24-70mm lens for self-portraits so I can get some wide, some tight, some tall, some wide! You can make the same pose look totally different by zooming in or out
Pay attention to the light. Practice with different lighting scenarios. Sometimes the best light for self portraits is at a 45 degree angle behind the subject(s) to either side.
If your self-timer has the option of taking multiple shots at a time, try setting it to 5 with a few seconds in between so you can squeeze a lot of variety out of one position or pose
I hope this gives you everything you need to start getting great self-portraits & tripod selfies! Just remember that as with most aspects of photography, the tripod selfie will get better with practice. If you have any questions at all I’m completely open & you should know where to find me!