A guide to self-portraits

August 16, 2016
Sugarhouse studios self portrait with tripod and timer

You may well notice many feeds on Instagram feature a lot of images of the owner of that feed. The reality is, behind many successful Instagram feeds there are actually two great photographers. @helloemilie works together with @jasoncharleshill, and he takes many of the pictures that feature her in her incredible gallery. The same goes for many of the successful fashion bloggers, @juliahengel is married to @tberolz who is also a fantastic photographer with a beautiful feed of his own. Also the travel influencers @gypsea_lust and @doyoutravel, they get to travel and work as a pair, which must be amazing! The “self-portraits” on these photographer’s feeds may well be envisioned entirely by the owner of the feed, but they are lucky enough to have a talented person to click the shutter for them.

It’s great fun working together with other photographers. I’ve done it myself when Julia from @humphreyandgrace and myself travelled around the Aegean together with Thomson Cruises. Not only did we work as a pair in helping each other carry tired kids around, and watch bags and spare children on toilet breaks, but we bounced ideas off each other and encouraged each other to walk the extra mile to get “the shot”. Occasionally we have also turned the camera on each other, in order to prove we were there too! Below is a picture that Julia took of me doing my thing with the boys recently on the South Downs at sunset.

Photo by Julia Smith from @humphreyandgrace

Photo by Julia Smith from @humphreyandgrace

However in reality most of us do not have another photographer to partner up with more than on the odd occasion. When it comes to stepping out from behind the camera and into the frame, this is something that we very rarely get to do.  We are literally completely absent from our family photos! I for one feel incredibly awkward in front of the camera. The official photographer at the Bonpoint fashion show teased me because I had no idea what to do with my arms and legs! Never mind my face! It seems crazy when I can pose and direct another person happily, but put me there in front of the lens and I turn into a jelly.

I was pretty much absent from my Instagram feed for a year or so, and very happily soI might add. However I have received a few commissions this year which have really encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone behind the camera and push myself creatively. The first came in April when I collaborated with The Gap to promote their range of Spring denim. There are of course loads of options for a shot like this. Knees in a coffee shop, faceless with flowers, legs on the bed, a flatlay of your outfit of the day. These are all pictures I love and have used, but for some reason this time I got it in my head I was going to be brave and get in the shot.

The kids and I were going to visit my brother and his family who live in London, so one Sunday morning we left home at 7.30 am and drove to the Sugarhouse Studios in East London. I’d been before with friends (and in fact the most recent picture of myself on my feed and my profile picture here on the blog had been taken here by Sarah @sparkin76 a few months previously) and I knew it was quite a trek to get to by public transport, but there is a huge fairly empty car park at the front, so driving there with the boys was the perfect solution.

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I used my tripod for the first time, setting it up in the car park (which is completely out of view of the road so quite safe to do so) and the kids and I just had fun there for half an hour, chatting, cuddling, and doing stride-bys while the camera clicked away.

The first time I posted one of these pictures on my feed my heart was pounding out of my chest and I felt sick with nerves! As time went on though, I started to treasure these images of myself with the kids, and care less about how I thought I looked in them. They were precious and rare pictures of the three of us together and memories of a fun morning. I posted a couple more of my feed over the coming months and felt barely a flicker of those nerves I had felt to begin with.

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Its funny because that crippling shyness that I feel when someone points a camera at me pretty much disappears when I’m with the kids. Especially when my camera is on the tripod, I feel like I can relax, unobserved and just be like I would naturally be. I have appeared a lot more in my feed in the last few months, mainly due to my collaboration with Fat Face, but I have really enjoyed this new dimension I have added to my photography. Everything you’ve seen with me in it in the Fat Face blog post or my Instagram feed has been taken by myself with the tripod.

Having the tripod with me all the time gives me the scope to step into a scene if it just needs something extra, or on those occasions when the location and light is perfect but the kids aren’t in the mood, I can set up the tripod and go with with them. They are always very happy to have me there with them too! In the image below it was their bed time, and after a long day playing on the beach they were so sleepy (and actually were asleep in the van 5 minutes after this was taken) but the fact that I could step into the shot with them meant they were perfectly happy, and I have a beautiful record of such a happy day.

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My tripod is a Manfrotto 190  one with an extending arm which is brilliant for top-down or flat-lay images. I have also discovered the joy of using a tripod for work and product photography. If you have a series of images to do (for example I did around 20 necklaces all to be photographed in the same setting), once the tripod is set up you can move freely and change the products over and be sure you will get exactly the same perspective on your staging with every shot. This saves an awful lot of time in post processing.

I’m no expert on tripods, my husband chose mine for my Christmas present (he chose well!) so I’d ask advise from a good camera shop if you’re unsure. I have seen very lightweight ones which may well be my next investment. Mine is big and sturdy and I love it, but it’s quite a mission to carry down a beach and adds a lot of weight on a flight.

The next thing to consider when using a tripod is how to get yourself in focus. You have to set the camera up as you normally would, and I prefer to have complete control over the settings and tell the camera where to focus. I don’t want to take a chance with a motion sensor setting and it pick up a bird or waving tree branch instead of me. Also if your face is in the shot an auto focus setting will probably focus on your nose or your shoulder and not your eyes.

The best way to give yourself a bit of leeway is to narrow your aperture, and therefore increase your depth of field. If I had been behind the camera for the shot below, I probably would have used an aperture of 2.8. A single figure, stood quite far away from me, a 2.8 is going to give me a nice depth of field and I can easily get the whole figure in focus. Seeing as this was a self-portrait though, I narrowed the aperture to 5.6, and I focused the camera with the tripod head tilted down on to a patch in the field that I knew I was going to walk to. I then left the focus set at this point and tipped the tripod head up into position, set the timer and walked to that spot.

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Aperture f5.6 | ISO 160 | shutter 1/800

In the image below as there are three figures and we are a little closer to the camera, I would probably usually shoot this at f4-f5 to be really sure I’m getting everyone in focus. As I was using the tripod I narrowed the aperture to f8. I would rather go too far and increase the depth of field than take a shot I really love but can’t use because it isn’t sharp. In this instance my eldest boy was already stood in place, so I focused the camera on him and then joined him with my little one. Don’t be afraid to bump up the ISO if you need to. You will be letting less light into the camera by using a higher f-stop (narrowing the aperture) so it may be that the ISO will need to go higher. Be careful not to let the shutter speed get too low, especially when there are children involved. They are likely to suddenly turn round and hug your leg, or point at the sky, or laugh, and you don’t want to miss that moment because your shutter speed was too low. I would suggest always using around 1/300 sec when kids are around. Again I like to err on the side of caution with this, because it’s so disappointing when you have blurry fingers in a picture that otherwise would have been lovely! I would rather go for a higher ISO, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a full frame camera that can handle it well.

aperture f8 | ISO 500 | shutter 1/320

I also use my tripod for shots such as this one below, where I hold flowers against the wall. It’s impossible to get this angle on your own! In these instances it’s very difficult to find anything other than the wall itself to focus on. If one of the kids is to hand I may ask them to stand in front so I can focus the camera on an object about a foot in front of the wall and then hold the flowers a similar distance. Another way to do it when the distance is fairly small like this is to dangle an object with one hand, focus the camera with the other and then hold the flowers in the correct position to take the shot.

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aperture f14 | ISO 800 | shutter 150

On this occasion I didn’t have anyone with me, and using my 35mm lens I couldn’t reach between the camera and the wall, so I just focused on the wall and narrowed the aperture right down to f14. I had to put the ISO up to 800 to get this shot, but as you can see it’s perfectly in focus and the grain is very minimal. It was probably overkill with the aperture, but you can play around with this and if you’ve got time, keep retaking it and widening the aperture a little each time until you’ve got it just right. I always check what I’ve got between each take and zoom right in on the details in want in focus on the back of the camera to check my settings are working ok.

I have my camera set up so that when it’s on the timer it has a 10 second delay, and then takes 9 shots with a 3 second interval between them. There are plenty of options on most cameras, and it’s worth getting out your manual or googling how to find these settings and knowing how to change them in the field if you need to.

Obviously there are limitations to using a tripod. Street photography and London stride-bys clearly don’t lend themselves to leaving a camera unattended in the middle of the road. However there are many quiet locations where its completely possible and safe to do this. The possibilities of being in the frame are endless. I love having a few precious memories of this year captured in this way, and it also gives me more scope in undertaking commissions and giving myself an extra person to photograph!

So I hope this has helped a little if you, like me, want to start getting in front of the lens for a change and recording some moments of yourself with your family.  Although I love those odd occasions when I’m with another photographer, it’s great not to have to rely on another person being around. I can also get the exact angles I want, the exposure I want, and I can lose my inhibitions as there’s no one around watching me!

Thanks for reading,

Hannah x

 

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39 Comments

  • Reply Victoria Masterman August 16, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    What a great post Hannah! So much great advice, I received a tripod for my birthday and have been using it for some shots. My camera has a remote app which has been useful to control the camera from my phone, is made taking some shots so much easier, but I’ll dirtier be trying some of your tips, thank you! Kindly Victoria

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Hi Victoria,
      thank you so much I’m really glad you enjoyed it! That’s brilliant that you’ve got a tripod already, and I must look into the remote thing! It’s so useful having the scope to take shots in this way xx

  • Reply Julia August 17, 2016 at 8:03 am

    This is such a great post Hannah! And something I need to do more, so far this year I have thousands of photos of my family and a couple with me in them. Time to embrace the lens from the other side perhaps. Much more fun photographing you though xx

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Ah thank you Julia! I’m the same, and it’s only been these commissions that have encouraged me to do this, and I’ve realised how valuable these pictures are to me, and hopefully one day to the boys too! I’m looking forward to seeing more of you in the frame 🙂 xx

  • Reply Marine August 18, 2016 at 11:08 am

    Really loving these posts. Also you look amazing on your pictures so you have nothing to worry about.
    Your post make me want to improve my photography skills so thank you!

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      Thank you so much Marine, that’s so kind of you to say! xx

  • Reply @oftheeveryday August 18, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    a most helpful post, thank you! so much insight and inspiration. I am still mostly taking photos on my iphone, but will venture out with a camera soon and experiment with the settings, inspired by all the options. your tutorials are great.

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      Thank you so much Krissy I really appreciate you popping over for a read! Lovely to know it’s useful to someone 🙂 xx

  • Reply Wunderblumen August 19, 2016 at 6:41 am

    Thank you Hannah for your tips. I have never pictures from me in the feed. Yours are so pretty..having moments together with the children. Greetings Daniela

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      Thank you so much Daniela! It’s been so hard for me to take these pictures, and especially to post them! But I think I’m getting used to it and losing my inhibitions a bit more! xx

  • Reply Alex August 20, 2016 at 7:07 am

    Thank you Hannah for this really nice post! The last few weeks I have started this new Instagram project @imgonnabeadad which will mainly focus on interior/lifestyle/parenting pictures. And I was more and more thinking of buying a tripod to help me take some shots. Just like you, being behind the camera was easy for me but becoming the subject a complete new challenge!
    I think I am now more convinced to try the tripod and see the results!

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Alex,
      thank you so much for reading! Oh I’m going to come and find your new feed in a minute, sounds like a brilliant idea. You should soooo get on the tripod thing before the baby arrives, just think of the gorgeous pics of the three of you you will be able to take! I promise you’ll never look back x

  • Reply Masha August 20, 2016 at 7:12 am

    So many great tips ! I really need a tripod myself as you don’t event want to know what. Use instead 😂🙈! Lovely post and yay to seeing more of you ❤️

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Thank you so much Masha! Well whatever you use it works brilliantly for you! haha! xxx

  • Reply Lana August 20, 2016 at 7:53 am

    Thanks so much for all your tips and insight Hannah! My instagram feed definitely needs a personal touch and like you I don’t have a talented photographer on stand by! Definitely going to try some of your tripod tricks.

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Hi Lana,
      that’s wonderful, thank you so much for reading. I’m really happy to hear it’s been useful! Good luck with it xx

  • Reply Joanna August 20, 2016 at 7:54 am

    This was really helpful and inspiring. I am so, so guilty of not being in the picture myself. Most articles I’ve read about this before have not been as clear and simple as this one. Great examples. And I just adore your instafeed. 💓

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Hi Joanna,
      thank you so much, that’s just so lovely to hear. I’m really pleased it’s been useful to you! I hope you manage to get in there a bit more now xx

  • Reply James August 20, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Nice read Hannah, thanks. I’m getting back into photography more these days with helping my partner @carenbarry with her Instagram. If only people knew the effort sometimes to achieve the lovely photos they see each day on social media.

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      Hi James,
      thank you so much for reading! Lovely to hear you are getting back into photography, your partner’s Instagram is beautiful! It certainly can be a lot of work to achieve and maintain these galleries, but the perks can be lovely too! Enjoy your weekend x

  • Reply Zoë August 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Great post Hannah – I’m so impressed with the self-portraits you took for the Fat Face collaboration and was wondering how you did it… So hard to do and get the focus right – and the timing right – and the settings… I take my hat off to you! And I must give it a go more often – my tripod doesn’t get used nearly enough. Mine’s a bit of a beast too – and full of sand from long exposures on the beach! Thanks so much for sharing – this is really helpful xxx

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 21, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Thank you so much Zoe! It takes a bit longer to do them myself I suppose, it might be easier to have someone there snapping for me but I think I’m less self conscious this way and there is that sense of satisfaction at the end of it! Thanks so much for reading xx

  • Reply Maria August 22, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Great post! I used to take photos of myself all the time before – I used a remotecontrol with a 4 second delay so i could focus, and then have time to kick the remotecontrol out of view before the camera took the photo.
    After I passed 30 and became a mom, I just ended up really hating being in the photo… Haha… I’d rather phtograph my kid and like you, no longer know what to do with myself in front of the camera, I feel so avkward… Maybe I should try to photograph me with my boy a bit more. 🙂
    I really do love the location on the photos you took for the FatFace post btw. ( And the photos too of course :-)) Feel like I am struggling to find nice locations in Norway where I am from. But maybe I am just blind to them 🙂

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 23, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      Hi Maria, thank you so much! Ooh that’s a good tip with the remote control, I have one but I haven’t tried it with a delay. I’d definitely recommend giving your boy a cuddle and getting in front of the camera again. I feel absolutely the same way but honestly months after taking these pictures I really treasure them!
      I imagine Norway to be so incredibly beautiful, but we do look at new locations with new eyes I think! Thanks for you lovely comment xx

      • Reply Maria August 23, 2016 at 2:19 pm

        Thanks for the reply 🙂 There are many truly beautiful locations in Norway, and I am starting to appreciate the ones that are close by. I guess I just feel like they are all “used up” – haha. Also, I do not live in the most beautiful part of Norway I’m afraid – the oilcapital Stavanger, where there are as of lately a lot of industrial areas. But I have my little gems I keep coming back to… It is just more exciting with new locations after a while I guess. 🙂

        Have a nice day.

  • Reply Susan (@_susandrea_) August 23, 2016 at 2:38 am

    Catching up on your feed I saw you mentioning this post, I so wanted to read it since I’m one of those IG accounts that features photos of herself. Not by choice though, I might feel a bit of envy for moms like you with kids to photograph — wish I had someone like that! . I remember when I realized that I liked better pictures with people in them and to make it worst, with a specific story in mind… so I started to photograph myself. It wasn’t easy at the beginning but with time and a lot of practice I became good I think. A tripod and a remote have become my best helpers too! 🙂

    Thank you for sharing, lovely Hannah. Always find so interesting learning about what other photographers do. X

  • Reply Hannah Argyle August 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Hi Susan, thank you always for catching up with me both here and on Instagram! I so admire your images and your self portraits. Your photography is art and I completely agree sometimes we need a subject, and sometimes it has to be ourselves! I love that the tripod has given me that option too. There are of course times when it’s not appropriate or safe to let the kids go somewhere while I hang back with the camera, but now I have the option to step into the scene myself. Of course I am very lucky to have two little subjects around most of the time though 😉 xx

  • Reply Jules August 24, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    What a brilliant post Hannah. You make me want to take photos properly instead of just on my iPhone or on automatic on my compact. Such gorgeous photos of you and the boys too – well done for braving being in the lens because you will treasure these photos forever. And you’re so right about the two photographers thing. I hate having my photo taken – hate it. I’m so awkward – particularly when it’s a collab photo. And James takes them all! So lucky to have him – he’s so patient whenever I’m stropping about hating myself in photographs! xxx

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 24, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      Thank you so much Jules! Firstly you do take photos properly! You have an amazing eye and conceive beautiful images, I’m just a control freak over my camera settings! I am glad I braved these though and I really will try and do it again and again because these pictures are very precious to me. I’d better get lots while they are still little enough to pick up and hide behind! James is a saint and does a brilliant job but you have brilliant ideas how and where to take them too, I’m always so impressed with them and how beautiful you and Oscar look in them. You’ve inspired me to do all this! xx

  • Reply Yehohanaan August 29, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Thanks for this article, it can be very useful ! I will keep it and work with it 🙂

    I’m a french blogger, and I have a blog about photography, if you are interested in, I would love to know what you think about it : http://yehohanaan.com 🙂

    • Reply Hannah Argyle August 29, 2016 at 5:36 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m glad it was useful 🙂
      I’ll be sure to try and take a look at your blog later!

      • Reply Yehohanaan August 29, 2016 at 9:00 pm

        Such an honor if you can give me your point of view 🙂

  • Reply Sally October 18, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing all these amazing tips! I have a couple of tripods and they’re so great to use but yes I’m on the hunt for a more compact tall one that’s light but also sturdy. I need to message you about where you learnt how to use your camera properly too as I really need to refresh my knowledge and get back into it properly!

    Great post xxx

    • Reply Hannah Argyle October 20, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Thanks lovely! Tripods it would seem are a bit like camera bags, and we really need one for every occasion!! Drop me a message any time, I’m always here to help xx

  • Reply Catherine October 22, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Dear Hannah,
    Thank you for this lovely post and your insight with tips and tricks! I have recently discovered your hashtag on Instagram and was, of course, curious (and smitten!) about the the person behind it! I have two daughters myself and need to get in the frame more, I’ve missed almost 5 years of my life where there is not a single image of myself with my family (apart from the newborn images we commissioned).
    I’m currently working my way through “Self Portraits of Motherhood”. (http://www.selfportraitsofmotherhood.com/p/self-portraits-workshop.html)
    I’d love to know more about the Manfrotto tripod you are using, which one is it exactly? And does one have to buy a head extra or is it included? What about a bag? I’m asking this, as I don’t have a physical camera shop nearby and I’ll need to order off Amazon (I’m from Germany). 🙂
    Thank you so much,
    Catherine

    • Reply Hannah Argyle October 24, 2016 at 8:16 am

      Hi Catherine, thanks so much for your lovely comment and for stopping by! I know exactly what you mean about missing completely from all your family photos. My tripod is fabulous if you are using it as well for flat lays because of the rotating arm, but it’s probably bigger and heavier than necessary if you are only using it upright shots. Anyway its the Manfrotto 190, and it came without a head – a bought the Manfrotto 804RC2 as it happened to be sitting in my local camera shop second hand! I don’t have a bag for it – I would definitely like a find a lighter, cheaper tripod for travelling with. Good luck with your search, you may not use it often but it’s definitely a great investment! xx

  • Reply Photographing Children - Hannah Argyle Photography April 19, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    […] Sometimes you will find the perfect location, you can visualise the shot and you know it’s a winner, but your child just does not fancy going over there no matter how hard you try and persuade then it looks like fun. They are just not always tempted to go on their own, so be prepared to go with them! I have a very handy little tripod for my iPhone with a bluetooth remote which I always carry with me if I suspect occasions like this will arise. I also usually carry either my full size tripod or my little gorillapod which is brilliant for wrapping around a fence post, tree, or pretty much anything. I’ve used sun loungers on the beach in Dubai with this one, and even set it up in the buggy. You can see my full guide to getting in the frame and using a tripod and self timer here. […]

  • Reply Katie Collins November 5, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Such a great post Hannah, so pleased I found it and your beautiful website too. I have been thinking about trying to get in pictures much more recently. I have a 3 and 1 year old and take plenty of pictures of them but never us all together. This has spurred me on to give it a try – thank you!

    • Reply Hannah Argyle November 6, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      Hi Katie, thank you so much for your comment! I do hope you manage to take some pictures with yourself in, I promise you you will treasure them! x

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