Looking for a new skill to learn? Self-portrait photography might be just the thing – it requires minimal equipment and it’s also a great way to help boost your self-esteem and create some beautiful art in the process.
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The various lockdown restrictions in place in the UK since March 2020 have meant that many of us were left with barren Instagram pages, sharing endless throwbacks in order to make up for the lack of events we had to share on social media. Where there was once street style, selfies became one of the only ways those without a willing photographer could photograph themselves. And other photography opportunities outside of the home were largely limited to particularly visually pleasing trees and fading sunsets.
Now, as the world begins to open up again, there are far more opportunities for Instagram-worthy content. But posing while someone takes a photo of you can feel pretty daunting, especially now we’re all so out of practice. So why not start by mastering the art of the self-portrait, instead?
The self-portrait is something the photographer and influencer Onyi Moss has been practising for years. Self-portraits are not only a creative way to improve your Instagram feed, but they can become an act of self-care and help to improve your self-esteem.
“It’s almost like a ritual,” Onyi says of self-portraits. “It’s between you and yourself and you’re just in this headspace where you’re trying to capture a moment that you feel is special to you. I would say it is definitely a process that can be mindful.”
Taking self-portraits, like any other form of photography, is a skill that requires practice in order to develop your technique, though, and Onyi has some advice on where to get started – from the equipment you need to deciding what story you want your images to tell.
4 useful things that will help you shoot self-portraits at home
- A camera or a smartphone
- A tripod
- A Bluetooth remote/self-timer
- A good backdrop and props
Look online for free photography resources and tutorials
Onyi has never had any formal photography training, but has been able to develop impressive photography skills and a distinctive style that has helped to boost her career as an influencer. She explains that she learnt about photography when she first started out through watching YouTube videos. “I would watch people like Jessica Kobeissi, who is a photographer and I would watch a YouTube channel called PH Learn.”
“It wasn’t necessarily about buying the most expensive equipment, it was getting the most out of what you already have,” she explains. “I also watched videos on how to edit the images – colour grading is very key.”
Don’t invest in camera equipment straight away
“Experiment with your phone camera in the beginning,” Onyi advises. “We have timers now that we can set on our phone to shoot after 30 seconds so you could put it on a mini tripod and set it. And the quality of phone cameras these days are absolutely great, especially in portrait mode.”
Onyi explains that people often ask her what equipment she uses to achieve her high standard of photography and sometimes it transpires that these people are using the exact same equipment as her, or sometimes even better quality equipment. “That’s one thing I’ve learnt about photography,” she says. “It’s not necessarily about what you have or how much money you’ve spent. It’s about practice and with practice, you develop your own style. If you’re not able to tell your own story with what you already have, then a better camera is not going to help you achieve that.”
If you do eventually decide to invest in equipment after you have shot self-portraits on your phone and decided you enjoy it, Onyi recommends the Canon EOS M200 as a beginner’s camera but stresses that the lens you choose is the most important thing because they are more affordable than cameras and more adaptable too. Onyi suggests the Canon EF 50mm fi.8 II Lens for portrait and landscape images.
Establish the story you want your images to tell
There are many elements to consider when shooting a self-portrait, including angles, set and wardrobe. Onyi explains that before she thinks about any of this, she establishes the story and the message she is trying to convey through the photos, “I need to make sure everything is cohesive so the story comes together beautifully.”
You can then consider how to use things like wardrobe and location to build your story. Onyi uses the example of a recent Instagram post that she wanted to signify the start of spring, so she incorporated floral elements into her outfit and focussed on specific elements like her floral nail art.
When it comes to finding locations, Onyi’s advice is to pay more attention to the parts of your home and your everyday surroundings that you have become used to, “If I’m going to do some shopping, I’m actually paying attention to what’s around.”
“Anything could easily be a backdrop,” she continues. “So you just have to notice it and that’s how I’ve been able to still create content in lockdown because I’m just utilising my local area.”
If you aren’t happy with the options your home provides you with for images, some easy tricks Onyi suggests are hanging a bedsheet to give you a blank canvas to pose in front of and using things like plants and books as props.
Make mistakes to find out what kind of photos you like
Onyi says she finds it easier to get a photo she likes when shooting self-portraits than when someone else is taking a photo of her because she looks at the photos she has taken almost immediately after having posed for them and she can decide which elements she doesn’t like immediately. She then changes her poses or the scenery accordingly, rather than relying on someone else’s opinion.
“You know the direction you’re going in and if you think that this is something that looks good,” Onyi says. “Looking at one shot tells me what to do in the next one.”
Using the front camera on your phone is another option, so you can actually see yourself while taking the photos and adjust your poses as you go.
Have confidence in yourself
If you are uncomfortable or lack experience posing for photos, Onyi suggests practicing poses in the mirror, “You can also go through pictures of yourself that you have already taken and you can try to recreate the poses you like.
Many people feel uncomfortable taking photos in public but this can be a necessary part of taking a self-portrait you are happy with, especially when you’ve exhausted the options the four walls of your home provide. “I’ve been there and yes it can be scary,” Onyi says. “What I would say to people is find quiet locations. Before lockdown, I’d go into restaurants when I knew people wouldn’t be on their lunch breaks, for example.”
“But it also comes with experience,” she says. “The more you put yourself out there, the more you no longer care.”
But social media can be a good way to hold yourself accountable to improving your skills and it can also act as a way of tracking how far you’ve come in terms of improving your skills. “I never delete old pictures,” Onyi says. “I want people to see that it’s a journey and I don’t even feel like I’ve gotten to the best bit yet. I’m still open to learning and I actually seek out new ways to improve upon myself and my skill.”
4 key tips to take from Onyi’s tutorial
- Experiment with the equipment you have before buying anything
- Your photos should have a story behind them
- Use unconventional locations and props
- You don’t have to post your photos to social media - self-portraits can be personal projects
Onyi Moss, photographer and influencer
Onyi Moss is a self-taught photographer, specialising in self-portrait photography. She has amassed 165,000 followers on Instagram through sharing her photography, as well as working with brands like Viktor & Rolf, Pandora and Elemis.