This one was tough. Assignment 13 asked for self portraits. Something I don’t like. I never have and never will. I had a few ideas early on, wanted to take a side road and avoid the heavily beaten path of the standard social media selfie. I had to be in there. I knew. And I was OK with that. My exposure to TV news at Quinninnipac University had accustomed me to seeing me on the screen and prepped me for further adventures that included being in front of the camera. Nevertheless, I still wanted to enter the lab of self portraiture and see what I could do, both in front and behind the lens. Collisions between available time and weather made the latter (almost) impossible. But more on that below.
Researching In Style
I was still fiddling with the interior composites of my new apartment when an idea for an image of myself struck. Me at work. In my new home and office. Environmental self portraiture if you will.
I like environmental portraits. They provide context, show a scene, tell a story. It’s also a wonderful excuse to use wide-angle lenses. In this case, I opted for super wide-angle — a 20mm lens. I know. The portraiture police is already on its way. How could you… never ever use a wide-angle lens for portraits. The distortion, ugh. The compression, double ugh. 85mm, 105mm, 180mm, 200mm, those are the tools you need, stupid.
And yes, there’s truth to that. But a wide-angle, ore even a super-wide angle, can still be an extraordinary tool for portraiture and self-portraiture; especially for any sort of documentary work. And the surge in phone and vlogging selfies has probably elevated the use of shorter lenses for portraits to new heights anyway.
Proper technique is important. Surprise, I know… You need to know what the lens does and how you can use that to your advantage. You’ve got to be close enough to create impact. But not so close that the image is all about distortion. Although, it all depends on the desired effect, I guess. Taking in a wide landscape with a small person can be equally striking and desired. Experimentation is what it takes to find what works and what doesn’t. And experimenting is fun, wouldn’t you agree?
So, 20mm it was for my first self portraiture session. I tried a few compositions and ended with five variations I liked. How did I shoot those images?
In a very manual fashion. First off, the lens is manual focus only. So I focused on the spot where I would be sitting and left that alone. Tripod usage is self-explanatory. Depth-of field with a lens that wide is pretty lofty anyway, but I went with f/8 to make sure the entire scene was nice and sharp. That also gave me some leeway for any focusing miscalculations. I picked a standard shutter speed — below the sync speed, because I was using flash as well. A slightly above base ISO gave me a not too dark exposure so that the flash wouldn’t dominate the whole thing. The flash (or two in some cases) was remotely triggered and bouncing off the ceiling, with a power setting tuned to give a proper exposure. The camera was then set to self timer and firing a few shots automatically. Not too complicated at all.
In The Shadows
Enough time in front of the lens, though. The rather short days outdoors combined with the long research days offered me an opportunity. I noticed the play of shadows on my early evening stroll around the block and decided to extend my self portraiture lab outdoors.
Light levels were rather low. Even with a 35mm f/1.8 lens wide open and slow shutter speed, I needed ISOs of 10,000 and above. But neither image quality nor focusing capabilities suffered too much. I opted for black and white simply because the street lights put out very warm light. And I just don’t like that look.
A final exploration of self portraiture in the shadows presented itself when I got home. The lamp in the entrance area of my apartment throws a nice shadow of whoever stands at the door. I couldn’t resist.
Reflections Of The Self
Finally, I have a bit of an experimental self portraiture session for you. Reflections. I couldn’t get the mirror to work — space constraints make it impossible to position a camera where it would need to be.
But I noticed other reflections. In the glass doors of the insert in my book shelf. They’re not very strong, though. I warned you it’s experimental. Judge for yourself.
I have one idea left to try. I won’t let the cat out of the bag yet. But I can say it involves getting out on the streets. I hope I can fit it into my schedule somewhere in the next few weeks. I’ll update this post and publish the images when I’ve got them.
Until then, I really enjoyed this self portraiture challenge. I experimented, tried different approaches. And I am satisfied with most of the results. Nothing more to wish for.