The Artistic Self Portrait

The term Selfie and the current obsession with them may be a creation of our Smartphone Generation, but self portraits in art have been around for a long long time. The first real ‘selfie’ taken was way back in 1839 by Robert Cornelius, a young chemist and photography enthusiast from Philadelphia. He set up his camera in the back of his family’s store, opened the shutter, ran around and sat in front of the camera for a minute then returned to his camera and closed the shutter. On the back of his developed image he wrote “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839”.


Robert Cornelius

So what distinguishes a selfie from a self portrait? A self portrait generally has more consideration, composition, insight and aesthetic care than a selfie. Photographer Deana Lawson summed it up nicely when she said “ A self-portrait considers the interiority of the artist; it’s a moment for self-reflection, to pause and to look at yourself”. Self portraits also provide us with a medium to explore, test and invent new ways to use our camera in a considered, non-threatening and relaxed environment.

For some inspiration and help to illustrate my tips, I’ve asked a few Melbourne based photographers for their artistic self portraits:

  • Heather May Walker considers herself a photography obsessed chic from the Yarra Valley. Her images capture a playful, often creative look at the world. Heather shoots with her Nikon D5300 or a GoPro. You can see more of Heather’s great work on her Facebook Page or her Instagram feed 
  • Adam Renyard creates some of the best moody landscapes on Instagram. He loves capturing moments from nature to steel wool spinning, from sunsets to landscapes. He has fun chasing the perfect moment in time! Adam shoots with a Nikon D3100. See more of Adam’s work on his Instagram feed
  • Patrick Noone is an enthusiast photographer. He has explored many types and styles of photography and has come to favour long exposure photography. His long exposure shots have a zen like peacefulness about them. Patrick shoots with a Pentax K-3. You can see more of Patrick’s work on his 500px account

With the short cold days of winter restricting the time to get out and about with our cameras, now is the time to consider your own self portrait.

When contemplating your own self portrait you may want to consider:

1. What personality trait, emotion or interesting thing do you want to share about you? How would you capture that in an image?


Here Patrick has gone for an emotive image.

2. Be aware of your Background. Pick one that matches the style or concept you are shooting for (hehe, see what I did there?) – nice plain background, colour, landscape, messy computer desk, clouds or slide one in behind you during your post processing.


Adam used perspective to position himself in this landscape shot at Pulpit Rock, Cape Schanck.

3. Think about your Choice of Lens, aperture setting and shutter speeds. Are you wanting a long focal length to blur out the background? Need everything in tack focus? Want to spin around and get movement in your background? What about a cool bokeh affect?


I recently took this shot and wanted to get a foreground and background blur on the image. I used a 50mm lens and opened the aperture all the way.

4. Use a Tripod. This will make it easier to position your camera but be sure and experiment with the angle, height and orientation of the camera.


Heather has taken this very unique and light hearted approach to her self portrait and wasn’t afraid to experiment with camera angles. How did you take that shot Heather?

5. Use a remote release, tethering and/or wifi to app connectivity if you have them. This will allow you to frame your shot and test angles, facial expressions and focus.


Adam uses a remote release to put himself in the landscape.

6. Lighting is a major factor in any image. What lighting will you use? Natural, strobes, a desk lamp or even a flash light?


Patrick has used a single light source to highlight half his face and hood – a dark minimalist approach.

7. Will you use any props? What about your favourite hat, the umbrella, a pile of leaves, that cool retro camera, your grumpy cat, a string of Christmas lights or anything that adds interest or character to your shot.


Definitely not a prop but Heather has included her wee one in this self portrait.

8. Smoke and mirrors – seriously, smoke and mirrors … or fire … or dinosaurs (?) Be creative, experiment, be wild, the sky’s the limit!

I couldn't resist inserting a dino into my self portrait.

I couldn’t resist inserting a dino into my self portrait.

Now go get your gear and explore new ways to shoot yourself.


World’s first selfie stick invented by your’s truely

One Comment

  • dale June 13, 2015

    Very interesting article Dale, almost convinced to take a selfie, I said ‘almost’ Haha!!
    I hate my photo being taken, as you know.

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