Let me start by saying, I hate standing in front of the camera.
I hate standing in front of OTHER PEOPLE’S cameras. (Had you there for a second, didn’t I?)
I don’t know why, but I feel real pressure in front of someone else’s lens. As a result, I act completely unnaturally, usually with a much-too-wide grin on my face.
I mask my shyness with over-exaggerated poses or by stiffening up.
Now, being in my own company, with my own lens pointing towards me? That’s a different matter! That, I love!
Self-portraiture and the privacy it gifted me had my name all over it from the moment I first found out about the genre.
What is Self-Portraiture?
Self-portraiture is an art form where you, the artist, create an image of yourself. Essentially, you’re the subject, the storyteller and the story all in one frame.
In this article, we’ll be honing in on the genre of photography, but what we’ll cover will be transferable to all sorts of other mediums where self-portraiture is possible: painting, drawing, sculpture…
We make self-portraits for various reasons:
- to explore our identities
- to make a statement
- to journey back and work through our past
The list goes on…
And we come across several obstacles:
- lack of technical skills
- meeting the challenges of being a one-person-team
- and among many others: shyness and self-consciousness!
Self-portraiture can of course range from simple snaps (selfie alert!) to high-end conceptual images.
With a bit of imagination, the world is your oyster with how near or far you want to take this genre.
Odds are though, if you’re reading this article, you’re keen to try self-portraiture in photography and you might feel awkward about standing in front of a camera, including your own.
With a bit of (ok, a lot of) practice, you’ll be able to build a sense of self-confidence in your creative self-expression.
But where do you start?
Why Do Some People Feel Shy?
Let’s start by looking at why people might feel self-conscious in the first place.
First of all, it’s totally ok to feel shy in new situations: this art form is new to you, right? So you’re all good and perfectly normal.
You’re no less than someone else who seems to have got it all together. I guarantee you they too felt awkward, not knowing what to do the first time they tried self-portraiture.
And if they didn’t feel even a tiny bit weird? Well, cool for them, I applaud their greatness. But I know I felt awkward at first, so high five!
According to Psychology Today, shyness is a natural response to fear.
That makes sense. Any time we face something we haven’t tried before, we’re scared to even start, let alone show anyone what we might have produced.
Psychology Today also says, “Shyness emerges from a few key characteristics: self-consciousness, negative self-preoccupation, low self-esteem and fear of judgement and rejection.
Shy people often make unrealistic social comparisons, pitting themselves against the most vibrant or outgoing individuals.
Believing that others are constantly evaluating them poorly, shy people abandon new social opportunities—which, in turn, prevents them from improving their social skills.”
Now, replace the word ‘social’ in that paragraph with ‘artistic’ and we’ve got ourselves something to talk about here!
The good news is, people aren’t born shy. Your sense of self actually develops at around 18 months old. So it could be argued that from then on we’re influenced by life experiences.
What is learnt, can be un-learnt.
What Might Make You Feel Shy in Self-Portrait Photography?
“Everything!”, I hear you say?
We can start breaking down those barriers by tackling a few major ones.
Social anxiety: maybe you’re an introvert and even though you would most likely work alone with just your camera and a tripod for company, you worry about people seeing you, either in the process of taking your photos, or seeing the results themselves.
Body image issues: too many people are sadly self-conscious about their appearance.
Lack of confidence: this might stem from not knowing the actual process of self-portrait photography, from finding inspiration through sourcing props and setting up a shot to photo manipulation in editing software.
Fear of judgement: this one is a toughie and I feel your pain if this is you. The fear of being judged or criticised by others can be debilitating and anxiety-inducing, enough to make you shy away from doing something different, or even to just let yourself be you.
Perfectionism: your self-doubt might come from wanting to create the perfect image.
Exposing yourself to vulnerability: yep, a successful self-portrait is one where the artist felt enough courage to become vulnerable by depicting their own emotions towards something significant in their lives.
Whatever your reason might be, unless you feel brave enough to break through your barriers, you might never get the chance to create your wonderful art. And that would be a real shame.
Ideas To Get Comfortable
No, not in your chair longingly looking at other people’s self-portraits on your IG feed!
Ideas to get comfortable in front of your lens:
Start super simple. Spend some time exploring how you’re feeling today. After all, the core of self-portraiture is diving in deep and exposing your emotions to create a story.
Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you’re yearning to know more about something (self-portrait photography anyone?).
Did you know in Celtic folklore, the apple symbolises knowledge?
I suggest you get an apple out of the fridge and for your first self-portrait, let the fruit represent you in front of your camera.
Do the set-up properly. Find a location, arrange the scene and take your time with your shoot.
You could even bite into the apple and let your teeth marks strengthen your connection with your subject.
Want to add a feminine touch to the story? You could put some lipstick on before you bite to leave traces of makeup on the apple’s skin.
This exercise is practice towards helping you feel comfortable with your inner world and visual storytelling.
2. Venturing further
Let’s stick with the apple for now as your prop of the day to stretch your wings a bit more.
Once again, set up your scene in your chosen location with your camera at the ready on your tripod.
This time, though, channel a good dose of René Magritte and his self-portrait The Son of Man.
Assume a nice static pose (nothing complicated needed here), lift your apple to partially cover your face and click away! (A self-timer is essential here.)
Don’t worry about copying or how cliché this image may have become through overuse. This is to learn new habits, remember?
You don’t need to search for a deeper meaning of the image either. The objective here is to practice being in front of your lens and to play.
In this image, I used a roll of bandage to cover my face and a wonderful cloak to envelop my body.
Experiment with different accessories to help you feel more comfortable taking your image. Anything goes.
3. Practice posing
In second-hand online bookshops, I found reference books for artists on the human form.
Basically, they’re nude photographs of models, allowing a deeper understanding of shape, form and gesture.
They’re meant to help artists draw, paint or sculpt the human form in the absence of a live model, but you can use these guides too, first to visualise, then practice posing your body for your own self-portraits.
Ditching your clothes is optional.
Before you have a go taking a new self-portrait, spend some time in front of a full-size mirror striking a pose or two or three you’ve seen in your new books.
This will help you get a better sense of what feels natural to you and what looks good.
After you’ve practised, practised, practised and practised some more, I challenge you to share your work.
No, it doesn’t have to be on social media for the wide world to see if you don’t want it to.
Just show your favourite(s) to one person: a partner, sibling, parent, best friend – someone you trust.
By doing this, not only are you practising breaking through the barriers of feeling shy, but you might just open up a dialogue with the viewer about the work, which in turn will motivate you to carry on making more.
In a self-portrait image, the heart of the story is you. You’re the beating life source.
Feeling shy and self-conscious is very common in this genre at first, but this obstacle alone isn’t strong enough to overpower the heart of your art.
By determination and creating habits to take shots regularly, slowly building up the courage to become vulnerable in front of your lens, you will build up confidence and develop your skills as a self-portrait photographer.
Ultimately, what you must remember is to have fun and allow yourself to just simply play.
Now that you know the path to overcoming shyness, continue your journey by learning how I create fine art self-portraiture on a budget of next-to-nothing.
Veronika Lavey is a multi-cultural artist specialising in conceptual self-portraiture. She is recognised for her dark, thought-provoking fine art photography.
When Veronika doesn’t have a camera or a paint brush in her hands, she’s most likely walking her giant fluffy dog, Sonic in the woods, or hanging out with her family.