23 Creative Self Portrait Photography Ideas & Tips
Self-portrait photography is a wonderful way to awake your creativity and practice your skills.
In this article, you’ll find some technical tips to get you started from scratch, or to improve your existing self-portrait photography skills.
You’ll also find a bunch of ideas for cool self-portraits that will make you fall in love with this fun photography genre!
Even if you’re a shy photographer, you’ll find some great self-portrait ideas that you can implement and overcome your fears.
So, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
23 Self Portrait Photography Ideas
If you’re struggling to find inspiration, here are some creative self-portrait ideas (with examples) for you to awake the artist – and model! – in you.
1. Use mirrors
When you’re the photographer and the subject simultaneously, it isn’t easy to learn how to compose the image and focus correctly.
That’s why using a mirror is one of the best ways to start; this way, you can be holding and controlling the camera as you pose.
The tricky part is to find a way to do it creatively and not fall into all the mirror selfies and self-portrait cliches. On the other hand, that’s something that can happen in any photographic genre – you have to find your own voice.
2. Give low key lighting a chance
Low-key is a type of lighting that’s predominantly dark, with highlights only in the focal points. It can create very eye-catching images.
To achieve these images, you need to set your camera’s metering mode to spot metering. This way, you can measure the light from the highlighted area and darken the rest. Otherwise, the camera will try to compensate and brighten the shadows, overexposing the subject.
If you’re using any of the semi-automatic modes, you can use the exposure compensation feature. Adjust the original exposure with -1 EV or -2 EV. This tells the camera to underexpose your photo.
See also our guide to low key vs high key lighting.
3. Add some motion blur
Another cool self-portrait idea is to incorporate motion blur. This means that you’ll leave a trail when you move. To make this kind of photo, you need to use a slow shutter speed.
Depending on how fast you’re moving and how blurred you want to be, you’ll need to try different shutter speeds. So don’t settle for the first result – keep on experimenting.
4. Make a no-face self-portrait
Although some people consider only the images where you’re showing your face to be a self-portrait, many other artists contend with this idea.
You can make a fascinating self-portrait with any part of your body. Give it a try and decide which side of the argument you agree with.
5. Recreate an artwork
Self-portraits go as far back as 15th-century paintings, so if you’re looking for inspiration, you can look to any of the masters.
Actually, why limit yourself to self-portrait inspiration when you have the entire art history? Find your favourite artwork and recreate it.
There’s a fun trend on Instagram where people are doing just that. It’s ripe with self-portrait photography ideas – search for the hashtag #betweenartandquarantine to check it out.
We’ve also written an interesting article on photos inspired by famous paintings which will give you some more ideas.
6. Put something between you and the camera
This is a great opportunity to get a creative self-portrait because you can do absolutely anything. You can shoot through a window to incorporate some reflections, or you can put some objects that hide a part of your face.
You can also play with perspective by placing the object closer or further away. You have total freedom here; the only limits come from your imagination.
7. Make a collage
When one self-portrait photo isn’t enough to tell your story, take two or three and make a collage.
8. Experiment with double-exposure
Another way to show more than one picture in a self-portrait is to use a double exposure (see guide). The idea is that two (or more) exposures are overlapping in the same frame. This will give a ghostly-creative feel to your picture.
Most cameras offer a multiple exposure feature that can be enabled in the menu. If your camera doesn’t have it or you prefer to do it in post-production, it can be done in any editing software that allows working with layers.
9. Try some action shots
Who says that you have to be posing for your self-portrait? You can also be doing sports or your favourite activity.
To better capture an action shot, you can try burst mode. Burst mode tells your camera to shoot many photos per second, ensuring that you capture the best moment.
If you’re using an iPhone, you can set the burst mode with a self-timer and use a smartphone tripod or stand to prop up the phone to do this kind of shot.
Alternatively, you can use a DSLR and control it with a remote or find one that has an interval shooting function.
10. Photograph your silhouette
Catching yourself in silhouette is another creative way to make a self-portrait. To do this, you have to position yourself with the light coming from behind.
Sunsets are particularly popular; however, you can also use artificial light.
To achieve a good silhouette, you have to use spot metering mode to calculate the exposure. Then, adjust the settings manually or using any of the semi-automatic modes.
11. Try a close-up portrait
If you’re a fan of self-portraits that show your face, you can try doing some close-ups. This is a creative way to show only a part of your face; you can focus on the mouth or the eyes.
The best lens for taking a close-up self-portrait is a short telephoto or macro lens – this way you’ll avoid any distortions and be able to really highlight one section of your face or body.
However, a standard 50mm lens can be good too. This allows you to shoot at a shorter distance, which is good when you’re both the model and the photographer. The choice is yours.
12. Go black and white
Black and white photography is perfect for giving a nostalgic feeling to your self-portraiture because it reminds us of the first years of photography where color didn’t exist.
You can also use it for making creative and surreal self-portraits. Since we naturally see in color, black and white is perfect for creating a dream-like atmosphere; something that isn’t real.
Another way to limit the color palette is by switching your camera to a monochromatic mode – most cameras offer this, but if you can’t find the setting, have a go with an Instagram filter instead.
13. Do a photo project
Exploring your inner self can be quite complex. If it’s something you’re willing to delve into, making an art project out of it can be the right choice for you.
For self-portrait photography inspiration, you can follow contemporary portrait photographers such as Laura Zalenga and Kyle Thompson. You can also go back in history and look at the works of Moholy Nagy, Man Ray and Claude Cahun.
This can be as fun as Halloween costumes, or as deep as Cindy Sherman’s construction of identity projects. The choice is yours.
It can also be a cool self-portrait idea for shy photographers who don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera.
15. Play with reflections
Working with reflections is one of the most popular portrait ideas, and it works wonders for a self-portrait as well. Find any reflective surface, whether it’s water, glass, or certain kinds of floors, and compose your image.
Remember that reflections depend on lighting and the place where you’re standing, so make sure you take many pictures changing the angle of the camera.
16. Move to different locations
Self-portrait ideas can be inspired by the location of the shoot; it’s not just about you in a studio.
Try visiting different places to get inspired and take some cool self-portraits incorporating elements from your surroundings.
17. Change perspective
Experimenting with the angle of the camera can lead to some creative self-portraits.
Get the camera low on the ground to capture a worm’s eye view. Otherwise, use a gorilla pod mini tripod to wrap the camera on a tree branch and photograph yourself from above.
If you don’t have a tripod that allows this kind of perspective, use a normal one and place yourself in a different plane – you can use stairs or trees to change your position in relation to the camera.
18. Print and cut
With all the digital tools that we have, we forget about the multiple possibilities of manual work and crafts.
Try printing out some of your self-portraits and start making an old-school collage for an interesting self-portrait.
Cut and paste your images and even throw in the mix some cut-outs from magazines. Don’t forget that you can also print, write or paint on your artwork to make it more creative.
19. Use props
Using props for your self-portraits can be a great help to express certain aspects of your personality. An object that you identify with can be the perfect way to complement your photo.
You can use books if you like to read, a globe if you like to travel, and so on. Also, you can use an object as a metaphor, so get as creative as you want.
20. Don’t be afraid of emotions
As much as we like to see ourselves all beautiful and happy, the truth is that we can’t be cheerful all the time. We feel all types of emotions, and we shouldn’t be afraid to capture a different facial expression in a self-portrait.
Let’s not forget the therapeutic power of art. Making photo stories can help us to overcome obstacles or hard times.
So remember, explore different sides of yourself and your different emotional worlds. You don’t always have to show a perfect smile.
21. Try different lights
If you’re looking for a self-portrait photography idea that will also challenge your photographic skills, this is it: try different lights.
It’s very easy to capture a well-exposed photo when you have good lighting, but what about candle lights, using gels, the neon sign at the entrance of a bar? After all, the lighting is a big part of forming a photography style.
Make sure you adjust the white balance because different lights have different color temperatures.
22. Find or build an interesting background
The background can make or break a photo. Find an interesting background for your self-portrait, and you’ll stand out more.
You can try doing some bokeh – which is the effect of the blurry area of your picture. To blur the background you need to use a wide aperture and a telephoto lens.
Also, stand closer to the camera and further away from the background. Each lens creates a different bokeh, and you can also modify it by using bokeh filters.
You can also easily blur the background using Lightroom or any other premium photo editing software.
23. Frame within a frame
To make your photo more interesting and make your face the focal point, you can always put yourself inside a frame.
Framing is also a good composition technique – instead of holding a picture frame in front of you, try to incorporate the elements from the scene.
4 Tips for Better Self Portraiture
So, how do you take a portrait picture of yourself? It’s not as difficult as you might think. You only need a tripod and a camera. Then, follow these tips to achieve better self-portrait photography.
1. Remote shutter release vs self-timer
Every camera on the market has a self-timer to allow you to take self-portraits. Some of them even have different time settings – for example, 2 seconds and 10 seconds. With this feature, you press the shutter and run into position.
When you use the remote timer, you have the advantage of having your hands completely free in the photo. It’s also the budget-conscious choice because it’s a feature that comes by default.
However, running to the position is more difficult if you’re doing creative self-portrait photography, and you need to study your pose and expression.
To solve this problem, you can use a remote shutter release (see our guide). There are cable remotes and wireless ones, and they have a wide range of prices.
The more advanced ones have more choices, such as interval timers, but they’re more expensive. Research the options to find what’s right for your needs.
2. Find the best lighting
Lighting is key to a good self-portrait. You need to decide what you want: natural light or artificial? Hard light or soft? Is it coming from the side or from above?
Normally, soft light is quite flattering, but hard light with strong shadows can create a very dramatic result. It all depends on what mood you want to create.
Also, consider buying some artificial lighting if you often photograph indoors or in low light situations.
3. Learn composition
Learning the composition rules can improve your self-portraits in a way that you can’t imagine. There are many different rules and guidelines that you can follow, starting with the rule of thirds – which is marked in every camera grid.
From there you can move on to more complex compositions.
4. Get control over the camera settings
Many of the self-portrait photography ideas above require the use of photography techniques that are difficult to master unless you really know how to use your camera (for example, motion blur or bokeh).
The exposure is controlled by three factors: shutter speed, aperture and ISO – this is known as the triangle exposure.
When you use your camera in manual mode, you control all three. However, you can start by using semi-automatic modes such as shutter priority or aperture priority. This way you can decide the final result.
See our complete beginner’s guide to camera settings here.
Self Portrait Photography FAQs
Does a self-portrait have to be of your face?
There’s some debate about the definition of a self-portrait. While some purists won’t consider it a self-portrait unless it shows a face, others believe it can show any part of the body.
Fortunately, art is a discipline that’s always open to people breaking the rules – so you’re free to interpret the idea of self-portrait photography as you wish.
Why do photographers take self-portraits?
A self-portrait can be an experiment to better understand light, poses and photographic techniques. However, it can also be an art form in itself that’s done as a creative expression.
What is the difference between a self-portrait and a selfie?
When selfies first became “a thing”, they were done at an arm’s length (typically with a smartphone), and they were a spur-of-the-moment capture. As the genre has developed, the line between the selfie and the self-portrait has blurred.
I’d venture to say that the main difference is the intent. The selfie is more about sharing (normally on social media) and putting yourself out there. A self-portrait is an exercise of reflection and exploring your inner self (even if shown to others).
Hopefully, these self-photography ideas got your creativity going. If you have any doubts or want to share more tips and ideas, comment below. We’d love to hear from you.