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How to Shoot a Professional, Creative Low-Key Self Portrait

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Sometimes when looking at a beautiful black and white portrait, you think to yourself, "what a shot, I wish I could have one!" In fact, you do not have to be a professional photographer or use a professional service to have stunning shots. You can do it by yourself and all you need is some creativity, a little ingenuity and artistry.


The Starting Point

Because we're making self-portraits, it's up to you to handle all aspects of the shoot. So it is essential to have a plan to avoid unnecessary troubles, which can hold back the process.

At the beginning, I recommend first choosing the main idea of the shoot. When defining the topic, it is important to be sure that everything that is in your mind can be recreated in front of the camera. Therefore, it is good to choose a motif or expression that describes you well.

After thinking about it, I decided that my theme would be "the different faces of a woman." I wanted to show femininity, strength, delicacy, vanity and sensuality all in one.

I then determined what photography techniques will be used in the self-portrait project. I felt black and white photography was the best choice for the purpose, and my face would be the main subject in the photos. You could choose you full body or even your hands, just make sure you're comfortable with what you choose.

Black and white pictures draw away attention from all colors around us and lead the eye to more pure lines. Given the leading idea of ​​the photo shoot, this is a perfect choice for images. Also the combination of black and white photography and low key shooting creates fantastic results full of inspiration and emotion.


Black and White

A Little Theory

The low key technique I am using can be defined as using a light source to illuminate the subject, but allowing the background to remain unlit and black. It can be practiced on a sunny afternoon outside, and in the evening at home.

Basic rules are keep ISO at the lowest level to avoid noise in photos (ISO 100 or lower if your camera is able), adjust only aperture and shutter speed to create the desired effect.

Settings of aperture and shutter speed depend on the intensity of the light source (It can be any kind of lamp or natural one passing through a window. Just be sure your background is not lit.

Low key photography brings a lot of darkness, drama, and mystery. It creates stunning shots, and is also very simple. It is really worth a try if the idea is new to you!


A low-key portrait

Preparation for Action

Once you've decided on the scenario, it is time to design the scene. Choose things that mesh well with the main idea and things that suits you best. However, keep the whole scene simple and clean. I included a peacock feather, because although shooting in black and white, it still looked beautifully.


To be more creative, use some props like a hat, wig, jewelry, etc.

The necessary equipment is simple:

  • Camera with "M" manual mode, all the settings must be under control
  • The most important thing for this shoot is you and your personality
  • Various accessories that can be included in the photo
  • Tripod, essential for a self-portrait
  • Light is the second most important thing. Can be found everywhere, but for the pictures below you need a lamp (e.g. reading lamp)
  • A dark room and a comfortable place for shooting

Setting Your Camera

Camera settings are simple because the technique itself is easy/

  • Switch to "M" mode
  • Turn on the self-timer (3-5 sec so you don't get bored waiting for the snap)
  • If possible, turn on "continuous" or "burst" mode, after hearing the first shot, you often feel more relaxed
  • Set aperture to f/3.5 – f/5 (depending on the desired depth of field) to keep the background soft
  • Shutter speed depends on the light you have, so you should experiment.
  • If the lens has built-in stabilization, you must turn off the system for using a tripod.

Look and Shoot

The question that remains is what comes next. The answer is simple. Just set up the equipment as it’s shown below on the photo, and now you are ready!


Setting up the scene

You need to feel comfortable and confident when you start shooting, so do what you need to do to feel that way. Turn on your favorite music or enjoy some of your favorite drink before hand, just not too much if you want your photos to be in focus.

The position of the light is all up to you. Here are some suggestions. Illuminate half of the face, shoot tight details of your face, then make your face a smaller part of the frame. Whatever you shoot, it should have strong emotion. There's not much technical explanation to give here, just experiment and pay attention to your own feelings on the images.

Break a rule! It’s well known that focusing on the eyes makes the portrait look pro. Try something different and more creative! Use the light to paint over the skin. Feel free to express what you really mean by taking these photos.

Show that they are not the same old boring self-portraits. Keep shooting and don’t give up if the first ten pictures disappoint you. And even though it sounds silly, remember to have fun.


Some Tricks for Best Results

Do not use a very strong light source for these images. It can create very sharp contrasts

Turn the camera setting to black and white for at least a few shots. It will help you visualize what your final product will look like..

The more pictures you take, the more brave for experiments you become. Experiment with depth of field and get as close to the camera as possible.

Speaking of close-ups remember always to fill the frame. Keep the rule of thirds in mind when posing, but do not take it as law. All rules can always be neglected for the sake of the good shot!

Find some inspiration in yourself and give high end self portraits a try. As this article demonstrates, selfles do not need to look like the ones taken by teenagers on Facebook.

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