The Power of a Self Portrait

If you know me in "real life" you probably know this story. But it's worth repeating. And if you don't know me "in real life", I hope that changes one day and I'd love to give you a crash course in self portraits.

A few years ago my mother in law made a family calendar with everyone's birthday, anniversary etc. For each month she made a collage of photos of people who would be celebrating that month. My birthday is in January.  She used my senior photo from high school. I had graduated 16 years earlier. She told me it was the only photo she had of me. And while I loved how young I looked, it made me sad.

I was the family photographer. I carried my camera everywhere and took thousands of photos a year. I had documented first steps, first smiles, family outings, birthdays, and the every day. I had stacks and stacks of photos still unsorted and waiting to go into albums. And in all of that someone was missing.

Whenever someone tried to take my photograph I would force an awkward smile and when I would see them developed I found everything wrong with me and more reasons to hide behind the lens.

At that point I had 3 small children. Children who would grow up and have very few photos of me if I was gone. It was heartbreaking to me. The reality hit me hard enough that I decided to do something about it.

Since this was at Christmas time I decided that January 1st would be a good time to start. I found a group on Flickr that was devoted to 365 self portraits. I was a bit shaken by the thought of a photo of myself a day, but I knew that there was nothing to lose. I made it easy on myself and decided that it could be with any camera, my phone, my computer, or my "big camera". I pushed myself to do it whether the day sucked or if I had PMS.

I made it 63 days without missing a day. And in those 2 short months I ended up with 63 photos that were truly me that my family would have forever. But even more than that,  I learned to love myself in front of the camera. I learned what angles made me look best, I learned how to smile with my eyes and look straight into the lens.

Something had shifted inside. I no longer hide when someone takes a photograph of me. But even more than that....I've learned to rock it. So I'm sharing what I learned with you. And I'd love to see what you come up with.

1. Get really comfortable with the camera you're using, even if it's your phone. You don't want to be fumbling with setting when you're in the midst of trying to get comfortable in front of the lens. Start taking a lot of photos of everything so you know how the thing works.

2. Light is your friend. Find a big window and face it. If you're outside, get under a shady tree but still face the light.

3. Turn on some music that makes you feel alive. I like the Dixie Chicks for this, right now. But it changes all the time.

4. Shoot down. Get the camera up into the air above your hit and look up. It makes your eyes look big.

5. Start with funny faces. Take a few shots of you just making ridiculous faces. There is no pressure for these shots to be fabulous and it gets you comfy in front of the lens.

6. When you go for "the shot" imagine yourself smiling with your eyes. Lift your eye lids and open your eyes just a bit bigger. Not too big though or you'll just look surprised.

7. Take a lot of photos of yourself. There's no pressure to get the first one just how you envisioned. Take a lot. The more you take the more you have to choose from.

8. Don't dissect your looks. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are sexy. Look deep into your eyes in the photos. You've seen so much and you're still here. And full of so much depth and strength. See that, not the things you can't change about your face and body.

9. If you use your phone add a filter or use an app to edit. I have an iPhone 4 and  I love it's camera. I've had images printed from it and they are pretty great. No, it doesn't replace a nice camera but it goes to show you can get a great self shot with your phone.

10. Share yourself. People love to see you. And by sharing your self portraits you'll see that not every one has the critical eye you do about yourself.

It takes a bit to get into the groove but I promise, it's like anything new, the more you do it, the better you get.