The Self-Portrait A Great way to learn

Someone asked me why I do so many self-portraits. I assured him it wasn't because I was a narcissist. I use the self-portrait as a learning tool. My self-portraits help me to improve my lighting skills and my retouching skills. When I have a finished and retouched self-portrait, I put it out there in the photo social media world for critique. The best thing about self-portraits is you can just work at your own pace and experiment all you want. You can't really do that with a model. Or at least you should not make a model suffer through that, and you certainly can't do that sort of thing with a client. I thought I would just take you through one of my self-portrait sessions.

For my backdrops I use a Wescott X-Drop. I have a white and a black backdrop. It is a great little system when you don't have much room. Here you can see how I set it up in my living room. Nice thing about it is that it is light and portable.

Westcott X-Drop

Another really handy tool that I use is a CamRanger. It hooks up to your camera so that you can send your photos wirelessly to your iPad. Not only that but you can control all of your cameras function from your iPad using the CamRanger App. So in all of these photos I am controlling all of the settings and firing my camera with the iPad in my hands out of sight because they are head shots. If I wanted a full body shot I can set the timer using my iPad. The best thing about it is that you can set the focus using your iPad. Just touch the screen and the focus point is set where you want it. Makes it much easier to get the eyes sharp in the self-portraits.


For this session I used a Sigma 100mm f/2.8 lens and an 85mm f/1.8 lens. I wanted to see if there would be a big difference. I was quite happy with both lenses. The camera is a Nikon D610.

The Camera

Usually I proceed by adding one light at a time. As I shoot, I then decide if I want to add more lights depending on the effect I am trying to achieve that day. Here you can see I am starting with the Westcott Rapid Box Octa. And now I start experimenting with different power settings. Today I wanted to get a typical headshot on a white or grey background. So I started off here at f/8, 1/200sec., ISO 400. The speedlight was set at 1/8 power. Now the nice thing about using the CamRanger is I can adjust the brightness right from my iPad by changing the ISO or the Aperture. I then start adding lights to get the effect I want.

Beginning to setup.

As I experiment I always check for sharpness and the catchlights in the eyes. Again it is nice to see the photos immediately on the iPad. You can zoom in on the eyes to make sure they are as sharp as possible. At this point I am not too concerned with the pose or facial expression. In the photo below you can see an added stripbox.

Adding Lights

At this point as I add lights, I decide whether I wan't my background to appear gray or pure white. If I want pure white, I know I need to light my background, and I know I usually will have to do some work in post-production to get it pure white. So in the photo below you can see the lighting setup that I have decided on trying out and you can see on the left the speedlight that will illuminate the background. The two stripboxes were set at 1/16 power for the images below.

The Lights.

Once I am satisfied with the light, then I start working on the pose and expression so that I will have a photo that I can then use to work on retouching in Photoshop. I check for the catchlights and sharpness. All the photos are shot RAW. Once I am happy with the lighting, pose and expression of some of the photos I then get them on my computer and begin the post-processing of a few of my favourite images.

Working on expression and pose.

I then know whether or not this is a setup I would use with an actual client. Of course I submit one or two to some portrait sites that I belong to for critique. The best way to get better is to learn and practice and shooting self-portraits is a good way to do that. Hopefully you have enjoyed this little presentation. Now get out there and shoot some "selfies".

Just a note: All of the images above are straight out of the camera. If I can figure out how to do it, I will put together a presentation on how I edit my images in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Created By
Steve Perry


Steve Perry Photo

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