Ok folks, raise your hands if you’ve ever been with a client that was uncomfortable being in front of your camera and told you “I hate my picture being taken.” (It’s ok, I’ll wait for ya!) Now, if you have been in the photography business for longer than a minute then I know that just about all of you have your hand up in the air right now … just keep it up for a second and think of my next set of scenarios … Keep your hand up still if you as a photographer hate having your own photo taken. (You still with me?) Raise them still if you have never had a quality head shot taken of yourself. (Yeah, I’m still looking at you! LOL). Without being able to see the readers right now, I’d venture to say that more than half of y’all still have your hands up in the air. (You can put your hands down now. The blood is starting to drain from your fingers!) Just to be fair, I’ll freely admit that I had my hand up when I was thinking of all three of these scenarios as well. I personally hate to be in front of the camera. As a matter of fact, when people tell me that I should be in pictures, my go-to response is always, and I mean always, “Thanks, but I’m always behind the lens; never in front of it.”
I was recently honored to be published and while preparing for that the editor had asked me the standard questions about my work that would accompany my image. In addition, I was asked to provide a headshot to go along with the article. What the heck was I going to do? I had nothing to give this guy! Frantically I started to dig through all of my archives looking for this elusive headshot and finally settled on a 5+ year old image that someone had grabbed of me. It wasn’t a great by any means, but in a pinch it just had to do. It was in this moment of panic that I realized that I needed to face my demons and get in front of some dang glass, and soon!
I wanted to challenge and push myself right to that preverbal edge with a headshot. After many days of pondering my conundrum, it finally hit me. Why not make some killer selfies? And better yet, why use my cell phone when I have 3 camera bodies and all of the equipment to rock out professional looking shots sitting right in my own home, and so, that’s where my journey began. I decided to create a 7 day series of selfies where using a cell phone was not an option and the images that I created could be considered “portrait worthy.” Instantly I created some game rules to follow:
- 1. All the photos needed to be taken at my home.
- 2. No one was allowed to help me set up with the lighting, set creations, or poses.
- 3. I refused to allow myself to spend a penny on this project.
- 4. I had to shoot them in 7 consecutive days, no matter what.
- 5. Each image had to look completely different from the day before.
- 6. And most of all, the images HAD to be professional & portrait worthy SOOC.
For day one I decided to really sock it to myself, go all crazy, and artsy-fartsy. I wanted to have all kinds of fun and play with a smoke machine, some holiday lights, a sheet of Plexiglas, and lastly, some happy bubbles. My thought was to create a mystical and moody portrait of myself with some funk to it, so with that in mind I got to work in my garage. The setup for my Day 1 Selfie took me about an hour to finalize and about another 30-40 minutes to do my hair & makeup. From there, with my camera set up on the tripod and the timer activated I began shooting. Looking back at the final image, I’m not sure if it was the overly complicated setup that I had created, or my lack of posing skills in front of the camera, but I ended up taking a little over 200 shots for this portrait! Still, at the end of the night and after I uploaded the images, I was quite pleased with my creation, and so it was on to day two.
After looking at my “smoke & bubbles” image the next morning, I came to the conclusion that I probably had leaned towards the “artsy” image more so because I was still “hiding” from my camera. Sure, it was a great shot and fun to do but I was ultimately still avoiding the camera, so I decided to buckle down and get serious with day two ... it was time to go old school and create a “classic” image. Down came all the lights, Plexi, and fog machine, and up went the backdrop, two lights and a silver reflector. On went the makeup & up-do, and approx 150 timer shots later I had successfully canned my classic portrait. Easy peasy, and hey, I was down 50 images from the day before so yay for me getting a little better at my posing!
Moving on to day three I knew that I wanted to create a black & white image that had a little bit more of a fashion-forward image, and since I’ve shot models in front of a fan before, I thought that this would be a perfect time to experience what a fan session was like. Once again, my previous set up came down and now up went my silver reflector as my back drop. A fan was placed next to my tripod and my hair was down and free to roam the country! For this shot I knew that I wanted an “in your face” kind of look so I placed a +2 macro ring on my 35mm lens and had my camera less than a foot in front of my face. Again, I was all about getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing what I put my models through by placing that big ole lens right up in my grill. And you know what? I canned this session in about 75 shots! Clearly I was getting better at posing my body as well as relaxing in front of the lens!
After creating the three days of studio type shots, I decided that for day four I’d relax a little bit and aim for more of a “day in the life” image and so it was time to step into my real world environment. I hauled all of my gear upstairs, placed a reflector in front of my sofa, a single soft box and to the camera’s left and went for more of a relaxed and realistic image. Since my living room is one of my favorite spots in the house with all of my books around me surrounded by my love of vivid colors, I opted for an all-black wardrobe that would help ground myself in the middle of the shot. Oddly enough, this session took me only about 60 shots to complete! (Hey, I was still getting better at this! Yay me!)
Now, as much as I loved the environmental portrait of the living room shot, I decided that for day five I would let my hair down even more and feature the more casual side of myself, so it was off to my bedroom. This decision was two-part. Firstly, I wanted to tone down the environmental images and showcase the calmer side of myself that folks rarely get to see or even know that I have. Secondly I wanted to remind my followers that “bedroom” does not automatically imply sex or boudoir. Not that those two types of implications are bad mind you, rather, I simply wanted to imply the everyday casual and intimate comforts of my real world. That being said, my bedroom is quite the dark dungeon so I was forced to drag in all my lights as well as my trusty reflector. Since I was shooting such a tight shot in the camera, this image took me back up into the 70+ shutter count range just because I had to work on not cutting out any body parts in the camera. Done. On to the next day.
So here I was on day six and I was quickly getting tired of being cooped up in the house, and since one of my many prides as a photographer is being able to nail killer shots out doors when everyone around me can’t see the shot outside, I opted to round out this selfie challenge in the outdoors. With the magic of the fall time colors, there was this incredible tree with flaming orange leaves on it that was just begging to be noticed and I just knew that I had to shoot it. In addition to wanting to have that glorious fall colored images, it also came to mind to me about the lessons that I teach at my workshops. I will go through great lengths to teach my students to take a look around outside and really “see” their environment around them. Often times when photographers get out doors they can get so overwhelmed with the clutter of their surroundings that they fail to notice those magical shots presented right before them, and this one lone tree was a perfect way to showcase that lesson.
Being a totally huge natural light guru, I opted to only use a reflector with this shot, but in order to get only me and the tree in the lens (remember, I was going for SOOC images. Even cropping wasn’t allowed in my books) I needed to also bust out one of my most essential photography tools … my step ladder. After I was all set up and knowing exactly what shot I was striving to create, this outdoor session was a wrap in about 40 takes. My speed and comfort was really starting to take notice, and so now it was on to the last day of the selfie project. Day seven. Oddly enough, I had noticed that when I first started this project, the ideas for each days’ shooting was kind of a bear to come up with, but after I completed the flaming tree shot I knew instantly what I wanted to create for the last day. Again, I was thinking about the lessons that I always teach my students, one of them being if you want your images to look different, then get off your feet. Either take a snails’ view perspective on your images or aim for a birds eye view, and since I finally found my wireless remote trigger on day six I opted to aim high. Literally! I grabbed my 12ft ladder from the shed, mounted my camera on my gorilla pod and hoisted that puppy high in a tree. After scaling up and down the ladder countless times to get my focus right, I canned this final shot in only 36 takes! (Can I get a Whoop Whoop!?!)
Wow! What a journey, and I’m sorry if this article was a mouthful to read, but I felt it was important for me to share with you guys my thoughts and reasoning behind every step of this journey. What started out as simply a fun idea ended up into quite the adventure and at the end of it all I certainly learned a lot about myself. Firstly, I have come to the conclusion that I was a foolish photographer from hiding myself from the world and much of that realization came to light during this project because for each day of the selfies, I chose to livestream how that days shot was done. Again, I was forcing myself to get out of the shadows and let people see my face. And you know what? That was the most incredible part! For each day’s live stream I was averaging almost 1,000 views and 50+ comments! Suddenly I had come to understand that people don’t just care about a pretty picture. They want to have that connectivity with the person creating the magic. There’s just something about being able to connect with us photographers that our clients crave, and before this project I realized that my clients were starving. Again, shame on me! Secondly, and most unexpectedly, I came to realize that even though I wasn’t aware of them, I had several newby photographers that were following along with my journey just so that they could gain some helpful shooting tips. Heck, even I learned something! It was incredible to watch myself become more comfortable moving and posing in front of a lens. (Remember, I progressed from 200+ images to only 36 in just 7 days!) Between my final images and the behind the scenes live streams, I was now wearing my educator and motivator hat all at once, and oh how cozy those hats are! It was at about day 2-3 or three that I realize that this project needed to be shared and that the challenge needed to be put out to my fellow photographers, and so here it comes …
To me fellow photographers, I am personally challenging each and every one of you to take on this 7 Days of Selfie challenge, especially if you are like I was … afraid of my own selfie shadow! I challenge you to get out of your shell of a comfort zone and make some magic happen. Better yet, Why not take this all a step further and challenge a fellow photographer to join in each day that you shoot! This exercise has opened my eyes, empowered my self being, and illuminated my vision in ways that I never could have imagined and I would love for all of us to experience this feeling of elation together. So get out there. Get to shooting yourself, and let’s all make a movement out of this!
The challenge is on!
Erika Pinkley is the owner operator of Erika the Photographer, LLC in Blue Springs, Missouri. You can check out her work at www.erikathephotographer.com