Self portraiture. I have mixed feelings on this - not because I have any beef with it as an art form or a means of self-expression, but because I find it so damn frustrating. And yet, it has its pluses too. In some ways it seem so easy. Don't know anyone who can model for you that day? Too shy to work with professional models? Want to whip something out on a whim at the last minute? Need something for an image that you'd feel bad asking someone else to do? Want an emotion or feeling expressed that you don't feel you could communicate to someone else? No problem, just use yourself. Get a camera and a tripod (and, in an ideal world, a remote) and you are ready to go. See? Easy. Or so I tell myself until I get started.
I am not the most comfortable person in front of the camera, and perhaps I just don't know "my angles" as well as I could, but man are there a LOT of duds when I take self portraits. Perhaps this is true of everyone, but in my head when I see amazing self portraits from other artists, I am so sure they knocked them out in a couple of gorgeous frames and then went off to enjoy a nice cup of coffee. The rational part of me realises that I'm probably not the only one who has to throw a lot of images on the proverbial cutting room floor, but the rational part of me is not in residence while I run back and forth to my camera in the freezing cold, making micro adjustments to the height and angle of the camera, and my position relative to it, as I see another out of focus picture on the glowing LCD screen with only half a head.
You know, stuff like this:
Sometimes self-portraits are a trade off in convenience over time. I had a few hours to myself last week and decided to have a crack at making an image I've had in mind for a while. I'd planned on using a model because that would allow me to more easily explore different angles, especially with a narrow depth of field. But I figured I'd just have a go at it. And I needed to tease the life out of the hair in the image and quite frankly, I'm not sure I could have submitted that on someone else. So I spent an hour or so taking pictures in my bedroom. I got a few images I really liked, I loved the light and the hair worked out brilliantly. However, the space was cramped and I couldn't fit everything I needed into a single frame. While this wouldn't have been an issue at all with a model - I would have just tilted the camera down a smidge and taken the additional frame I needed with everything in place - it was more of an issue with just me, myself and I. I had to fix it in Photoshop by adding extra hair from another image, and while it wasn't difficult, it was more time consuming. So, sometimes you have to decide if the trade off is worth it.
There have been times I struggled physically in getting a shot. For my image "This Road, At Last" I was out in the woods with family and friends. While they were busy entertaining children and setting up a campfire, I nipped off to create an image. It was cold, it was wet and it was starting to get dark. Time was not in my favour. I found the perfect location for my shot, I found a long stick and made my bindle prop, and then I set up my camera and tripod. I took a few test shots on the bridge and when my exposure and focus were set I was ready to go.
I changed into a dress and got barefoot. By this point the pervasive fine, misting rain was starting to get heavier. I tied a plastic bag around my camera, gave my lens a final wipe and hoped for the best. Bindle over my shoulder, remote in hand, I set off towards my mark on the bridge. I took one hurried step onto the wet, narrow wooden plank and went arse over teakettle. Legs flying up into the air, I landed flat on my back with a painful thump. Luck was with me that day and I managed to hold onto my remote and balance over the water below. My bindle took a dip for the team, but it would dry out a lot sooner than I would have. I wish my camera had been recording it, I'm sure it would have been hilarious. These were my thoughts as I lay on my back in the rain, simultaneously chuckling aloud and swearing at my situation. I hobbled upright, retrieved my bindle and continued on to my mark. My pelvis was killing me, I forgot which exact spot I was supposed to stand on and I was scared I would fall again with every step. I'll admit, I considered chucking it all in and going to scoff marshmallows by the fire instead. But dammit, this shoot had literally turned into a pain in the ass, and I WAS going to get something useful out of it if it was the last thing I did! I'm so glad I persevered.
The regret I'd have felt had I given up would have lasted far longer than the aching in my pelvis, and that lasted long enough! If everything always went to plan, life would be boring. After all, who doesn't love a good story to tell?
So, let me tell you in no uncertain terms, if you have been feeling a hint (or more) of frustration when taking self portraits: You are NOT alone. I'm right there with you, and I'm pretty sure we aren't the only ones. However, I can say that practice really does help. Keep at it. Yes, there are still a lot of duds, but lately I've yet to have a session when I didn't end up with at least one useable image. And for me, that's all I need.