Self-Portrait (with Knits)

It’s an issue all of us have–how to take a GOOD picture of ourselves in our hand-knits. Because when we don’t we end up with the stiff, statuesque photos that flatter neither us nor our handknits. Ideally, of course, we would have a best friend or family member who moonlights as a professional photographer to snap fabulous pics of our knits, but since most of us don’t, we’re stuck trying to do it ourselves. So, what are the keys to a good self-portrait to highlight our handknits (or new haircut, or whatever)?

  • Timer. Almost every camera these days come with a timer-feature. Mine even has a setting so I can have the camera take multiple shots, so that, even if I end up out of breath or sprawled on the floor by the time I get around to the front of the camera, I’ve got time to compose myself for the remaining shots, before having to hit the shutter button again. I’ve got the warning “sound” before the shot set to a wolf-howl, too, because it’s silly enough to make me smile (for real) before the shot is taken.
    (Oh, and another tip? Timers are great for taking really close-up macro shots, too–you can get the picture without moving the camera when you hit the shutter button.)
  • Tripod. So much easier than trying to balance your camera on a stack of books. It doesn’t even have to be one of the big, floor models that take up a lot of storage space. I’m very fond of my little Gorillapod which easily fits into my purse. The beauty of a tripod, though, is that it raises the camera up off the ground (or dresser) so you don’t have to worry about getting some of that in your shot, but also, it lets you point the camera at exactly the angle you need. Another good option is a beanbag, which can cushion your camera and lend it support for getting it pointed just so–something you can’t really do when you’re balancing your camera on a table.
  • Remote. If your camera comes with a “remote” option, this is even better than using the timer. Or so I hear, because I don’t actually have one.
  • Lighting.Good lighting is key, and natural light is best. The ideal? A bright, slightly-overcast day–so that the clouds more or less work as your own, personal light tent. Long, slanting light (like very early in the morning or late in the evening) is great for bringing out details in your knits, accenting cable work and stitch texture, but if it’s too bright and too direct, it will wash it out.. If you need indoor lighting, though, and don’t have a set of professional halogen lights and diffusers (what, doesn’t everyone?), you’ll want to try to find lighting as bright and natural as you can manage. Try to avoid using the Flash–not that they’re not good and useful, but their direct light is usually harsh and unflattering (not to mention causing the dreaded red-eye). Use it if you have to, but if you can come up with an alternative . . . that’s better.
  • Background. Not everyone thinks this part through, which is why we see so many pictures with showers apparently sprouting from someone’s head. Try to find a spot with as neutral a background as possible–or something complimentary to your knit. Something that won’t distract from the picture. No electric outlets or showerheads in sight . . . unless you want them there. Oh, and if you can manage it, outdoor shots are great.
  • LCD screen. Almost every point-and-shoot camera has them these days. (I’m told that the DSLRs do not. Not having one yet, this was something I didn’t know. So, you lucky folks can just read on to the next tip.) And if you’ve got one on your camera that can pivot to face the front, you’ve got it made–just turn the LCD so it’s facing you on the “action” side of the camera, so you can frame yourself in the shot.
  • Mirror. Yes, a mirror can be your best friend when taking self-portraits. I don’t mean for the infamous “bathroom shot,” where a person points the camera at their reflection in the mirror. I see them all over the blog world and they’re almost never satisfactory. But what you CAN do is use the mirror to pose yourself–place the camera under the mirror and then use the mirror to get an idea of what you will look like when the shutter blinks.
  • Mirror and the LCD screen. Here’s a trick that a lot of people don’t think of–use both the mirror and the LCD screen. Stand in front of the mirror, hold up the camera, and then use the reflection of the LCD screen to position the photo. It’s so much better than taking a picture of your reflection, but better than the “Did I center it?” arm-length guessing game.
  • Don’t pose.You’re going to want your picture to look as natural as possible. And the stiff, statue-imitation picture isn’t going to make anybody look good. Even if you pose, try to look relaxed–none of those frozen, “when is the shutter going to snap” expressions.
  • Smile. Or don’t smile, but whatever expression you have on your face–pride, anger, disappointment, relief–try to make it look real. If your smile doesn’t reach your eyes, it’s not a real smile. Just curving your lips isn’t enough–it’s a fake, a fraud. Think of the difference between a posed, frozen, school-picture and a candid shot of someone telling a story . . . it’s the eyes that make the smile, not the lips. Sometimes, all you have to do is think about the “twinkle” to make it happen–think about the warm, fuzzy feeling of having your handknit finished and ready to show the world, think of your kids or your pets, or how good it’s going to feel to fall into bed later . . . but if you think of something that makes you happy, and let it show on your face, it’ll show in your picture.
  • Slice. Sometimes, of course, you can’t get a whole picture. If you don’t have a tripod or a timer, the only way you can get a photo of yourself in your new sweater is by holding the camera at arms’ length and crossing your fingers … and even then, nobody’s arms are long enough to fit their entire sweater into the frame. So … don’t even try. Take “slice” photos–point the camera at the shoulder of the sweater, or at the detail at the waistline. Catch the way your hair cascades down the back, show the way the sleeve falls … be creative. You can always lay the sweater flat to take a picture, but you want to show it being worn, and if you can only do that in pieces, do it!
  • Use the Computer. And then, of course, sometimes you just have to be creative about how you point the camera–and remember that you’ve got a computer. My favorite way of taking finished-sock pictures, for example, is to bend over at the waist, take the picture upside-down, and then use the computer to rotate it to its correct orientation. Photo-editors are fabulous for cropping a photo just right, too, to get rid of the bad backgrounds or to center that finger-crossing-guess shot. Not to mention fixing the lighting, the brightness, the colors, the red-eye. It’s a digital age. It never hurts to take advantage.

What other tips do YOU have??
List them in the comments and then, hey, this might be a worth-while post to take advantage of that “subscribe-to-comments” feature we’ve been discussing–at Chris’s, too. Really, even though so many of us think it’s not worth the effort, it’s generated a LOT of interesting conversation–which is a good thing!

This tutorial is inspired by the Blog Writing Project.

26 Responses to “Self-Portrait (with Knits)”

  1. good points!

    ftr, digital SLRs only put a photo on the lcd screen AFTER it’s taken. They do NOT show what is being seen through the lens prior to the shot being taken.

  2. Really? At all? I thought it was an option you could turn on or off.

  3. My Pentax DSLR does not have the option to turn on the LCD screen as a preview – I have to look through the viewfinder to frame the shot. The LCD is only for checking the photo after it’s taken.

    Other than that, I agree with all your points – especially the lighting one. ;o)

  4. Great tips! Wow, I didn’t realize that about digital SLRs…

  5. Chris, I didn’t either–I just adjusted the post to reflect that. Finally–a reason to be GLAD I don’t have one of those otherwise drool-worthy cameras! (Not that this stops me from wanting one, mind you.)

  6. Great tips Deb! Just wondering, do you have the lightbox you linked to? I’ve been thinking about getting one…

  7. Excellent tips! I should try out the timer feature on my camera. My only tip: if you don’t want your face in the photo, but don’t want the decapitated look, put on a halloween mask.

  8. [...] Self-Portrait (with Knits) by Deb. [...]

  9. Great tips! I must admit, even with our newer digital camera – I still LOVE my old Canon AE1 SLR 35 mm. Someday maybe I’ll “like” the digital as much. Someday.

  10. [...] Self-Portrait (with Knits) by Deb. [...]

  11. I have used the “look at the digital camera screen in the mirrror for the decent portrait” trick. much better than a picture of the mirror! Othe rtricks? alsays take a portrait from a slight angle, never straight on. You’ll look slimmer and less pose-y. and suck in your gut.

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  25. Great article,

    Really informative, and I have to agree with lighting, this is the key to a great photo!

    Neo

  26. If only more than 41 people could hear about this..