lesson: self portraits - made simple | with kristen ryan


Self portraiture has been a personal project I started for myself two years ago. I was working my way through my second 365-project and realized in that first year I had rarely appeared in any of my images. Normally I wouldn't have cared much, but in that same year my grandfather passed away and I was in charge of putting together a slide show. As I went through the photos I came across these photographs of my grandmother taken throughout the years. I loved seeing how she changed, how she aged, and how the affects of life and motherhood affected her.  It motivated me to document myself through these unknown years as a way for my children to look back and see who I once was.

As my project developed, it slowly started to change its meaning. While it was still motivation to get in the frame with my children or alone, it started to have a deeper affect. I was seeing myself outside of my role: wife and mother; a self I hadn't seen for years. I was seeing beauty in myself that I  seemed to overlook in years past. It may have just been a small part of me, but still a part of me I had never been able to connect with before.

I know it can be uncomfortable sitting on the other side of the camera. After two years, I feel like a complete goofball on the other side of the frame. But in reality no-one has to see these images. You are in control. So relax and just be you. Be who you want to be and if you hate every single frame, throw them out, but if you find even one capture that makes you feel good about yourself - then hold on to that one.

The fun thing about self portraits is that you can make it as simple or elaborate as you want. Mine usually end up being last minute ideas that need to be done quickly before the light disappears. I try to make them as simple and quick as possible. I will guide you through some techniques that I use, along with a few pull backs and settings from some recent images I have taken.

A majority of my portraits are taken in front or near my bedroom window. It is a west facing window that gets diffused light in the evenings due to some trees and another house.


I will set up my tripod or set my camera on a chair that sits next to the window. I use a remote that will take up to three photos in one click so that I can press and drop the remote if I can’t hide it somewhere on me. (The remote I use most often - Vello FreeWave Wireless Remote Shutter Release)

All of the following images were taken in the same area of the aforementioned pull back.


This photo was taken through the window, I set up my tripod inside my bedroom, it was an extremely windy day and I knew my tripod would not hold up. I had my husband stand outside while I focused on him and corrected my settings. He marked the spot and I went outside with my remote and was able to take as many frames as I needed. I used my 50mm at f/1.8 ISO 250 and 1/2000 sec.


This second image was taken from inside my bedroom. I set the tripod up directly in front of my window and I was facing the window about 3 feet away. I metered for the light and that made everything else fall into darkness behind me. My settings were 35mm f/2 1/40 of sec ISO 1250


Don’t assume you need a solid background or wall to stand in front of. You can easily hide distractions by simply using the light to your advantage. Find a stronger light source so that when you meter for that light everything else can fall into shadows.


Find pockets of light - this is another way to add depth to your images and take away other possible distractions. In the following photo I found a pocket of sunlight coming across my wall. I set up my tripod a few feet away in front of the door way. I set my focus for the door frame itself and I then stood in the middle of the light staying within my field of focus.


Most of these "SP" sessions only took approximately 5 to 10-minutes (at most) to set up and complete. They were captured simply using what available light I had in the short amount of time it lasted. Just have fun with your self portraits. Turn up some music and just be yourself. The less you think about the camera, the more natural you will be in front of it. 


xoxo, Kristen