Past the Selfie: Elevating Self-Portraiture in Pictures


You is likely to be considering of many issues when considering of social media, from connecting with others, by way of fuelling your creativity with inspiration, all the best way to memes and maybe even about attempting to kick a little bit of an dependancy to scrolling (hello there!).

Oh and naturally there may be the selfie tradition!

A fast search on Instagram, on the time of writing this text, reveals over 450 million images with the hashtag #selfie.

Now, as somebody desirous to study extra about storytelling by way of self-portraiture in pictures, you is likely to be questioning learn how to begin differentiating between selfies and the artwork of self-portraiture.

Let me assist!

The Historical past of Selfies

While you consider the phrase itself, you’ll almost definitely affiliate selfies along with your cell phones and social media. However really, selfies have been round for a very long time.

The primary recorded selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius, a chemist and metallurgist, in 1839.

an old photo of a man with a bird on his shoulder.

Robert Cornelius, 1839

One other enjoyable reality: the primary recorded teenage selfie was taken by 13-year-old The Grand Duchess, Anastasia Nikolaevna, of Russia, in 1913.

a black and white photo of a lady kneeling on a chair.

The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, 1913 with a Kodak Brownie (by way of Retronaut)

That’s The Anastasia taking a selfie!

In line with Alexander Palace Time Machine, in a letter accompanying the {photograph}, she wrote: “I took this image of myself wanting on the mirror. It was very laborious as my palms have been trembling.”

To be honest, the time period “selfie” particularly refers to self-portraits taken with a smartphone, typically shared on social media platforms, so that you’re not flawed.

It was within the mid-2000s the phenomenon unfold when Fb and Instagram have been on the rise.

Is It Self-Portraiture?

Properly, sure, by definition all selfies are self-portraits within the broad sense of the time period. They’re taken of your individual self, in spite of everything.

There’s, nevertheless, a distinction between selfies and self-portraits within the stricter sense of the 2 pictures types.

Whereas each contain taking {a photograph} of your self, their goal and intention are totally different.

Selfies usually painting the photographer documenting a second in time. A fast snapshot of life, in case you like.

a close up of a street sign with a sky background.

Making reminiscences, “Strike a pose!”, that type of factor, typically with out a lot consideration for technical or inventive abilities.

These days, even our grandparents know learn how to take candid photographs of themselves to ship to their grandkids, simply to offer a little bit of substance to them saying “hello”.

However would we name this artwork?


A self-portrait turns into artwork when it’s created with intention. The actual reaching-deep-into-your-soul type of intention.

Personally talking, as a self-portrait artist, I might by no means name my quick-snap selfies, exhibiting off an outfit to my sister, a self-portrait.

For me, there is no such thing as a inventive goal behind these photographs.

Behind my self-portraits, nevertheless, there’s a ton of labor to ultimately obtain an image that may be appreciated as artwork.

Every thing is taken into account inside the body:

  • Central message/story
  • Ability set
  • Ambiance
  • Location
  • Composition
  • Hair & make-up (Okay, this one might be fairly true for many selfies too!)
  • Wardrobe
  • Lighting
  • Color palette
  • Set design
  • Posing
  • Time interval
  • Props
  • Digicam lens
  • Angles
  • Temper/emotion
  • Modifying fashion


A quote I preserve near my coronary heart is by my buddy, dearest David Hurn, a celebrated reportage photographer from Wales, who says: “My canine can take a pleasant image if I put a digicam on his collar.”

a small dog wearing a pink bow and a pink camera.

He’s not flawed!

Anybody can take one nice snap however you start to face out within the crowd while you begin exhibiting consistency in a bigger physique of labor.

Consistency in producing work continually, and consistency in your fashion of pictures (or any inventive medium).

To attain your fashion, or what many wish to name “your inventive voice”, you’ll should work on approach. Under are just a few areas to deal with with your individual genuine method.


In different phrases, it’s about taking your candy time developing with an concept in your {photograph}.

I say “taking your time” as a result of a superb idea wants layers. Understanding layers wants time to develop them properly.

You’ll have to cowl a superb variety of areas talked about above beneath Intention to realize depth in your visible storytelling.

Unfamiliar by Veronika Lavey, sketch to last

Get a pocket book and make stick-man drawings (if you are able to do higher, do higher in case you like) of what you see in your head, then construct round it.

How will it turn into a layered story? What parts can you employ to perform that?

Don’t neglect to learn 11 Ideas for Capturing Authenticity in Self-Portrait Pictures that can assist you dive deeper into discovering a central message in the direction of creating ideas.


One other space that distinguishes easy selfies from inventive self-portraits is the way you prepare the visible parts you conceptualised in your {photograph}.

It’s laborious to outline what makes a superb composition, aside from that it simply must really feel proper.

No, we will do higher than that.

  • An excellent composition will information your viewers’ eyes in the direction of what you deem vital inside the body; the very factor that helps convey your supposed message. A method of doing that is with main traces: roads, rows of bushes, fencing, and so forth. One other is highlighting the topic.
  • An excellent composition might have a lovely sense of concord and presumably steadiness, if that’s what you’re intending. You would possibly after all need your picture to be chaotic and that’s completely fantastic.
  • An excellent composition could utilise the rule of thirds, the place you divide the picture right into a grid of 9 equal elements, with two horizontal and two vertical traces, putting the topic on one of many intersections. However it could not.

Finally although, a superb composition actually does simply have to really feel proper.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s physique of self-portraits is a superb instance. He utilised robust composition to create a way of energy and depth in his hanging pictures.


So vital!

I bear in mind to start with of my pictures profession, my photos appeared so flat and it took me some time and a whole lot of studying and experimentation to determine that I didn’t deal with lighting my topic correctly.

Not solely does good lighting make the picture “pop,” however it could actually additionally set the temper, which immediately feeds into creating the supposed emotion inside the body.

a woman laying in a tree in a forest.

Natured by Veronika Lavey

You might use pure or studio mild, or any obtainable mild you could find. You might even, like I do, play in enhancing software program so as to add deeper shadows and convey up brighter highlights in post-processing.

Although clearly not a photographer, it’s price analysing Rembrandt’s artworks. He created quite a few self-portraits, a lot of that are notable for his or her masterful use of sunshine and shadow.

Props, Costumes and Symbolism

Like all of the contributing components we mentioned above, props and costumes may even assist assist your idea and add which means to your picture, if used proper.

I exploit props primarily to symbolise an concept I’ve for the story I want to convey. It’s my favorite factor to play with!

We’ll cowl symbolism in self-portrait pictures extra in-depth in an upcoming article, however to get you transferring on from a easy selfie, remember the fact that symbolism can add deeper which means by permitting you to speak to your viewers advanced feelings and ideas in a extra refined approach.

Take a look at the work of Cindy Sherman, whose curiosity in experimenting with totally different identities was crucially helped by making nice use of costumes and props.

Equally, Yasumasa Morimura’s signature is to decorate up as well-known figures from popular culture, literature and artwork historical past to discover themes of identification, gender and tradition.

Shifting ahead

When transferring on from selfies to creating inventive self-portraits it’s important to be intentional.

Utilizing parts akin to these talked about above to thoughtfully add depth to visible tales will evoke these all-important feelings you need each out of your viewers and, arguably much more importantly, from your self!

There’s a time and place for selfies and in truth there may be nothing flawed with them.

Not solely do I take pleasure in sending my household and family members a fast selfie for one cause or one other, however I additionally imagine it’s partly due to them that inventive self-portraiture turns into much more highly effective.

In any case, self-portraiture stands out superbly subsequent to its extra superficial cousin by providing a deeper, extra significant reference to the viewer by way of layers and layers and layers of thematically wealthy narrative.

If you wish to learn extra of this sequence, try my put up on learn how to overcome shyness in self-portrait pictures.

Extremely Beneficial


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