The Inquiring Self- Tips on Developing a Self-Portrait Practice

Photography is a powerful tool of self-expression. Above all other art forms, it reveals depth of the subject, their relationship to themselves, their circumstance, their environment. A well composed portrait can reveal the depth of a person in ways that can be startling, at at times, unsettling. That is why I am a photographer and why I have a self-portraiture practice. 

A Need to Be Seen

As photographers we know that it takes a lot of courage to step in front of the lens. Our clients reveal their deepest fears and phobia's, many of which illuminate this uniting theme: shame around being seen. The desire to be known and seen is universal. It is the ways that we convince ourselves that we are not worthy that undermine our capacity for self-love and acceptance. Helping our clients be known and seen is one of the greatest privileges of being a photographer. It is also one of the greatest challenges. Why? Because underneath this desire are the negative voices that try to convince us that we are not worthy. This is especially true for women. The need to be seen is a stride on the path towards wholeness yet the mind has been trained to search out any 'imperfection' that will build up the 'not good enough' column. 

Self-portraiture has become a way that I explore these deeper issues. Every time I step in front of my own lens I think about my own desire to be known and seen. I excavate the landscape of my mind for hints as to why and how I may ever doubt that I am worthy. I then compose a frame that tells me something that I didn't know about myself. In reality, the act of self-portraiture is not for others to see me but for me to see and know myself.

Tip #1: Don't Fear the Fear

Lets face it, we all fear how others may perceive us. Stepping in front of the camera forces us to acknowledge that fear. But its a good thing, to move through the doubt. We may vary well capture an unflattering angle or find within the frame an emotion that we were not expecting. The goal is not about capturing your next best profile picture but to reveal something true and honest that is begging to come to the surface. Approach your self-portrait session with a willingness to experience something deep. If that doesn't happen, don't worry. There is always another day. 

Tip #2: Create a judgement tolerant space

It is rare that I meet someone that is 100% judgement free when it comes to themselves. You will probably find something that you dislike about the image you take. Self-portraits are very difficult and it is a challenge to get a flattering angle in every frame. You are looking for that one shot that says something about you. Not the perfect shot. If you shut down the creative processes because the judging voice starts to kick in, you will not develop the skills necessary to create amazing self-portraits. Let your self-judgement teach you something about your inner feelings. It is natural, and with time that voice will soften. 

Tip #3: tell a story

Light, shadow, wardrobe, props, location, posing, movement. All these things tell a particular story. They interact with each other, so let them. Let an image emerge through just one of these and let the other elements play a supporting role. Most of my self-portraits are done in nature because I love to express my inner nature as it is reflected in the natural world. I will shoot with water if I am dealing with a particular emotion. I will hold a dynamic pose if I am dealing with a  more abstract way of being in the world. Start with something meaningful to you and reflect on the story that thing wants to tell. If you aren't sure before taking the image often the story will reveal itself when all is said and done. 



Jen Holden