Lighting Tutorial – Self Portrait Series

I don’t remember that last time I did some self portraits. It’s the old photographer’s dilemma… always behind the lens and never in front of it! 🙂 Since I live about a block away from my good buddy and fellow pro photographer Martin Perreault, he usually takes my photo.  But this time around, he was away on a 3 week trip to Australia and I really wanted to update my blog photo on the ABOUT YPS page.

I decided to make this a fun time and turn this into a mini fashion shoot with some of my recently acquired threads. So I cranked up the tunes, set my D300s on a tripod with a 10 second timer and shot away! It took about 2 hours in total with 163 shots taken. Out of those shots I liked 22. Not bad.  😉 Here’s how I did it.

The Lighting Setup

I wanted something up to  date for lighting so I kept it fairly simple. I set up two 1 x 4 feet strip lights with grids on either side roughly 30 degrees behind me. The strip lights were roughly 2 feet away from me. I decided to use strip lights instead of just a direct flash because I wanted a bit more diffusion… less harshness.

I stood about 10 feet from the light grey background to get a darker grey by avoiding light spill from the strip lights. I then proceeded to adjust my lights to my camera settings. I wanted a deep DOF so my settings were: f13, 1/200 sec, ISO 200. With that done, I found that firing my flashes at 40% power work perfectly. All I needed now was a fill light to eliminate the strong front shadows in the face and on the clothes.

So I set up a 2×2 softbox on a boom about a foot above my head on camera left to get some nice deep shadows under the chin and in the eyes (for a bit of edge and mystery! hahaha). In some of the final shots, I didn’t want shadows under the eyes so I lowered the fill light a bit. Since it’s a fill light I knew the power had to be less than the strip lights. 10% power about 2 feet away was perfect ! Here’s the lighting diagram.

The Planning

Once the lighting was to my liking, I needed to plan how I would pose. So I took some notes while looking at every piece of clothing I was going to shoot. Of course this just gave me a general idea of some poses to guide me and the rest would be improvised as I felt it. But this planning exercise was very important and should not be overlooked as it helps define your shoot. I then put a marker on the floor to set my focus point and to know where to stand after checking each shot. I would suggest shooting tethered with the laptop or monitor facing you so you don’t have to run behind the camera after each shot.

Shoot wide and crop later. With the size of sensors today, we can easily afford to crop into our photos so shoot as wide as you can. Remember that it’s better to crop than to have that perfect shot with a body part out of the frame. Doh! 🙂

The hardest part of the whole shoot was to get into character. Models don’t have it easy, I can tell ya! Respect! Remember that I took 163 shots and only liked 22 so that means that only 13% of the photos were good. My trick to get into character was to put some awesome music and let loose for a few minutes before shooting. Dancing really wound me down.

Here are some of my favorite shots. I kept the same lighting setup of all the shots.

Before you ask me how I post processed the final images, let me tell you! 😉 In Lightroom, I only did basic curves adjustments and reduced the red (-20) and orange (-30) saturation. Then in Photoshop, I used Topaz Adjust with the default portrait_drama setting to give it that extra pop. Topaz Labs are awesome! The best plugins I ever bought for Photoshop.

So go ahead and go take a few self portraits for yourself. You’ll have fun and you’ll learn about posing. You’ll be able to appreciate your models a lot more after that I guaranty it!  Share your self portrait links in the comments! We’d love to see them! 🙂

10 responses on "Lighting Tutorial - Self Portrait Series"

  1. Wow! Those are great tips! I’m checking Topaz right away!

  2. Some nice basic ideas for self-portraits. Thanks for the information.

  3. Cool shots Yanik! I had to do this not long ago and I know what you mean by having great shots with missing body parts. Note taken for the next shoot. As for shooting tethered, did you try onOne software’s DSLRemote for the iPhone/iPod Touch? It’s great, you have control over your camera from your iPod if you are tethered to your computer and you see the image in real time on the screen of the iPod. Great for self portraits 🙂

  4. Loved it! I just love the studio stuff!!
    Thanks so much Yanik!


  5. You look very cool and handsome.

  6. wow, this is great! So helpful.

  7. Great article! I need to try this out myself.

  8. Great shots.

    Tried it a few times. It’s hard work.

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