Perfecting Your Selfie: How to Take Dramatic Self-Portraits

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Still in quarantine? Starting to go a little stir-crazy? Don’t let your creativity lag, even if you’re stuck home alone. But self-portraits aren’t limited to the ubiquitous front-seat selfie or boring bathroom mirror imagery. Whether you’re using a DSLR, a film camera, or even a smartphone, you can create dramatic photographs of yourself by thinking outside of the box.

1. Add oomph in post-production

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With numerous tools and apps available online, you can edit your photos to near perfection. Creating a dramatic effect on your self-portrait is as easy as choosing which filter best recreates the impression you want for your photograph. Photoshop is the go-to for post-production photo-editing on your desktop but there is a deluge of photo-editing apps ready for download on your smartphone. Apps like Instasize (available on iOS and Android) lets you choose from multiple filters and allows you to enhance and correct tiny imperfections with its beauty tool feature.

2. Rely on natural lighting

Turn off all the lights in the room, go to a window, and face it. Ideally, you should set up your camera in front of the window and just a bit off to the side. By facing the window, you as the subject receive a soft spread of light just enough to add a highlight to the edges and curves of your body and face. Experiment with different times of the day to see which gives the most desired dramatic effect.

3. Play with flash

Use flash for dramatic self-portraits at night or in the dark. If you can change your camera settings beforehand to be better adapted to the lack of light. Slow your shutter speed, open your aperture, and raise the ISO. Find a way to diffuse light if it is still too strong. However, you can always go for a grunge effect and point the flash straight at yourself in a dark area.

4. Use reflections

Sure, the mirror selfie may not be the most dramatic of self-portraits but it can be creative. Standing at arm’s length from the mirror and concealing the camera just out view can offer an interesting perspective. Cracked and broken mirrors also offer various angles of yourself. In fact, any reflective surface will work and it’s worth trying out, whether it’s reflective glass, water, or metal surfaces.

5. Make do with shadows

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Harsh light isn’t always necessarily undesirable. Under harsh light, you can shoot using objects that cast interesting shadow patterns. The horizontal stripes of blinds or the pointed edges of leaves, for instance, make a great self-portrait. Another way to utilize the absence of light in your self-photography is by casting it on half of your face for a mysterious theme.

6. Bring in some props

Create your own studio set-up in the comforts of your home. Dig through your used clothing and items for some forgotten gems you can use as costumes and props. Or, layout the items that define you as a person, a professional, or even your state at this moment of isolation. You aren’t limited to objects. Go further and use your pets and household members as part of your self-portrait.

7. Try a silhouette

For a truly dramatic look, consider your silhouette as a self-portrait. This is easily achieved by having a light source in your background. Stand behind a well-lit window or if you’re outdoors, the sunset or sunrise gives a very dramatic effect. But silhouettes aren’t limited to the day time. Even the moon can be your background light source.

8. Create some movement

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Go for a motion blur in your self-portrait for some drama. Slow down your shutter speed and capture yourself in motion. When done properly, motion blur can create dramatic effects on your self-portrait. However, if done carelessly, the photo can come out as a mess. Try out different speeds in your motion, whether singular like moving your head or multiple such as moving your entire body.

9. Go for a classic look

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The most classic effect in creating a dramatic self-portrait is shooting yourself in Black and White. By removing colors, highlights, and contrasts stand out. Black and white photography also adds a timelessness to the entire composition. And if the raw black and white photo feel lacking, you can easily adjust contrast in post-production.

10. Play with colors

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Change the color of your lighting and veer away from natural light to create artificial sets. Get creative by creating colored lighting using your background or simply adding color to the light source. Try a monochromatic set by running your light source through colored transparent cellophane. Or combine various colors to see which combinations provide you with the most dramatic effect.

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