Shooting for Success: Unique Self-Portrait

Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bidding the sun good-night.

There are two parts to this image. The first being the taking of the actual photo, and the second being the turning of it into an inspirational message.

Since the second part is less important (to me, anyhow) so let’s deal with it first.

When you have the image you want and a message you want to apply to it, do some research to see how the successful companies are doing it and then decide whether you want to emulate them or mock them. Or even do something completely original. Mine was meant to look like something from Successories — serious, inspiring, using my own original photo.

Using Photoshop or any other artistic image-manipulation software, create your masterpiece. Remember one thing, though. Unless you’re only creating it to be viewed on a website, make the image of sufficient size that you will be able to do quality posters from it. It would suck to create a great, inspiring or humorous image that people want to buy but you’ve created it in a resolution too small for a quality reproduction.  Mine above is only big enough for a 5×7. Yes, I’ll be redoing it.

Which leads into Part One: taking the right image. I’m not going to get into composition here, just a couple technical things.

  1. Have your tripod on rock-solid ground.
  2. If it’s windy, lower the tripod (shorten the legs) if possible. Make it as stable as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, never extend the neck of your tripod up when shooting in low light or with a slow shutter speed. Even the slightest breeze will add blur to your image. The blurr will be get more noticeable the larger you blow the image up.
  3. With fussy lighting like the image above, bracket your exposures, which simply means taking one at the setting your light meter recommends and then taking two or more each with progressively wider or narrower apertures. With subtle light, use 1/2 stop increments + and – your meter reading. Many cameras let you do this with a couple pushes of a button and some don’t.
  4. If you only have a point-and-shoot camera (digital or film) with you and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot you want and you know enough to bracket, you can trick the camera into doing rough bracketing by setting the timer, pointing the camera (& internal light meter) at a slightly darker or brighter spot in the image at approximately the same distance and pressing down the shutter release. You then have until the timer takes the picture to get it framed the way you want. This is tricky to get just right, especially if you’re using a tripod, but better to try and maybe succeed than to not try and definitely fail.

Of course, since this is a self-portrait and I was travelling alone, the self-timer & tripod were vital. Set the timer, press the shutter, run into the photo and strike a pose. It also helps if you place a marker on the ground to tell you where to stand because you’ve got less than ten seconds to get set.

So, have fun, don’t be afraid to use yourself as a model, and don’t worry about looking goofy — if the tourists see you acting strange, who cares? You’ll never see these people again and you might just get a really cool image for your files.

Ciao for now,


(the above image was taken with a Canon EOS A2E on a Manfroto tripod, with a 20-35mm Canon EF lens on Fuji Velvia transparency film in 1997).

(Next Week: Depth of field)

All words and images here are Copyright Tim Reynolds.


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