Shooting For Success: Unique Self-Portraits

(All images and words here are Copyright Tim Reynolds.)

While it is possible to take a self-portrait without a tripod, suffice it to say that a tripod of some sort really does make it so much easier. I own about six (yes, I’m a freak), ranging from a 6″-long plastic one that will hold a small camera or video camera and can Velcro to posts and fences, all the way up to a steel Manfroto tripod which allows me to adjust the leg angles independently and reverse the center post so that the camera is under the tripod and closer to small immovable objects (endangered flowers you may not want to pick, or grave markers you can’t pick). The big one also allows me to fend of a black bear when I get too close to the cubs. Please do not stalk wildlife. They get nearly as angry as the Park Wardens.

I also have a heavy-duty Ziploc bag filled 3/4 with sand, for use on less-than-flat surfaces where a tripod just won’t work. And then there’s the monopod — a one-legged version of the tripod which gives you more stability than  hand-held combined with flexibility and speed of motion for events like football games. The monopod also allows you to sit in a seat, place the monopod between your legs and still get the support for the camera without interfering with anyone else’s view of the event.

Ibanez Blues
Front Step Ibanez Blues
Fedora Ibanez Front Step Blues
Fedora Samick Front Step Blues
Banjo Front Step Jam
Banjo Front Step Jam

To start with, I’ll show you three versions of a self-portrait I set up on the front steps of our house. Once I found a setting I liked (timeless leaves and concrete steps) and the lighting was just how I wanted it,  I brought out all of the props I was considering, including the instruments and the hats.

My camera happens to allow me to set the timer for it to take a picture at an interval so I could simply pose, count to ten, lift my head, change my hat, whatever it might be, and then hold for the next shot. These three images are the three best for the props I selected. The joy of digital photography is that you can shoot and shoot and shoot and then simply delete the crappy shots and reuse that memory for more shots. You also get immediate results so you can get much more done alone than you could with film.

I’m not a big fan of the stupid hold-the-camera-up-above-my-head-and-smile Facebook self-portraits, though I have taken one or two to make fun of the Facebook shots we see and hate.

For me, a self-portrait should show me doing something I enjoy. A self-action-portrait is one of the most difficult to do, but a self-timer or a cable release makes it all possible. Here are some of my favourites from over the years. For some of these I had to set a ten-second timer and then run like hell to get there in time.

Kodachrome State Park, Utah
Kodachrome State Park, Utah

The one in Kodachrome State Park was the toughest, although the distance isn’t nearly as great as it looks because I used a 20mm lens to capture all of the rock. I’m the little red speck on the left side of the base of the rock. It’s not just a photo of me, it shows the scale of this very cool natural oddity.

Now some of you make say “Hey, this jackass likes to take a lot of pictures of himself”, and they’d be right. I was a bachelor for 42 years and did almost all of my travelling alone. I’d get somewhere cool, see a great shot and take it. The big difference is that I’m not happy just handing the camera to some other tourist and asking them to take it, because they usually suck at photography so it’s all head and no setting or vice versa.

At Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
At Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

I don’t just want a picture, a record, I want a GOOD picture. One I can look at over and over and say “That was a cool day” or even sell it. The one of me in the red jacket at Moraine Lake is one I’ve sold for advertising. It’s also one of my all-time photos I’ve ever taken of anyone or anywhere. I had to ride my bike in a winding mountain road 11km to catch the lake when it was frozen, but not yet covered in snow. I’ve never been in great shape so I worked hard for that shot.

Good Night, Sun
Bidding the Sun Farewell

As for the other shots,

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah

two of them show me travelling in Utah and the fourth shows me on stage.

At The Laugh Shop
Tim Reynolds at The Laugh Shop, Calgary.

Believe it or not, the stage shot is a self-portrait. I set the timer for a thirty-second interval and then I want up on stage to do my set, hoping that the camera would capture something I could use.  This is the least reliable method because it’s a candid self-portrait because you can’t be sure exactly when the shot will be taken so you might just get crap.

So, don’t be afraid to take your own picture but please, stop holding the damned camera over your head and snapping your forehead. Get a tripod or a sandbag and have some fun with it. Hell, even a t-shirt bunched up on a stone wall out in the Scottish highlands is better than the Facebook shot.

That’s it, that’s all.

Ciao for now,


NEXT WEEK: Good light bad light.


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