Special Self-Portrait Techniques

Who I am
Martí Micolau
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Special Self-Portrait Techniques By Arthur Azoulay, Digital Focus (@Lesnums) Posted on 28/09/12 at 16:33 Share:

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| This article is taken from the book The self-portrait (photographer's workshops) under the direction of Bernard Jolivat published by Pearson Spain editions. **** The multiple self-portrait of Julienne Rose The levitating self-portrait of Nadia Wecker |




ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATION To tell the truth, everyone has probably experienced it, but in a dream. Who has never felt carried away in the air in an improbable dreamlike landscape? It is this strange feeling of escaping the earth's gravity, this lightness of being which only manifests itself in dreams, that I suggest you recreate.

ƒ / 20 to 1/200 s, 200 ISO dreamlike weightlessness Weightlessness – or “weightlessness,” as scientists prefer to call it to avoid phonetic confusion with “gravity” – is a rare state experienced only by airplane pilots in hyperbolic flight or astronauts when they are in space.

Failing to teach you how to float in real life, I can indeed teach you

to create this illusion of another reality in a photographic way. To see oneself fly, even on an image, is already to have a taste of this flight. There are two contrasting techniques: one where this effect is entirely achieved during the shot, the other where it is achieved by editing with retouching software. We will see in this workshop the creative possibilities offered by these two methods.

Workshop tools

• A tripod. It ensures the stability of the camera and therefore a perfect similarity of the two views that will be necessary to achieve.

• A remote control. (The self-timer is usable, although less convenient to use in this context.)

• A shutter speed appropriate to the technique used.

• A good physical condition. Especially if the attitudes are very dynamic, even


• Editing software. To mount the photographs (refer to the end of chapter 3 for details).

Preparation and realization

Unlike the previous workshop where we learned to suggest the magnitude of a movement, we will work here to freeze it in order to create the magic of levitation.

As we announced, two techniques are possible:

The first, which consists of completely composing the scene during the shot, is elementary, but it nevertheless provides a remarkable result: it is simply a question of photographing yourself performing jumps.

You will need a tripod and a remote control, tools that are difficult to do without for self-portraits.

ƒ / 8 to 1/200 s, 2 ISO ****

In order not to be dependent on artificial lighting, which is not always easy to adjust, I strongly advise you to do your first aerobatic tests outdoors. To freeze your jump, a fast shutter speed is essential and therefore maximum light is essential. Clear weather with light that is not too harsh – a slightly overcast sky, for example – is ideal.

You can certainly increase the ISO sensitivity to be able to use a very high shutter speed, but do not forget the risk of a rise in noise, and sometimes even a decrease in contrast and saturation, which could compromise the quality of your images.

If your camera is equipped with a burst mode – consult the user manual – do not hesitate to activate it to increase the chances of a good shot. Preset the framing, set the camera, then go (in every sense of the word).

With a little physical training and imagination, you will obtain unusual and surprising images.

The second technique requires a minimum of knowledge of editing software, since it involves mounting two images, then erasing the support that will have held you in place during the shooting.

The principle is relatively simple, but requires meticulousness: the photo of the decor alone is placed on the background layer. The photo with the subject – you or me – and the support that holds it up (a stool, for example) is placed on another layer above the first. Then just carefully erase the medium. The decoration present on the background layer shows through and gradually replaces the support as it is erased. At the end, just merge the two layers to get the final photomontage, as explained in chapter 3.

This technique has the advantage of not being physically exhausting, unless of course you decide to adopt really acrobatic and uncomfortable attitudes. In addition, this shot does not require very intense lighting. The shutter speed may therefore be slower than for jumps in the air.

Choose your decor, set the camera on a tripod and prepare your framing.

ƒ/8 at 1/80 s, ISO 1 To achieve believable levitation, be sure to work on the details.

The extremely important point is the total immobility of the tripod and the camera which must in no case move between the two shots you are going to take. Beware of the inadvertent nudge or kick given, which would distort the similarity of the frames. A remote control is also recommended, both to trigger remotely, but also to avoid touching the camera, at the risk of making it move.

Take a first picture of the decor without you. Then take a second photo, but this time with you, sitting, lying down, standing - it's as you wish - on any support: pouf, stool, table... Don't worry about the appearance of this support , because you will erase it during editing.

For example, for the realization of this photo, I chose to place myself very close to the edge of the bench so that my feet are in the air and also so that the skirt falls a little lower, without being stopped dead by the furniture.


Variation 1: rotation

Sometimes a simple rotation of the image can produce a striking effect.

Try ! Take a photo of one of your jumps, then rotate it 90 degrees to the right or 90 degrees to the left. You will often be surprised by the result.

Also try rocking around the vertical or horizontal axes. Among all these attempts, remember the most unusual photo, the one that makes you lose all spatial references and arouses a strange vertigo.

ƒ / 2,8 to 1/80 s, 800 ISO

Variation 2: Soaring from floor to ceiling

Rather than gaining height by climbing to the ceiling, reverse the roles and elevate your camera. You will evolve on the ground trying different positions. Then, flip your image and observe the effect. It can be surprising!

ƒ / 6,3 to 1/200 s, 200 ISO

Variant 3: external elements

Repeat the second technique described above, but this time, add a few objects to the montage that will also float in the air.

ƒ/5,6 at 1/60 sec, ISO 800 I had previously mentioned the importance of detail! Again I used the bench to place myself in the right place, in the air. But I took great care to ensure that my garment fell naturally, avoiding any flattening that would have betrayed the presence of a support. For the levitation to be very apparent, avoid poses that are too classic or too expected.



It was during art studies and then major photographic encounters that photography became obvious and the self-portrait, a necessity in my graphic research.

Sometimes diaphanous or on the contrary dark, these self-portraits, these different "me", it is first of all a sensitive world tinged with experiments, challenges, intimacy where the visual result takes a dominating place in the final character of each picture.

Here, the combination of blur and sharpness makes it possible to create an "other" character, like a mask that is removed.

Photo material for these workshops

I use a Canon EOS 7D and preferably the 50mm lens, otherwise the small 85mm and 100mm telephoto lenses, or the 18-50mm zoom.

All my photos are taken against a black background, which is the recurring accessory, and always in natural light.

Learn to tame time

In this workshop, more than the light, it is time management that will take center stage and will produce the visual effect of your photography.

When you photograph yourself for a self-portrait where your image will be multiplied thanks to a long exposure, take your time, I advise you. Patience, both in the settings and in the pose, will be your major asset.

As this type of self-portrait is based on the multiplicity of an image obtained by prolonged exposure times, it systematically includes the notion of blur.

Feel free to use your body. On a black background, the movements of your arms and hands will create different volutes that will form the decor of the final image.

The difficulty lies in mastering the different variations of blur mainly related to the speed and extent of your movements. The faster your movements, the more your silhouette will tend to "spin", to become ghostly, unrecognizable, even transparent - and vice versa.

The multitude of characters creates a particular universe where the movements of the body fill the space.

Workshop tools

• A remote control. To trigger the camera, but also to use the B exposure during long exposures.

• A high density neutral gray filter. (or filters of different densities). To be able to extend the exposure time even if the light is relatively abundant. This rather special technique opens the doors to photography that can become abstract. It's up to you to imagine your universe.

• A tripod.

• A remote trigger. To control the start and end of the pose.


Preparation and realization

Preparations are important during a self-portrait session. They are even more so for this workshop where we will use a neutral filter (refer to chapter 2 for the technical details concerning this material). The major disadvantage of the neutral filter is the darkening of the image it causes in the viewfinder of an SLR camera. You will therefore have to prepare your shot, and in particular make all the settings for your camera beforehand. Here are a few tips to get you off to a good start:

• Draw markers on the ground or on the bottom in order to delimit your displacement frame.

• Disable your lens' autofocus so that you only use manual focus.

• Also put the box in manual mode (because of the very dense filter, the measurement will be distorted).

• Set the sensitivity to the minimum, either 50, 100 or 200 ISO depending on your camera, in order to avoid a rise in digital noise in dark areas.

For the following tests, I took three photos with identical basic settings. They reveal the visual differences, but also the temporal variations between an image taken without a filter and the two others taken with filters of different densities.

For this test, I chose to set the camera to ƒ/4,5 at ISO 100.

All in natural light, with the only “decor” being a black background.

On the left, a shot without neutral gray filter. Exposure time: 0,6 seconds. With this rather brief pose, the movement is too limited to create a truly readable multiple self-portrait. On the right, a shot with an ND8 neutral gray filter causing a loss of 3 EV. Exposure time: 4 seconds. A simple step forward immediately produces a visual effect that combines immobility and movement.

A shot with an ND400 neutral gray filter and a loss of 8,6 EV. Exposure time: 47 seconds.

The exposure time is quite important here. You will have to use the exposure B which allows you to expose as long as you want, without time limit, unlike the speed priority whose longest exposure often caps at 30 seconds. Pose B makes the remote trigger essential. With the ND400 gray filter and a very long exposure like here, your movements must be slow if you want them to be discernible in the photo.

In all cases, tests will be necessary to determine the ideal exposure time. After finding it, you will adapt the speed and amplitude of your movements and movements according to the effect you want to obtain. Be aware, however, that the more you multiply the movements during the pose, the more they will be broken down, as shown in the variants at the end of this workshop.

Model Direction

Being your own model, you have time to test and multiply the tests. Avoid black clothes that "disappear" quite quickly into the background when you create movement.


Variation 1: mix blur and sharpness

While sitting, I made a lot of movements before coming to a standstill.*

Variant 2: multiply the trips

For this image, I used the very high density ND400 filter. Then, very slowly, I moved into the field during the shooting. The result is almost painterly.*

Variation 3: highlight a detail

I chose the detail self-portrait, described in the following workshop, to make this image.*

Variation 4: use a decor

The decor allows you to create a story, an enigmatic atmosphere.*

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| This article is taken from the book The self-portrait (photographer's workshops) edited by B ernard Jolivat published by Pearson Spain.Complete table of contentsBuy this book on the Pearson Education website. **** Authors **** Several artist photographers have shared their passion and know-how in this unique work, directed by Bernard Jolivalt: Nadia Wicker, Julienne Rose, Richard Vantielcke and Benjamin David-Testanière. |


Pearson Spain has taken the greatest care in producing this book in order to provide you with complete and reliable information. However, Pearson Spain assumes no liability, neither for its use, nor for the infringement of patents or infringements of the rights of third parties which may result from this use. All product or brand names mentioned in this book are registered trademarks of their respective owners. All photographs in this book are the property of their authors. For Part I and Workshop 8, excluding material images, and unless otherwise stated, the photographs are by Bernard Jolivalt. The photographs of Workshops 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the property of Nadia Wicker The photographs of Workshops 5 and 6 are the property of Richard Vantielcke The photographs of Workshop 7 are the property of Benjamin David-Testanière The photographs of Workshops 9 and 10 are property of Nadia Wicker Published by Editions Pearson Spain Building Terra Nova II 15 rue Henri Rol-Tanguy 93100 Montreuil Tel. : 01 43 62 31 00 ww.pearson.com DTP production: edito.biz ISBN: 978-2-7440-9456-7 Copyright © 2012 Pearson Spain All rights reserved No representation or reproduction, even partial, other than those provided for in l Article L. 122-5 2 ̊ and 3 ̊ a) of the Intellectual Property Code cannot be made without the express authorization of Pearson Spain or, where applicable, without compliance with the procedures provided for in Article L. 122-10 of said code.

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