It is well known that photos featuring people tend to get more attention than photos that don't. On Instagram, you are almost guaranteed to get more engagement when you take a picture of yourself holding a bag than a picture of just the bag itself. Unless you have willing participants to model for your photos, you will probably end up having to be your own model. This can feel really awkward and sometimes a little embarrassing. It's why some people choose to hire a photographer instead of trying to take their own portraits. However, not everyone has the budget for costly photography. So, without people to model for you, or a photographer to take your photos, how do you get beautiful photos of yourself for Instagram?
1. Use The Timer on Your Phone or Camera
Most modern smartphones and cameras come with a timer built in. On the iPhone, for example, you can set the timer to take a picture in 3 seconds or 10 seconds after you click the shutter button.
This gives you enough time to set up the camera and get yourself into position before the picture is taken. Using the timer is much better than holding the phone at arm's length and taking a selfie. You are able to get more of yourself and the product you are modeling into the shot, and you can create a more aesthetically pleasing shot that doesn't include your arm extended out in front of you.
2. If Using a Smart Phone, Use the Back Camera Whenever Possible
The front-facing "selfie" camera was not intended for taking high-quality photos. Although modern smart phone cameras have come a long way, the front camera is still not nearly as precise as the back camera. The front camera works fine in a pinch, especially when you want to be able to see what you look like (since the front camera is used in selfie mode and allows you to see what is in the shot). But a few things to remember are that (a) the photo quality in selfie mode is not as good, and (b) the image produced is a mirror image of what you really look like. This is especially problematic if you have text on your clothing or gear, since the text will be backwards in the picture. So, although using selfie mode on the front camera is a bit easier since you can see yourself, you will get a better photo if you use the back camera. The best way to use the back camera, in my opinion, is to set up your phone for taking the picture, set the timer, hop into the frame and take the picture. If the top of your head was cut off or you weren't in the center of the shot, reposition the camera and try again.
3. If Using a Camera, Download the Camera's App to Your Phone
Many of today's DSLR cameras have an app you can download to your cell phone. These apps are designed to allow your camera and your phone communicate so that you can operate your camera from your phone. I have a Lumux G7 Mirrorless DSLR. When I connect my camera to my iPhone via WiFi and open the camera's app on my phone, I have complete control of my camera's settings. My phone's screen shows me what the camera is capturing, so I can move around to get myself perfectly within the shot. I can also zoom in or zoom out, change the filter being used, set the timer, and capture pictures or video. I can even automatically transfer all pictures I take directly from my camera to my phone where I can edit them and post to Instagram seamlessly.
4. Try Capturing Video Instead of Photos
It can be awkward to pose for a picture. It is especially awkward when you can hear the timer counting down and you feel pressured to get in the perfect pose just before the picture is taken. It's actually really hard to look natural in that circumstance. Sometimes, when I am not sure how to pose, I record video instead of taking photos. Then, I just move fluidly from one pose to another, pausing for a second or two in each pose. There is no timer counting down. No pressure to get in the right position at just the right time. And somehow, removing that pressure makes me feel more comfortable, which allows me to move more naturally. Then you can use whatever editing software you have to basically snag a screen shot of the pose that you like best. I do this with Final Cut Pro. However, if you are using an iPhone, you can simply pause the video and capture a screen shot directly from your phone's video library.
The resolution of screen shot mages will not be as good as actual photos, which is something to keep in mind. However, if you are using the photo for Instagram (or perhaps for a YouTube thumbnail) where the image is very small, the resolution does not matter as much.
5. Take WAY More Pictures Than You Think You Need
You may not be surprised to know that you will be your harshest critic. I can't tell you how many times I have sat down to edit photos from a shoot, only to find that I hate every single one of them. Take lots of pictures, from many different angles. Try smiling, and not smiling. Try many different poses. Most importantly, if you are showcasing a product in the photo, position it in several different ways. You never know what might look best, so you want to have lots of options.
6. Remember That You Only Need One Good Shot
Listen, for every beautiful self-portrait you see on Instagram, there were at least 10 that looked absolutely ridiculous. I recently shot some photos for a new ring sling that we were featuring in the store. I ended up with this one (below) that I really liked. I thought my smile was natural, my hair looked alright, and my posture wasn't too awkward. Overall, I thought it was something I could be proud to put on Instagram.
I can't even begin to describe to you how many embarrassing pictures I had to sort through in order to get to that one. Some poses and facial expressions that I thought would look AWESOME ended up looking so silly. For funsies, let's take a look at a few:
Was it discouraging to look at all these totally derpy pictures? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I found that one photo that achieved the look I was going for. That's really all that matters.
So, have a sense of humor about yourself. Acknowledge that you are not a professional photographer or a professional model. You may not know how to pose yourself at first, and without anyone there to give you feedback, you have to figure it out as you go. On that journey, you're going to take some truly terrible pictures of yourself. It's OK!
Some Final Thoughts
Regardless of how photogenic you are or what kind of camera you are using, you CAN take beautiful self-portraits for Instagram. Remember that everyone feels silly taking pictures of themselves. But also remember that the more you do it, the more natural it will feel. Your photography will improve, as well as your editing skills. If you need some help in that department, check out this article on free apps for editing photos for Instagram. Be persistent. Push through the discomfort. Look for that one photo you can use to create an engaging and effective Instagram post, and then burn the derpy ones.
Seriously. Just burn them.