Self-Portrait…can anyone say awkward?

{see behind the scenes video link at bottom }

Portraits. Often a person’s worst nightmare. (Up there next to public speaking, in my opinion.)  The idea of sitting in front of the camera, feeling uncomfortable, with that famously awkward ‘Chandler’ smile (for those of you who’ve seen Friends, you know where I’m going with this). Ya, it can make anyone one squirm.

Self-Portraits, double cringe. The idea of stepping on the other side of that lens is really terrifying to some of us.

So, you work up the nerve, maybe have a glass of wine to loosen up, and you’re ready to rock, only to discover with disappointment that you missed your focus entirely and while that the darling little pink orchid on your table looks fantastic, your face is a beautiful little blob of bokeh.


Add poor lighting to the mix and you’ve now decided that ‘this is impossible’ and swear to never again step foot in front of that camera for another selfie again!

But, if you noticed, there are only 3 main things that are likely causing you to give up. Understanding and practicing this will set you up for greater success:

  1. Have good lighting. (I LOVE window light, so soft and natural)

  2. Make sure you are setting up your focus properly.

  3. Relax in front of the camera. (ya, right… like that’s possible! Wait, actually, it is)

While the first two steps are pretty technical and easy to achieve, relaxing and looking natural in front of the camera takes patience and time.

Nikon D750   35mm 1.8        1/200    f/4.0     ISO 2000

I will add  a video link (see below) of a behind-the-scenes with me and my set-up of my own self-portrait.

I’ve photographed many women over the years and every single one of them was terrified of being in front of the camera.


Once they learn that having their photo taken was not hazardous to their health, they began to breath and relax, and their most natural beauty shined thought. As I scroll though those images on the back of my camera, I can actually watch them emerge from their shell!

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notice their hands, these ladies are more relaxed when their hands are given a task.

How did I do it?  I made conversation with them. I played fun music. I complimented them. I sat them down and they immediately relaxed. (Sitting is surprisingly soothing that way). I gave their hands a task. This is a HUGE help. When your hands are occupied, it’s one less thing for you to feel awkward about.

So, how are YOU supposed to do this when you’re the one not only taking the photo  but also sitting in front of that piece of glass?

For starters, take a seat. On a chair, on the floor, you decide. When you’re sitting, you will feel more comfortable. {notice in ALL of my portraits, I’m sitting?}

Nikon D750 35mm 1.8    1/125 sec   f/6.3   ISO 1250

What next? Play some of your favourite music. Music is great for perking up your mood.

Ready for the big ‘aha’ moment… use a prop. Preferably something that would be true to you and your authentic self. I LOVE COFFEE, so naturally, holding a cup of my favourite Joe is instantly comforting. The mug in my hand is all to familiar, and the aromatic smell, oh yeah!

Nikon D750  60mm 2.8        1/125     f/5.6      ISO 1000

Now, here’s where the ‘aha’ comes in to play… Yes, I mentioned it before, but it really does make a difference. The fact that my hands are occupied is what creates ease and a natural look. Giving my hands something to do takes away the awkward feeling of “what do I do with my hands???”  We might not even be literally thinking about this, but our subconscious certainly makes it clear.

Nikon D750  35mm 1.8      1/200      f/5.6     ISO 1250

This is why something that seems natural to you would make sense as a great prop. A book you’re reading, holding your camera, working at your laptop, doodling on a piece of paper, your little fur baby, or cuddles with your loved one. These may all be part of your everyday, so why not invite them into your portrait so you can feel like you’re enjoying an everyday moment?

ADDED BONUS- When you’re like me and you’re always the one behind the camera, you miss out on something really important. You miss out on documenting YOU. These images   that your family will love and your future generations will treasure. So, get in front of that camera already, it’s for your legacy for crying out loud. Seriously, do it!

Nikon D750. 85mm 1.8.  1/125.  F/5.6. ISO 1600


Oh, and p.s.- LET GO OF PERFECTION! We are ALL going to take a TON of terrible selfies, cut yourself some slack, you’re doing your best.  If you take 100 images and only like one, well, that’s all you need! Success!!! Delete the rest and move on (Oh Boy, if you could onlysee my bloopers!!!). And one more thing, the more you practice, they easier it gets.

So, keep at it !

Dana xo


Published by

Dana Walton

Dana is drawn to the beauty in simplicity within the frame. One who lives by the words "less is more" she translates this feeling into her art. Creative composition and isolating subjects are just a couple of elements that play a strong role within the frame. Finding beauty is its simplest form. Dana lives with her husband, son and two kitties in a small town outside of Toronto, Ontario. When not spending time with family, or shooting, she enjoys baking (just about anything under the sun) or riding through trails on her mountain bike.

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