20 Steps To a Professional Self Portrait

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Tips For Taking a Professional Self Portrait

Kenny Huffman, a long-time listener and alumni of the Create Photography Retreat, asked a question I thought would be good to answer in the episode today given the contest we are running (again we will talk about it at the bottom of the show).

Kenny asked me “any method of focusing on the eye doing self portraits?”  I thought I would take a crack at sharing how I approach it.

Equipment For Taking a Professional Self Portrait

When you think of going to a studio after having hired a professional photographer to create a photo, what comes to mind?  Not a smartphone on a stick, right? You think of a room setup specifically for shooting portraits with lights, umbrellas, a backdrop, and maybe some chairs or props. 

If you want to take a professional self portrait the setup is really no different, though it can be done in your home (where you are probably spending a lot of time) with the equipment you have.

Let’s start off with the equipment you need to create a professional self portrait:

  1. Space
  2. Tape (masking/duct/gaffer)
  3. Camera
  4. Tripod
  5. Flash
  6. Modifier (softbox/shoot through umbrella)
  7. Reflector
  8. Light stands (two)
  9. Backdrop (or blank wall)
  10. Remote trigger (optional)
20 Steps to a Professional Self Portrait

With the equipment ready, now let’s talk about how to use it.  We are assuming in these steps that you are doing this entirely alone.  Nobody around to help you with any of this. Certainly can be far easier if you have someone who can stand in for you as a model to get things setup if that is an option.

  1. Find a space
  2. Put the camera on the tripod in portrait orientation
  3. Put the camera in live view (where it shows on the back of the camera what is in front of the camera live)
  4. Set an object (light stand works great!) so that it is just barely showing on the right side of live view
  5. Set another object so that it is just barely showing on the left side of live view
  6. Set the camera drive mode to timer, probably the 10 second timer. If you have a remote shutter release for your camera, use that here and it will save you some time.
  7. Trip the shutter button then go stand in between the two objects and wait for the camera to take a shot.  Camera settings don’t really matter yet, including focus and lighting at this point. These shots are just to get you positioned well.
  8. Go look at the photo and use the relative position of those objects to get yourself positioned where you want to be for your photo.  Repeat taking 10 second timer photos until you have your position where you want it. Probably waist up with your shoulders nearly touching the edges of the frame and all of your head in the frame.
  9. Put an X or line on the ground using the tape where it is you were standing.
  10. Put a light stand or some object right where your X is on the floor and use that to set focus.  
  11. After getting focus, change your lens to manual focus so that when you press the shutter button you don’t change the focus (unless you use back button focus and then you don’t have to worry about that!)
  12. Now move the light stand off your mark on the floor and out of the way, press that shutter button with the drive mode set to 10 seconds, and run over to get yourself setup on the mark.  Look into the camera, smile, and wait for the shutter to trip.
  13. Look at the photo on the back of the camera, zoom in and make sure it is sharp.  If it isn’t sharp try setting the focus again using the light stand and then getting yourself on the mark.  If none of that helps, it could be that you need to check out this list of things to check for sharp images.
  14. Set your camera with an aperture of f/8, a shutter speed of 1/160, and ISO 100.  This is a starting point for settings that works really well for “studio” shooting.
  15. Take a shot now with those settings and no flash so that you have it for comparison.
  16. Add a flash on a lightstand with a softbox modifier off camera (right or left, you will have to decide which you like best) so that it is about 6 inches above your eye level pointed down toward you.  The light should be as close to you as possible without having it be in the frame. Start with the flash at a lower power level like 1/64.
  17. Take a test shot with the light in position and powered low.  Compare it with the shot taken with no lighting and increase the power until it is where you want it to be.  
  18. If the background is too sharp and distracting, open up the aperture (lower the number) and adjust the power of the lights accordingly.  Also make sure you check the sharpness after opening up the aperture as the depth of field is decreasing the focus has to be on.
  19. If you get to a point where you have raised the flash power all the way up then first try opening up the aperture (lower the number).  If you get to the limits of your aperture then increase the ISO. Shutter speed will not change the impact your flash has on your photos, it only controls the amount of ambient light in your photos.  If you want to let in more ambient light you can lower your shutter speed. You can’t really increase the shutter speed because of the max sync speed (see note below as well).
  20. If the shadows look too dark, add a second light on the other side of the camera or use a reflector to bounce back some of the light from the flash.  The goal isn’t to eliminate shadows.

Note: Good video explanation of max sync speed via SLOW MO GUYS video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmjeCchGRQo

News Stories

We also talked about a couple of news stories in the episode. The first one is from lensrentals, a lot of Photography and Videography Resources to Check out During Social Isolation. Free or inexpensive resources photographers should check out while you have some time on your hands.

The second was something from our friends over at fstoppers about Canon killing the multi-function bar introduced with the EOS R camera body. They report that customers were having trouble hitting the bar by accident and changing the camera settings.

Photo Contest

Let’s talk prizes first:

  • 30 minute mentoring session with Brent Bergherm
  • 30 minute mentoring session with Connor Hibbs
  • 30 minute photography business mentoring session with Erica Kay
  • 30 minute editing session with Jeff Harmon
  • A chance to have your image make the top ten of all entries.  The top ten will be shared to the Facebook group and in the show notes when we talk about them in a future episode.
  • A chance to have your image selected as the best entered and come on the show with us!

We will pick four random winners with each getting one of those prizes.  Everyone who shares an image in our Master Photography Photo Contest Flickr group will be entered to win.  You do have to create a Flickr account to enter, but we hope that is a little more accessible than Facebook.


  • You have to create the image between 3/19/2020 and 4/19/2020
  • You have to share the image to the Flick group at https://www.flickr.com/groups/mpcontest/
  • Because the group is fully public and anyone can share an image, you have to tag the image #creativejuices.  We are only saying this on the episode and putting that in the show notes to prevent a random photographer who may find the group from being entered.  That tag is critical!
  • You can only share one image per day.  Flickr will restrict you to that, another reason we wanted to use Flickr here.
  • Keep the images safe for work.  You all know what that is, no further explanation necessary.


Jeff: 30 Days of Photoshop with Phlearn (FREE!) Get 20% off an annual subscription MASTER20!

Brent: Magewell USB Capture HDMI 4K Plus ($460 Expensive)


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