I'm a big fan of taking self-portraits. In my house, I am the main photographer. Paul is kind enough to be in photos and happy enough to take them for me, but "oh we should take a photo!" is not an expression that's ever come out of his mouth. Plus, with him deploying often, if I want a photo of me for the blog or our project life album, I have to take it myself.
So for the past few years, I have been "practicing" and doing just that. Below are some of my favorite simple tips.
Take a ton. The best part about taking your own photos is the only person who gets bored is you. When Paul's taking photos for me, I feel bad asking him to keep taking them or being picky about how things are looking. I'm just grateful for the help so I don't want to push my luck. But when I'm on my own, I can take more and not feel like I'm wasting someone else's time. I look at the camera and tweak things as I go until I have that perfect shot. (Surprisingly, when I look back at a group of photos, often it's the third out of ten shots that wins, but at least I have choices.)
Try the "hand reaching out method." You know this one. Hold the camera in front (or above) your body and snap. Sometimes it's perfect. Sometimes it takes more than a few tries. The trick is to keep your reaching arm out of the shot. It's also important to pay attention to the light source. If it's right in front of you, or right above you, you'll get an incredibly awkward "camera-shadow." I like this method a lot if I don't care that both of my hands are in the shot. It's easy to work with since I don't need to mess with a timer or remote.
Use a timer. But my favorite method is to use a timer. With the timer, I can capture more natural "real-life action shots." I love to get my hands at work (or recently, fun yoga poses.) When I am using my iPhone (and that's often), I use the TimerCam app set to either 5 or 10 seconds. With my big camera, I used to use the timer setting, but I recently purchased a wireless camera remote that is pretty rad because it focuses for me. I have found that the few second delay between when I hit the timer button and when the shutter closes gives me enough time to "hide" the remote to it's not obvious that I snapped the shot. The photos in this post and this post were both taken by me with the camera remote.
Use a flat surface. It should got without saying, but always rest your camera on a flat surface. Often, for my yoga shots, this means setting my iPhone right on the ground. My phone and case rest just fine on the long side so I don't have to use anything to prop it up. I also love the look I get when I set my phone on a table or counter - it's normally ideal for "hand" shots. When I want the camera or phone higher, I usually just build my own tripod. Sometimes this means a stack of books. Sometimes this means a chair on top of our coffee table. Sometimes this means resting the camera on a lifegaurd stand and running a few yards to pose for the shot. Anything can be a tripod, it just needs to be flat.
Trust your camera. What I have been most impressed with since I started taking more self-portrait timer shots is how awesome the camera seems to crop when I am not trying. It's helped me realize that a closer-cropped image can be cooler than a full shot.
The timer needs to be trusted too. When I plan shots and look through the viewfinder, I often lose some of the magic that comes with just setting my camera down and hoping for the best. In the above shot, I had set up my camera and was just "test" shooting to see how much of the mat was in the frame. I lit candles while the camera did it's thing and was thrilled to find the resulting photo (and the reflection) that was caught on accident. Counting "1-2-3" then snapping the shutter guarantees a grinning subject. Hitting 5 seconds on a timer and letting go can result in a completely different image and I love that.
Snap now, crop later. So yes, this is an opposite tip of "trust your camera" but what's rad about timer shots is that once you have The Shot, you can always prefect it later with cropping. Above is a sample of a photo I love taken last week. In it's original form it's a bit cluttered but I love how it looks both cropped for instagram and cropped as a vertical 4x6. Cropping can turn a decent photo into something awesome and alleviates the fear of having to set up the perfect shot right from the beginning.
Check the background. This goes for every single photo, self-portrait or not, but take a look at what's behind you. Sometimes this means just scooting a mess out of the way. Sometimes this means stepping in front of a cool wall or scene. Sometimes this just means making sure there is no power chord in the way. I don't worry about perfection, but there are always tiny things you can do - move a bit to the left, remove a pile of clothes, etc. - that result in a better shot.
related reading : simple tips for everyday photos.