Behind the Scenes: Finding Those Relatable Moments

Artists Insight 

I asked these talented photographers a simple question - 

"What do self portraits mean to you or why do you like creating them?" 

Click and hover over the images below to read their answers. I absolutely loved reading all their responses. 

Selfie Stigma 

The "selfie." This relatively new term has dominated and ingrained itself into some of our daily lives. Heck, it's even in the dictionary now. Many blame social media for the instant-gratification generation that's on the rise, but would the average person still be taking the same amount of images of themselves without all these social networking opportunities available today?

Yeah, probably not. Why? Because the average person wouldn't care to spend the time doing something that's not going to get some sort of response (we're artists, so it's a bit different). It's been proven we crave attention on some level, good or bad. For some, it's a lot more than others. So where did this negative stigma looming over people who photograph themselves come from, even though it's been happening since we've been able to permanently capture light? 

First off, we need to learn though that taking photographs of ourselves isn't bad or an always narcissistic thing to do. We're now for the first time ever, living in an era where it's not too common to know someone without a camera or some sort of device with a camera on it. Yes, there are always going to be a plethora of iconic "selfies" containing duck lips, tongues, peace signs, and background toilets. It seems as if it's required for the average profile pic for the past decade or so. Please accept that fact and let us move on. They're not going anywhere, but don't let that faux pas selfie saturation fix you into thinking self portraits contain no value or thought. As an artist, you should know better than that. You're not basic.  

My Story

I started learning about photography right around the time MySpace was really blowing up. That's when I got my first camera, a small little point-and-shoot. I remember being obsessed with updating my profile and making everything look cool and flashy. Copying and pasting so many HTML codes and all that jazz. I started seeing some creative and out of the ordinary profile photos popping up here and there, and that's what really made me want start experimenting with self portraiture for the first time. In high school this continued and I started to teach myself about photoshop and photo manipulation as much as I could. Soon, my interests pursuing photography as something I wanted to make a career out of after graduating became my goal.

In college, I gained so much more insight into the photography world than I had ever imagined. Learning about light, color theory, the business side of things, and art history - one of my favorite subjects. I love seeing how the art world has reacted to the different social situations throughout the times, and you know what - artists have always been creating self portraits, way before photography was a thing. This really isn't anything new people, it's just that in some ways it's a simpler process now.   

Discovering Conceptual Photography 

It was in a digital illustration class I had in college where I discovered conceptual fine art photography. I absolutely fell in love with the ability to tell stories through photographs. Before I became a photographer, I thought I was going to be a writer. So merging these two creative mediums I loved just made so much sense to me.

One of the very first creative self portraits I created was an idea that struck me while thrifting and a local shop here in Philly. I saw this briefcase sitting there and immediately saw this image in my mind and shot it that weekend in a nearby field.

I started discovering all these amazing photographers who were creating amazing self portraits on Flickr. Some of these artists I'm so grateful to know now and have become really good friends with. This really motivated me and inspired me to start working in this new style. I've always been in love with having the ability to fly. Something I always wished I could do when I was a kid; so naturally levitation was a concept I really wanted to start off shooting. It's fantastic when you find passion for something and start putting 100% into something you love.

What Self Portraiture Means to Me

With creating self portraits, I really love the fact that it's something that's almost 100% me (sometimes you need an assistant, it happens). When I started, I hid my face from the camera because I wasn't a model and also because it's something I still believe helps viewers relate a little more with the faceless character in my photographs. But, soon I stopped caring that I wasn't a model. I stopped thinking I had to resemble someone that fits into the standards of attractiveness based on celebrity ideals of the Hollywood elite. People aren't perfect beings. I can't change the way I appear.

After I started shooting self portraits, I got over my insecurities about showing my face in my photos. Whenever I'm in front of the camera, the sense of the character I'm portraying in my photographs starts to take ahold of me. I've stopped thinking I'm shooting a photo of myself - I more so go along with the thought process of saying I'm acting as a character for a story I want to tell.

Sometimes, I want to be in the image because the concept I'm shooting holds some personal ties to me. When I shoot a conceptual self portrait, it's really my way of expressing feelings I'm going through. That creative process starting taking over and it helps me with what I'm dealing with. I'm a really big believer in writing down feelings I'm going through. It helps by giving me a direction to start finding clarity and helps me build on ideas for photos to create. Expressing yourself through photography and have people relate to the visual narratives you've created is a really good feeling.  

The Value

Taking a photograph of yourself or with friends for those scrapbook moments is always a great way to help solidify memories. Taking a gander at those photographs are always nice to have for later on, but self portraiture can be so much more than that and when you discover the world of conceptual imagery, it's hard come back from. When you're able to create something that provokes thought and has depth to it, finding another feeling is hard to compare to. 

Creating A Fine Art Self Portrait:
My Process 


There are two main reasons why I shoot my conceptual photos in large panoramas. The first, shooting around F2.5 and panning the camera across the scene creates a wonderful and natural blur effect, something I really like my photographs to have - a nice soft element. The second, is because my camera only has 12.8 megapixels and I really like details and printing really large. Compositing all this elements together creates a higher resolution image overall. 


After piecing all the pieces together, sometimes go through using the automated photoshop feature, or stitching everything together by hand (really depends on the situation and what I was shooting). Then I decide on my final composition for my image. I do this after because I always make sure to shoot more than I really need in the environment so i have more room to play with cropping later. 


Once I have my final composition, I sharpen and soften the image and correct any errors before going into any heavy editing. Here I also desaturated and lightened the blues in the image. 


I start off working with lighting first before color. I think it helps me edit later with richer colors. At this point I'm working with selective color and curve adjustments in Photoshop to create and add more dynamic lighting to the photo. I've added a soft glow to the sky and subtly darkened the background to make the main subject of the photo pop. 


Now I start playing with color. I mainly use the selective color and curves adjustments here too, with a little added vibrance. I've added warmth to the image here, making the photo seem like it was shot later in the afternoon.  


I've always been a fan of textures For the longest time I was afraid to use them in my images because I really wasn't sure what to ever do with them. It's very easy to create something too distracting when you add textures to an image. You have to find a right balance of tones and texture strength. I usually lower the opacity down and play with different blending modes, sometimes added a curves adjustment to the layer. Now it looks like there could be clouds in the distance, and it's giving the image a little bit of a vintage feel. 


Once I've added all the textures to an image, I go and really just play around with the same adjustments and tweak some of the levels around to help the image pop and get the right colors I feel fit the image well. I'll keep playing around until I'm happy with how the photograph looks. I'll always save my document and look at it a day or two later with fresh eyes, to really make sure I'm happy with all the editing I've done.