Regardless of the style of photography you engage in, a good image should trigger an emotional response. It could be wonder, intrigue, sadness, joy, calm, curiosity, or the myriad of other emotions that exist. As a landscape photographer I try to keep this in mind and present a final image that will attract and maintain the attention of anyone who sees it. One way of doing this is by including people in your shot. Adding the human element to one of your landscape images can draw the viewer in and tell a more complete story.
So why do I include myself and not someone else? The main reason, but certainly not the only one, is that most of the time, I'm the only person around. I am usually out shooting at odd times of the day and in locations that are very much off the beaten trail. As well, I can usually visualize the image before the shutter is released and know exactly what I'm looking for. Stepping into the frame can sometimes be easier than giving instructions to your model.
As an Olympus Visionary, this article references a number of Olympus products and uses screenshots from the Olympus E-M1 Mark II. The ideas behind the images however, can certainly apply to any brand of camera.
Once you step away from the camera you need to have some way of releasing the shutter in order to include yourself in the image. There are three ways of accomplishing this task with each having some advantages and disadvantages.
Self-Timer - Using the built-in self timer is certainly the easiest method of triggering the shutter. Cameras have had self timers for decades. Newer models, like the OMD series from Olympus now allow you far more control.
- Composition comes first - This is my rule for every photo that I make and it applies even more when I include myself (or any other person) in the image. The big question is... does including a person add to the overall composition? If the answer is "no", then stay firmly planted behind the camera. If including yourself adds to the shot, carefully consider your placement within the frame.
- Don't just stand there, do something! - Your photo should tell a story and your actions, however simple will frame that story. Although I have been guilty of photographing myself just standing there staring off into the distance, I am rarely happy with those shots. The challenge is to perform an action that fits with the scene and adds interest for the viewer. Common actions can work quite well - walking along a path, running through a field, sitting by the water reading a book, climbing a rock face, jumping a stream. They all tell a story, albeit, short (more like a Tweet than a novel).
- Planning is Key - One of the key skills that I discuss in my photography courses and workshops is the need to visualize your final image before the shutter is released. Can you see the photograph in your mind's eye? Although many of my selfies are spur-of-the-moment shots, they still require planning, even more so since you are leaving the view finder behind. Beyond the typical decisions I make when composing an image, there are a number of other questions I ask myself. Where will I place myself in the scene? What will I do? What poses will I try and will they look natural or completely contrived? How large will I be in the frame? If I am moving through the frame how will I set up the time lapse feature to ensure I get enough shots to choose from?
- I need support! - This may go without saying, but the instant you walk away from your camera you need some way of supporting it. My tripod is always in my vehicle and if I think there is even a chance of doing a selfie I will bring it along. That being said, I have shot numerous selfies with the camera firmly planted on the ground with something supporting the lens.
- Prop yourself up - I know photographers who hate the idea of using props in their photos. I'm not one of them. I view the world in front of my lens as a stage, and when on stage I don't hesitate to use a prop of some kind, but only if it adds to the story. You can see several photos in this post that incorporate an umbrella. That happens to be one of my favourite props to use. There is something about the geometry and symbolism of an umbrella that appeals to me.
- Double-check settings - Once you walk away from the camera you will be focused on your position in the frame, not the camera's settings. There are a few things to consider. For most selfie shots I use an aperture around f/8. This should guarantee good sharpness throughout the image. I also choose a focus point close to where I think I will be standing. If I plan on freezing any movement during the shot I also check my shutter speed. A speed of 1/125s should work for most action sequences.
- This ain't no portrait - This may simply be personal preference, or the realization that I'm not particularly photogenic, but I usually position myself such that I am only a small element of the whole composition. For this type of shot, I am not interested in capturing detailed facial expressions.
As I looked through my favourite selfie shots I realized that they could be divided into three categories - landscape, astrophotography, and what I call, stylized. The first two are just natural extensions of the type of photography that I normally engage in.
I rarely go out with the intention of shooting a selfie. It is usually a spur-of-the-moment idea that occurs after I've shot several images and am looking for the human element to invade the photo. The first photo below is an exception. This was a planned shot. Following a fresh snowfall I thought it would be interesting to capture a winter hiker traipsing through the snow toward the rising sun.
I'm always looking for interesting ways to photograph the night sky. Sometimes that means including myself in the image. The real challenge is keeping perfectly motionless for the duration of the long exposure.
There are times when an idea for a more creative selfie enters my mind - a more artistic selfie per se. The three images below are examples. They all required a fair amount of planning and definitely some visualization ahead of time.
Within my collection of thousands of photographs, I only have about two dozen creative selfies. It is certainly not my primary photographic interest, and besides I am far more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. That said, including myself in the image is definitely an important way of expressing my creativity.