A Quick Guide To Quality Self-Portraits

Alright guys – I promised a post on self-portraits… and here it is! Chad and I headed out to the park last week on behalf of this blog post… and little did I realize how holiday-like these would turn out. (Red polka-dotted dress + green grass? Oh my.)

In any case, I’ve included some tips and tricks – along with links to the exact equipment that I use to photograph my self-shot style posts. I’m not saying this is the correct and only way to do things – but this is how I go about it.

Note to all of the pro-photographers reading this: Some of these notes/tips may be very basic knowledge to you – and I understand this. I’m intentionally keeping this post as basic as possible to avoid confusion.

(Dress: Causeway / Belt: H&M / Shoes: Target)

Step #1 (Location): Find an open location for your self-portrait session and make sure your location is DSLR-friendly. Many private locations require permits to shoot on their grounds and, if you get caught photographing without a permit, it’s very possible to get a fine. So proceed with caution! (Note: I recommend an open location, as a busy location may assist in the problem of back-focusing.)

Step #2 (Lighting): I tend to start photographing 1-2 hours prior to the scheduled sunset time and I always photograph with the sun BEHIND me. This creates even lighting and you’re less likely to squint due to bright lighting.

Step #3-a (Focusing with a wireless remote): If you own a reliable wireless remote system – then that’s fantastic! Pick a spot for your photos, check your camera’s viewfinder to make sure the crop is what you want, then mark your spot with something small (a leaf, small stick, etc). Also – if you set zoned auto-focus points – make sure it’s set to your upper body area (I aim for the head/eyes when I can).

Step #3-b (Focusing without a wireless remote): This, to me, is the hardest part. If you do not own a wireless remote system for your setup, focusing will be more tedious. I advise you to set your lens to MF (Manual Focus) and pick a spot to pre-focus on. One way to do it is to take a medium/large-sized item (perhaps your camera bag?), set it where you plan to be, and pre-focus on it. I do, however, highly recommend obtaining a remote system to make your life easier. Running back and forth between the camera and your pre-focused spot is not the ideal situation.

Tips and Tricks

  • Keeping the remote hidden. Pockets, hair, and accessories are your friends when it comes to hiding the wireless remote. I’ve hidden the remote while “brushing my hand through my hair” and I’ve placed my remote in a cardigan pocket, with my thumb hitting the button (inside of pocket) + the rest of my fingers free (outside of pocket).
  • Store your bags behind the camera setup to avoid any accidental interference. This might be a “no-brainer,” but it’s VERY IMPORTANT if you’re using self-timer (and recently used your stuff to pre-focus). Tripping over your stuff? Not fun.
  • Depth of Field: I love beautiful bokeh, so I tend to shoot wide-open. My aperture is usually set between f/1.2-1.8.
  • Posing: Play around with different angles. Tilt your head to your “best side,” move your arms into a relaxed position, try slightly bending a knee, etc. I tend to keep most of my weight on my back leg, so I don’t look too stiff.
  • Full body shots: If you are using a 50mm lens, I recommend positioning yourself about 20-25 feet from your camera setup.
  • Headshots/Details: Position yourself approximately 5-10 feet from the camera. Tilt your tripod’s head to the correct height. I suggest sitting or kneeling for headshots. (Once again, this applies if you’re using a 50mm lens.)
  • Observers? Bystanders are interesting creatures. They stand in one spot, usually with their mouth slightly open. It happens to all of us, but it’s really not a big deal. If they ask, I usually tell them I’m working on a personal photography project. If they’re observing from a distance, I frantically wave. (They frequently wander off, if I do this.)

Pro Equipment: Camera Body / Lens / Tripod Legs / Tripod Head / Wireless Remote + Receiver

Beginner/amateur? Here are some budget camera options: Camera Body / Lens

Wireless Remote: CHECK THOSE REVIEWS! (Sorry for the caps, but this is important!) There are tons of terrible remotes and you want to make sure you get one that is compatible with your camera body + does a great job focusing. The remote I have listed below is very simple to use (requires a total of 4 AAA batteries), works flawlessly with my Canon 5D Mark II, and will auto-focus when the button is held half-way.

Note: In the future, I do plan on sharing more about the photography/business aspect of things. I firmly believe in contributing to an active, friendly community [of photographers] and I tend to stray away from those who are cut-throat and overly-aggressive. Although I can’t quite meet with everyone who asks me to coffee (I’m sorry, I just don’t have that many hours in a day… especially during wedding season) – I’d be happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability.

PS – Thank you, Chad, for taking these behind-the-scenes photos. Here are some fun bloopers. =)

Happy Monday!


Rebecca Hofland Stanley Right? I just told her the same thing haha

Lauren Rosenau oh, and also, you're ADORABLE.

Lauren Rosenau LOVE THIS! Hahah I laughed at the label of "stuff". Great post!

Veronica Ramirez hahahaha Serena Severtson you are awesome! laughed a lot with the blooper part. Chad is really funny. You two look like you had an amazing time. Thanks for sharing and giving me a smile!

Rebecca Hofland Stanley gah you're so cute :-) I miss seeing you every day!

Rebecca Hofland Stanley gah you're so cute :-) I miss seeing you every day!

Ace Hi there! Love the guide.
What height should the tripod be set to? Half of your height?

Chaz McCarter This was awesome, thanks.

Lute Miranda Al-Raad Very cool, Serena, and thank you so much! I used to take more self-portraits and was thinking about getting a wireless remote. Fun days ahead! :)
(And let's all wave at the observers.)

Jordanne Fallon So cute!! I love the dress!! And this post was so helpful!! Great work! :)

Jillian McGrath I love this Serena!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your tips and tricks :) I’ve always been super curious about self portraits :)

Kina You + Chad are adorable! Love this!

Laura This is a very useful post, I really enjoyed it :)

Emily You may have inspired me to buy a wireless remote.

Tina Great post! Thanks for sharing. I’m currently looking into making my first DSLR purchase and this info will come in handy for future shoots. :)

Chad I am definitely hovering/flying/diving in that last photo. Self-portraits are easy next to the ninja moves required to document them.

Lindsey Plevyak AWESOME girl…

I love the *note at the end…

a real artist encourages those around them… to pass on their skill base for those behind us.

blessed to know you <3

Abby Grace I just bought my first remote and I can’t wait to use it! Well, when I say I “just” bought it, it’s been two months. I really need to get out there and use it. Love this post, thanks for taking the time to write it!

Three Years. – Life. Love. Blog. || Photography by Love By Serena […] – Earlier this year, I wrote a post on how to take quality self-portraits. Although we did use a new, upgraded tripod + head, we used the same awesome remote and location […]

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