To commit myself in the 52 weeks of Portrait Project, I knew that at some point I’d have to do a self portrait just to complete the whole portrait taking for a year experience. I knew I’d have to do it because it would be the most challenging to me, and therefore would be perfect for this project. I call it a big challenge because first of all, I feel less comfortable to stand in front of the camera than to work behind it and taking shots of other people. Secondly, of course, the whole making a portrait of yourself aspect is probably slightly more tedious compared to taking a selfie with your iPhone.
I read an article sometime ago, especially for mothers/photographer like me, we tend to take a lot of pictures of family and ‘forget’ to include ourselves in it because of various reasons. The article pointed out that it’s actually good for the children, ten or fifteen years from now, to see how mom and dad change over the years throughout the children’s childhood to adult life. This article, for lack of a better word, spoke to me. I too sometimes wonder what my mom looked like throughout my childhood. When she had me, before she had me, for example, or when I was a toddler. Or how she looked like when she turned 30, 40, whether she was stylish when she was young, how many hair style changes she had, what she was wearing in the 70s, you know, all that stuff that I wasn’t interested before but I am now. I know I spent that time growing up and living with her, but I think my memory of her in my childhood is largely formed around feelings than her physicality. To make the matter worse, my mother is even more terrible when it comes to posing for the camera. She will actually hide, and avoid her picture being taken (almost) at all cost. Even now.
My turning 40 (gasp!) a week ago made me think about this some more. Luckily I remember what my mom looked like when she turned 40 because I remember one photo of her (standing with me), in front of a gigantic cake for her 40th birthday. I don’t have that photo with me here, but I remember having seen it, and she looked great and happy in that photo. I am glad that photo exist! That memory, that photo, or the memory of that photo was my inspiration for my own self portrait.
I want my kids to be able to look back, in year 2040 or so, and see a photo of me taken right after their mum turned 40. I hope they see that their mom is a happy woman, being blessed by two wonderful children, loving family… and still have a lot of hair. This intention directs how I do the post editing after taking the shots. I understand that great Photoshop ‘power’ comes with great responsibilities. I could make my portrait with flawless skin, no spots, no wrinkles and magazine ‘perfect’ face, but that would be untrue. I do have spots, laughing wrinkles, and very prominent eye bags (thanks to my dad for this ‘gift’). So, I try and carefully edit portraits of myself so I (still) look like me, with just enough touch-up so I don’t look like I just got out of bed.
For the self portrait session, I used a tripod, white screen as backdrop, semi glossy white carton board (as reflector), 50mm prime lens and set the camera on self timer since I couldn’t find my tiny camera remote anywhere. I changed clothes/top three times, but since most of my clothes are black it didn’t really matter. I tried tidying my curly hair a bit (lucky I had my color done just a week before), put a bit of make up and that’s it.
I realised the way I took a portrait of myself is exactly the way I like to take a portrait of others. I like my shots close, and tight, with minimal props and basic background colours . In self-portrait it actually made it easier because that means I get to sit close to the camera. So close I could just push the button from my sitting position.
I did the session outside on the deck. The sun was shining with some clouds scattered about. Lighting could sometimes abruptly changed when suddenly the clouds covered the sun. I set the camera in auto ISO setting, so it could adjust automatically to ensure perfect exposure despite of the changing light. I kept the aperture at 7.1 so the whole face and most of the hair are sharp. I held the white card board close to my lap facing my face for a bit of fill light to reduce facial shadows.
After awhile, after watching me going back and forth on/off the chair, pouting/smiling/stiff laughing and facing the camera, and checking the photo in the camera for about a thousand times or so, my kids came out and wanted in on the action. When they were not in the picture and were just hanging around,I felt myself more relax in front of the camera.
At the end, not only have I more new portraits of me, that is surely be useful to refresh the ones I’ve been using for forever in all my social media outlets, I also have a glimpse of fun I shared with my kids from that day when looking at the photos. The fun I had from creating self portrait and learn more about photography and myself, as well as the fun I had with my children in front of the camera made it a great way to start my 40. And I will try remember to include myself more in our family photos no matter what the occasion is from now on.