• Alexis Elliott

The Art of Self Portraits

Ah, the art of self-portraits. Many people might associate this with selfies and the digital age, but this form of self-expression has long existed. The earliest surviving record of an artistic self-portrait dates back to 1433 with Rennaissance painter Jan Van Eyck's (1390-1441) portrait entitled "Man in a Red Turban."

But that's just the earliest surviving record; who knows how far back self-portraits really date. Remnants of what-could-be self-portraits have been discovered that date back to ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art. Not much has survived, and there isn't as much information about the artists to say for sure, though.

Regardless of the history, however, there's no disputing that self-portraits are intimate and endearing. This is why I'm innately inspired by artists like Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, Vivian Maier, and Zanele Muholi.

Why Self Portraits Inspire Me

Whenever I look at an artist's self-portrait, I feel like I'm getting an intimate peek inside their minds and their unique life experiences. By sharing a moment or image of themselves, the artists reveal how they see themselves and who they really are.

I think this is why I've recently felt more compelled to focus on self-portraiture. This is something I've dabbled in before, but it was never something I pursued seriously.

But, after a recent dip in creative inspiration and projects, it seemed like the thing to do.

I wanted to work with more models, but with COVID-19, the ideas I had in mind were put on hold. And I wasn't interested in still-life photography of plants and flowers like I've done in the past (at least not in the same way).

But after a few months of lowered creative levels, I felt inspired to take some self-portraits. After all, it was silly to wait around for the pandemic restrictions to lighten or for others to feel ready to collaborate.

Plus, I've had so many ideas for self-portraits, but I haven't actually sat down and completed them, which, again, is very silly. As if that weren't enough to convince me, I figured it's all practice, and it will help me work with models in the future.

So with all things considered and my desperation to creatively express myself again, I took out my camera and got to shooting!

The two photos you see above are my favorite images from that night.

How I Got These Self-Portraits

For lighting, I just used a cheap LED light from Ikea that I focused fairly close to my face. I combined that with my camera's flash to create a dark background and deep shadows.

These were my camera settings:

  • 3200 ISO

  • 35 mm Focal length

  • f/8

  • 1/60 shutter

As far as retouching, I didn't really do any to my skin (I like the way skin texture looks 😆). But I did adjust a few settings like the contrast and added some photoshop overlays of light to add some glow.

I also used the paintbrush tool (soft brush) to lightly paint a little of the background darker. Here are the before and afters of each picture:

Anyways, I was really excited about how these came out. I didn't have any particular look in mind other than I wanted some high contrast. But I love how the lighting added a golden hue to everything. I especially love how dark I got the background like I'm in some void.

My main goal was to experiment with lighting and to start creating again, so I would say mission accomplished! I'm also going to be doing a lot more self-portraits so be sure to look out for my future projects 😁

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