Home Portrait Eye-Catching Self-Portraits: A Budget-Friendly Guide

Eye-Catching Self-Portraits: A Budget-Friendly Guide

Self-portraits are immensely popular in various genres. Many painters, including Frida Kahlo and Rembrandt, reclaimed their identities through their self-portraits.

Anyone can take expressive and eye-catching self-portraits. You don’t need expensive camera equipment or a professional photo studio. Even if you live in a simple home filled with simple props, you can take great photos. Best of all, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve this.

Why Take Self-Portraits?

girl taking self-portrait through a mirror.

Self-portraiture comes with countless benefits. You use it to improve general photography skills like lighting. You can also use it to get a better idea of how your camera works. It’s a way to familiarise yourself with interesting photography techniques.

Self-portrait photography is very useful in portrait photography. It can help you understand what it’s like to be a model. As a result, you might find it easier to empathise with your subjects. If nothing else, at least you’ll be able to find your best angles!

Many photographers have found confidence in this genre. Taking photos of yourself can help you feel more comfortable in front of the camera. If you experiment with different poses, expressions, and angles, you’ll find it easier to look at yourself in pictures. (It’s like listening to your own voice. It’s awkward at first, but then it gets better. Eventually, you get so used to it that you start to see beauty in it.)

Start With a Story

self-portrait playing guitar in the forest.

A story can quickly help you build the foundation of your photoshoot. Without it, it can be difficult to come up with original ideas.

You can find inspiration almost anywhere. Start with the details. Quotes, song lyrics, or even keywords can lead you to interesting story ideas. Watch a film that resonates with you or join a photography group. Make sure to write all of your ideas down in one neat space.

Also, don’t procrastinate too much. When inspiration hits, try to act on it as quickly as possible.

Create Foregrounds Using Objects in Your Home

self-portraits close-up of girl behind green foreground.

Foregrounds are a very easy way to take incredible self-portraits. They’re objects that are closest to your camera lens. The larger your aperture, the more blurred these objects will be. You have to partially cover your lens with an object. Make sure you don’t actually touch your lens to avoid damaging it.

You can use foregrounds to frame your face, get rid of distractions, or add a pop of colour to your shots. Here are a few things you can use:

  • Flowers
  • Glass cups
  • Paintbrushes
  • Sunglasses

Anything that’s transparent or semi-transparent tends to work very well as a foreground. Look at various objects in your home. If something doesn’t look interesting, give it a shot anyway. The most unexpected things can make your self-portraits look outstanding!

Use Your Smartphone as a Guide

girl taking selfie with her phone.

Some cameras, like the Canon 60D, come with flip screens. These features are incredibly helpful, but they’re not very common.

An alternative to this is using your smartphone’s selfie mode. This won’t show you what your final results will look like, but it will give you an idea of how you look in different locations. It’s a great way to find beautiful light that looks good on your face. It’s also a very easy way to find your best angles!

Experiment With Different Types of Natural Light

The more lighting options you have, the more interesting your self-portraits will look.

Keep in mind that these aren’t the only lighting techniques out there. As you experiment with these, you’re likely to discover many tricks of your own.


self-portraits silhouette of girl next to a guitar.

If your light source is behind you, it will create backlight. There are two easy ways to use this type of light:

Slightly overexpose your photographs. This will create a soft glow around your face. You’ll need to use a higher ISO number to compensate for the additional exposure.

Create a self-portrait silhouette. This is when you keep your exposure normal or slightly underexpose. Your facial features won’t be visible, but the general outline of your body will create an interesting silhouette. You can experiment with different props and poses for creative results.

Side Light

close-up of girl in side light.

This is light that hits only half of your face. If you’re shooting indoors, just stand with your side to a window. You don’t need to face your camera directly.

Side light is great for mysterious self-portraiture. It can add depth and emotion to simple expressions.

Direct Light With Shadows

self-portraits girl wearing glasses in direct light.

Direct light will hit your face directly. This is easiest to do when the sun is shining brightly. (Make sure you never look at the sun directly, no matter how cool your photo idea is!)

Direct light is known to be rough and unflattering. However, it can have the opposite effect with the help of shadows. Leaves, hair, branches, etc., can all create beautiful shadows on your face. They can help you tell your story in an effortless and creative way.

Use Lamps and Torches When It’s Dark

self-portrait next to a door in artificial light.

When natural light isn’t enough, don’t be afraid of using simple artificial lights. The torch in your phone, your desk lamp, and even the light in your oven can all help you take outstanding self-portraits. A few other things you can use are string lights and sparklers.

You can use the same natural light techniques for this. Backlight, side light, and direct light are also very important in artificial lighting.

Merge Your Self-Portraits With Other Genres

double exposure self-portrait.

You don’t always need to take photos of your face. You can merge self-portrait photography with other genres. For instance, if you like abstract photography, you can use long exposure techniques to take eerie self-portraits. If you like underwater photography, you can create double exposures using photos of yourself and photos of water.

Even if you don’t have the resources to pursue a genre like underwater photography, you can still use its elements in your work. Make a list of all the genres that you like and try to include them in your work somehow.

This can be challenging, but it can help you strengthen your imagination. The more you use your creative senses, the easier it will be to come up with original ideas for your photoshoots. This skill is highly important and has the potential to help you for years to come.

Experiment With Different Camera Settings to Keep Your Work Exciting

Your camera has many settings that you can safely manipulate. Even if a certain technique seems unusual, try it out anyway. Exercises like this will encourage you to leave your comfort zone more often. And when you leave your comfort zone, you’re likely to find many opportunities to elevate your self-portrait photography.

Here are a few of the many things you can do with your camera.

Long Exposure

portrait of a black woman surrounded by long light streaks.

Long exposure is when you use a slow shutter speed. If you photograph lots of movements with a slow shutter speed, you’ll get abstract results. All of these movements will turn into long streaks of light.

This is a common technique in dance photography and astrophotography. You can use it in your self-portraits to create haunting photographs.

Colour Temperature

profile of girl in front of string lights.

If you want to give your self-portraits a specific colour look, manually change your colour temperature. This feature is available in most cameras. (Yes, smartphone users, this option is available for you too!)

You can experiment with extreme adjustments to give your photos either a warm or wintry atmosphere. This is perfect for when you have a specific theme in mind or when the weather isn’t giving you the tones that you need.

In-Camera Double Exposure

girl surrounded by Christmas lights.

Some cameras have an in-built double exposure option. This allows you to merge multiple photos and create artistic overlays. If your camera doesn’t have this option, you can manually merge several pictures in an editing program. If you’re using a smartphone, you can use an app like Photo Blend that will do all the work for you.

Read your camera manual to familiarise yourself with your camera’s potential. You’re likely to find many helpful tips in it. Carefully analyse your camera and all of its buttons. If you see something that has creative potential, experiment with it. You might come up with a new photography technique of your own! Most importantly, remember to priorities your camera’s safety at all times. Don’t experiment with anything that seems risky.


Self-portraiture is a fantastic way to get creative and make the most of everyday items. You can take self-portraits to express yourself, feel more comfortable in your skin, and much more.

Remember that self-portrait photography is more than just selfie-taking. It’s a deep and meaningful genre with a lot of potential. Be patient with it and don’t be afraid to try out unusual techniques. If you use what you already have, you’re likely to be very impressed with your final results.

Taya Iv
Taya Iv
Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.



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