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Taking Self-Portraits With (Almost) No Equipment

You don’t always need fancy lighting and a studio set-up

a strange self-portrait
A photo of the author, by the author

In over 10 years of owning a “proper” camera, I have never once shot a single self-portrait. That is, until yesterday.

I’ve recently given myself the challenge of shooting a photo a day using’s word of the day. Yesterday that word was polyhistor, which is essentially another term for a polymath or jack-of-all. Seeing as I’m diving into photography to balance out working on my PhD in game design and psychology, my art practice, graphic design work, and a myriad of other projects in different domains, and considering the last decent photo of me was taken in 2019, I figured this would be a good reason to attempt self-portraiture.

But there were a few problems.

I had left behind most of my gear with family all the way back in Wales. I didn’t have my tripod with me. I didn’t have any of my big or coloured lights, only a tiny clip-on LED fill light. All the main lights in my flat are dim and yellow. The only wall not covered in art or books or posters is inaccessible due to an unfinished jigsaw puzzle on the table in front of it.

No tripod, no lighting, no clear space nor backdrop.

But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I had a challenge to complete. It also felt like if I didn’t take a self-portrait then, I never would.

So, I found a clear patch of wall in between the door frame and the radiator in my tiny office where the bulb is slightly brighter. I put my camera propped up on its side on the seat of my height-adjustable office chair, with a pair of gloves stuffed under the lens to keep it level. Since the small LED fill light was all I had to work with, I experimented with it in different places, such as on the seat by the camera, in my hand, on the desk nearby or on the radiator next to me. And then I crouched down and tried to take photos that didn’t look like I was crouching down.

Here the LED is resting on the radiator right next to me and I’m staring directly into it.

My camera is a Fujifilm, which means it comes with a mobile app that I can use to remotely control and shoot with. I started with the app, carefully composing using the view on my phone, tapping to focus, and then pressing shoot. But this took too long, was too cumbersome to adjust settings and ultimately did not feel like a smooth workflow.

I turned off the app and opened my phone’s camera, switched to the front-facing camera and then placed my phone behind my Fujifilm so that I could vaguely see the Fuji’s screen from where I was (in retrospect, a mirror would also have worked, but sometimes it’s nice to over-complicate things). I then turned on face and eye detection on the Fuji, set up interval shooting to take a shot every three seconds, and returned to my crouched poses.

And it actually worked out ok.

After the first few shots, I stopped the camera just to check everything was being shot in focus, and miraculously it was. So I carried on.

A few outfit changes, make-up “enhancements” and location changes later and I felt the uplifting transformation that people say comes with self-portraiture. The change is reflected in the photos, too. My expressions, which started stiff, nervous, unsure, turned into these strange, bight-eyed wonder-filled faces.

It took me years to finally face the camera. I kept putting it off because the conditions weren’t perfect or the set-up wasn’t right, but doing this challenge let me see that actually, not having the right equipment should never hold you back.

Were the images perfect? No, not even close. As much as I love the first image above, technically speaking, it’s not great. The others too I find myself critiquing a lot. Either the settings were off or the composition was poor, or a myriad of other things. But I did it. And next time I’ll do better because I did it.

Either way, I achieved my goals. I maintained my momentum in the challenge and I now have new, updated photos that I can use for wherever my face needs to be. They range from sensible, professional ones for LinkedIn, to the more out-there, “I am an artist!” headshots that I’ve been needing.

I'm an artist!


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