The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Self Portrait Challenge - and Episode 51 of Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres

Last night felt like one of the most packed podcasts I've done to date.

At 2 hours long it is a biggie, but if felt like it had about 3 hours worth of material crammed into it.

Part of that was me pulling out all the stops to try and convince viewers to take part in next week's Self Portrait Challenge.

Despite the fact we appear to live in a selfie culture, most people are very uncomfortable with having their photo taken. And most photographers consider one of the biggest benefits to being the one who is holding the camera, is they don't have to be in front of it.

Not only is self portraiture technically tricky – unless the camera is tethered to a laptop or tablet, you can't see the image you are trying to compose, at the most crucial moment of the camera going click – it is emotionally challenging too.

To start with, because we are used to seeing ourselves in the mirror, we are uncomfortable seeing our faces the way the rest of the world sees them. But as well as being the wrong way round, we then see our faces at other angles we are less familiar with. Additionally we are hypercritical of our own image and notice every single line, wrinkle, mole, scar and/or sag.

On top of that there is a self consciousness about appearing to show off and draw attention to ourselves.

While I can only talk anecdotally, in my experience most people who have an obsession with photography tend to be more introverted. Sometimes I become very aware in that sense I am one of the few exceptions to the rule.

So to ask a group of self conscious introverts, who have constant doubts about their ability with the camera, to take an interesting photo of themselves, was always going to be a difficult sell.

But I do feel that for all the frustrations, it can also be really rewarding in terms of developing your photography.

Artists throughout the millennia have done self portraits as a way to practice techniques and develop their skills without the need for a model.

And this challenge is about more than just doing a quick selfie. I'm wanting people to create a scene or be a character – something more cinematic or theatrical – to have a sense of story.

There is an additional advantage in that it's often far easier to place yourself in front of the camera (or other people) as a constructed character than as yourself, if you are feeling vulnerable or self conscious - because the image isn't about you, it's about the character.

It doesn't matter if the character looks foolish or unattractive – it's acting – you're playing a role and everyone looking knows that, so it lets you off the hook of self consciousness.

But it's also about constructing a scene – going beyond just capturing what is already there to designing the image. In a way it's like still life, but with you in it as well.

So by doing all this, you cannot help but grow and develop your skills and understanding of photography – of light, composition, and story.

My fear from the start is it might be a step too far and I'll be lucky if I get only one or two submissions.

My hope is that many more will have been sold by my passionate explanations and sales pitch last night to go way beyond their comfort zones and give it a go.

I have just under a week to find out whether I might have just scared all my viewers away...

If you would like to take part, stick your photo either into the Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres Facebook Group:

or in the Discussion section of the event page:

Try and get it in before the end of the weekend, or by Monday (29th March) at the latest. Anything that arrives on Tuesday runs the risk of not being included in the podcast.

You can use a phone, tablet, point-and-shoot or DSLR (or mirrorless).

And then, make sure you tune in on Tuesday 30th March at 7.30pm (UK time) where I'll go through the photos, and give comments and feedback, and hopefully we will all become inspired by some of the submissions to go and try out new things with our photography.

Meanwhile, enjoy episode 51 below!


0:00 - Welcome, what's coming up, greetings and comments
5:57 - Introduction to the idea of selfies and self portraits
19:05 - Why we don't like photos of ourselves
26:49 - Avoiding clichés in the self portrait challenge
29:10 - Examples of Self Portraits
31:49 - Getting your self portrait in focus
39:07 - Play at being a character
51:53 - Setting myself a self portrait challenge
1:06:18 - Critique of images submitted to the Facebook Group, "Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres"
1:09:25 - Using "selective colour"
1:31:25 - Explanation of Shallow Depth of Field and Aperture
1:45:35 - 6 ways to edit a photo of a horse
2:00:10 - Looking for ideas for the anniversary episode in 2 weeks
2:01:05 - Coming up next week - the self portrait challenge
2:03:32 - End

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Also consider subscribing to my YouTube channel - – to help me build the numbers.

And, or course, if you would like to submit a photo for feedback, or just ask a photography related question, then do join my Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres  Facebook group and I will put it into the following podcast:


neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Have you been peeking in my notebook? :D

I was scribbling about self-portraits...selfies...and the idea that we are all works of art.
Most people tend to think that means we are all beautiful. I don't think that's what it emans though. I think we're all works in progress.

For years, I couldn't understand why artists did self-portraits. I didn't think that it was because they were ready-made models.

It's interesting how many Guyanese women I see taking scores of selfie after selfie after selfie and posting them. I can't figure out why.

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - it's not just Guyanese women, it's a global phenomena of almost everyone under 30 (and plenty over 30 too).

I think part of the reason is about having control over your own image. The problem when someone else takes our photo is they have all the control - they might make us look amazing, or they might make us look ridiculous. But we can take as many as we like of ourselves, until we are happy it represents the way we wish to be seen (even if it ends up not actually looking that much like we actually are).

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