Quick…Smile: A Lesson in Portrait Photography

Self Portrait with Canon 40D at 10 second timer setting

Self Portrait with Canon 40D at 10 second timer setting

The deadline for finishing the book jacket of my novel was fast approaching and I didn’t have a good  photo of myself.  No problem, I figured, I’d ask a friend who’s a photographer or my husband, who’s also very talented.  But, I procrastinated until just a few days before Christmas.  By then, I had few options.  Everyone was busy including my husband, who was in back to back meetings from 7 in the morning to 9 at night.  Well, I figured, I’d just take it myself.

After work, I set up the tripod and camera in the dining room, moved a lamp so it cast more light on the subject (me!), and set the timer for 10 seconds.  Running around the dining room table, I positioned myself, smiled and waited for the flash to pop.  (I didn’t have a remote cable.)  Feeling a bit foolish, I jogged around the table, took shot after shot, each one worse than the last.

After taking dozens of shots on successive days, I learned something about portrait photography.  The most obvious and important lesson is that it’s very difficult to take a good portrait of yourself, especially after a day of work!  Another challenge is to smile authentically, which is nearly impossible when there’s only one person in the room.  To amuse myself and to get a more realistic smile, I imagined that I was in a TV comedy skit as I ran around the table and posed.

Another lesson was that as the sun set, the room was suffused with shadows, so I needed to add more or higher watt lights.  And finally, as I studied the images, I wondered if the picture in the background might send a confusing message to viewers.  They might wonder if the woman in the green dress was a relative or a character in the book.  I tried cropping it out entirely, but the white wall seemed too sterile.  My illustrator, Alex Ross, found a solution.  He cropped the image but left a narrow band of the framed lithograph–enough to add interest.  Do you agree that the cropped shot is better?  If not, why do you think the first shot is better?

Cropped portrait

Cropped portrait

For those of you who are interested in seeing the final version of the book cover, here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Incident-at-Montebello-Moed/dp/1481824597/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

Happy holidays to all and a wonderful 2013!


7 replies »

  1. I know a friend who is a photographer that would definitely be glad to take your portrait on short notice, even if she was busy! Having said that, nice photo :), way better than I could take of myself.


Don't Be Shy! Drop Me A Line.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.