How I Shot This Self Portrait With Natural Light

How I Shot This Self Portrait With Natural Light

Most of my portraiture work is known for two things, lots of color and using strobes. I love self portraits to try out new techniques; it's actually how I got myself started in photography, so for this self portrait I wanted to go in a totally different direction and take a shot with natural light and push it as far as I could.

In my home studio there is a period of about two hours where I get nice beautiful hard light at this time of year. I decided to use this to my advantage and set up my backdrop and just waited. I took a few tests shots and noticed that the light was coming in really low and in order to save time I soon found myself sitting on the floor, instead of on a chair like planned. 

man, closeup, bearded, monochrome

My self portrait at 4x5 (I crop all my images this way for instagram)

Production and Framing

I shot this portrait on the Fujifilm X-T3 with the 56mm f/1.2 wide open. My backdrop was just a white muslin that I wanted to leave somewhat messy and textured, but I ended up farther away from the backdrop than planned so it was just a solid blur. Whoops.

In order to enhance the depth of the shot and the difference between the in and out of focus areas, I raised the camera up and pointed down, I wanted just a sliver of the shot to be in focus. I used the Fujifilm Camera Remote to trigger the camera when I wanted to which is much better than my old technique of just using a timer on vintage lenses and hoping for the best. 

When it came to posing, I chose me looking down and to the right for a few reasons. For one, I have a prominent brow so it's hard to get an eye light especially with the sun so high up. Secondly, I was looking at my phone, and the third and most important reason is that having someone with their eyes shut looking down and to the left or right is a really cheap and easy way to make a photo look mysterious. 

Lastly, in order to get a small strip of light, I used two strips of Cinefoil on either side of me to create a strip of light in the middle. I made a whole article on Cinefoil here so I don't want to reiterate too much but basically by having the strips near me, I could create harsh, sharp, shadows at the sun. One challenge I has is that the earth rotates so the sun moves, and as soon as I got everything where I needed to... I'd have to adjust my framing and the Cinefoil.

Post Production

Post production on this image was pretty simple. I darkened the image, opened up the shadows and made sure none of my highlights were clipping. It was pretty simple dodging and burning except except for one spot. There was a highlight on my nose that I hated with a passion and had to remove which I did quite simply with just some very precise dodging and burning. As with most of my black and white images, I also added a very slight blue tint to it so I could add a slight metallic-y shine to the image.

As you can see, with just a few small tweaks, and with the dodging and burning you can really make this shot go from nice to engaging. Lastly I did a little bit of frequency separation and the shot is done! 

Have you ever done a self portrait or taken shots that were specifically planned to be the opposite of what you usually do?

Log in or register to post comments

10 Comments

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Grey dark portrait of nothing happening.
Sorry to be so harsh, but how is that picture interesting ?
I mean, if you write an article about that picture, I guess you are proud of it, or find it really interesting at least, but I hardly understand why. I wouldn't write about my last cat picture.
A totally different direction ? You shoot portraits, the only change here is the hard light, you in front of the lens, and no color work. Tell a mountain landscape photographer to shoot hills, that won't be too far from comfort zone, will it ?
Wondering.

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

When they have something interesting to show, otherwise I shoot hdr sunsets and write phylosophical sentences on them.
I'm proud of "look straight to the light, you'll never see bad things anymore".
(Joke)

Who does the publishing here? Get this article off your site. This image is doo doo.. i joined up - logged in- just to post this: "Get over yourself- the only thing 'mysterious' about this image is why the f you'd post it ...anywhere. . The frequency separation issue is your brain waves not working.. The only dodging and burning needed here was to dodge this article and send it to the burn pile." - Vicious? Ya maybe, but someone gotta know this crap diminishes the credibility of this site.

Claude Lee Sadik's picture

Sorry but I'm also not convinced this photo deserved an article... :S

Lorin Duckman's picture

I take a lot of self-portraits, including the profile to the left, and study self- portraiture, both painted (Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Cezanne, et al) and photographed (Robert Cornelius, et al). This article should have been of interest to me; it wasn't.

It is natural light with some dark shadows. Why is this a "how I did it" article? Even somebody new to photography can dissect it recreate it from the photo. The only reason I read it was due to "...and push it as far as I could" at the end of a sentence.

Where is the push? Were the highlights almost blown while the shadows almost completely black, and the push in the editing? This article strikes me a filler, because the site needs to post content.

What I find somewhat awkward is that you want to remove that highlight on your nose so much, that now it looks like you burnt your nose...

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

You should have just given the camera to a disabled stray cat and the result would have been better.