The Self-Portrait Challenge

self-portrait challenge
#1497. Kodak Ektar 100, Mamiya C220.
From time to time, I will take self-portraits. Often it’s because I have no idea of what to photograph. I’m easily bored of photographing the same subjects and locations over and over again. There are only so many times that I can visit the same places and vary the point of view or use a different camera and film combination. After a while, I’d rather just stay home than take the same boring photographs. And so when I find myself stuck at home unable to satisfy my creativity, I will turn to self-portraiture.

I was in the grip of boredom a few years ago when I decided that a photography challenge might rekindle my creativity. Most of the challenges I looked at online were not very appealing to me, so I invented my own. I decided I would try a creative self-portrait challenge.

self-portrait challenge
#1498. Kodak Ektar 100, Mamiya C220.
I searched the Internet and scoured books on self-portraiture for inspiration and, along the way, I discovered and fell in love with the photographic works of Cindy Sherman and Natalie Dybisz (aka Miss Aniela). Armed with ideas, I spent a week brainstorming a list of different concepts for self-portraits I could take. Finally, I created a list of 31 ideas and shuffled them into a rough order, then began with some of the easier ideas for self-portraits.

These photos are from #2: Hands of my Self-Portrait Challenge. They turned out a little blurry, but otherwise I think they’re okay. Taking self-portraits with a manual-focus camera isn’t easy, especially when you’re using a shallow depth of field. I often used my wife as a stand-in to focus the camera, and then after I focused on my wife, I would trip the shutter timer and quickly switch places with her. Sometimes I nailed the positioning and sometimes I didn’t.

self-portrait challenge
#1499. Kodak Ektar 100, Mamiya C220.
Unfortunately, I only made it through to #15 on my list before abandoning the project. While some of the photos turned out okay, most never lived up to my original vision and I lost interest. I don’t shoot self-portraits out of vanity. For me, it’s all about the creative and technical challenge when you have to be both photographer and subject. Then there’s the added complexity of using film. The results can’t be improved with Photoshop. Everything has to be done in camera and therefore requires a lot more thought, care, and patience. At some point, I will probably try the self-portrait challenge again — maybe after my skills as a photographer have improved… or my boredom returns.

Here is the list I created in full for those wishing to try the self-portrait challenge themselves:

The Self-Portrait Challenge

The goal is to take 31 creative self-portraits in 31 days using the following themes:

  1. Routine
  2. Hands
  3. Formal
  4. Reflection
  5. Close-up
  6. Multiple exposure
  7. What you wore today
  8. Breakfast
  9. Light painting
  10. Exercise
  11. With a prop
  12. Low angle
  13. Your shoes
  14. Something cold
  15. Instant or pinhole[1]While not originally part of this self-portrait challenge, I have shot many creative self-portraits on Fuji Instax Mini if you’re interested.
  1. Flowers
  2. Emotion
  3. Film noir
  4. Sleep
  5. Colorful
  6. Silhouette
  7. From a distance
  8. Motion
  9. Mood
  10. A memory
  11. Scene from a movie
  12. Water
  13. Dirt
  14. Absurd
  15. As someone else
  16. Hidden


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