How to get self-portraits in focus

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by sarah_lange|1, Oct 25, 2016.

  1. Hi,

    I have my D800 set up on a tripod, along with a corded shutter trigger, I can't seem to get my self portraits properly focused. What are the
    techniques for doing this?

    Thank you!
     
  2. I'm using a zone focused camera for mine.
    Maybe you can tether your Nikon to a PC or tablet and focus in life view on that screen?
     
  3. SCL

    SCL

    I typically determine where I want to be in the portrait and place a small piece of painters tape on that spot so I can return exactly to the spot. I make sure the lens is focuses on that spot (AF or manual), step into the picture and snap away. I usually rely on DOF at about f5.6 to help out and usually use a IR remote trigger rather than a corded one. If I'm using an older body (say an old Leica) I use the self timer. I also prefer a bounce flash to ensure I have sufficient light to use the aperture of choice. If I'm using AF, I usually do a test shot to ensure lighting, etc is ok.
     
  4. To shoot yourself in a low contrast situation with autofocus ...
    1. arrange for a small, bright flash/torch (call it "signal flash"; few of the popular brands are Maglite, Fenix, Surefire);
    2. set up the (photography) lighting as desired;
    3. set the camera to AF and & on timer, connected via wired or wireless remote firing mechanism;
    4. turn on the signal flash; move it, facing the camera, to align with your eye;
    5. while the signal flash is on, fire the timer-delayed shutter;
    6. optional: move your hand & the signal flash out of the way;
    7. freeze (or, not if that's what you really want) 'til the shutter actually fires.
     
  5. It can depend on whether you're shooting a full body or head & shoulder shot when it comes to choosing 55 to 80mm vs 35mm in giving you a significant amount of depth of field to establish camera to subject distance so autofocus doesn't meter on your clothes vs your eyes which is what you want. The eyes are the middle safety zone for DOF sharpness wiggle room.
    Autofocus should be set to Spot Meter and place your eyes right in line with the center of the lens for a head & shoulder close up shot. You're going to find depending on the focal length of the lens and distance to subject if you don't center your head or body for a fixed spot your focus metering set to other matrix style scene sampling will pick an area of your body or head to focus on you may not want. Also you'll most likely have to increase distance of subject from lens to allow cropping if you happen to get too close where it cuts off the top of your head or any other composition challenges.
    If you're shooting with any sort of flash either front or off to the side or bounced, a sharp look should not be a problem when using f8-f4 aperture settings. If shooting wide open like f2 or wider this will complicate the focus metering.
    My PN gallery has my self portraits shot & processed in Raw which I did hand held, no flash, using household lights, slow shutter speeds, some using a 12 second timer. I had AutoFocus activation button switched to another button (called 'OK' on my camera) separate from the shutter release button.
    For full disclosure those shots took a lot of trial and error (chimping...wore out my batteries) in both placing myself in the frame compositionally and staying within a decent DOF range for sharp focus (OK button used) on my eyes. Most were cropped to hide lens barrel induced cranial distortion (big forehead/small chin) from using 55-35mm focal lengths at arms length.
    Cropping can be your friend when doing self portraits.
     
  6. SCL

    SCL

    Tim's advice is right on the button. Click on my name above and my PN photo is an example of my results using the technique I explained.
     
  7. I forgot to add 35mm will give a greater DOF sharpness wiggle room over 55 to 80mm depending on subject distance to lens and aperture setting (within 5ft from subject more or less). I settle on f/8 due to it being the sharpness sweet spot for most lenses.
    However, the farther back you have to get from subject with longer lenses to do full body shots allows more DOF wiggle room than head & shoulder shots at the same long focal length given an f/8 aperture setting. Each wider aperture setting will tend to shave off about 1/4 in. of DOF.
    That Nikon D800 has a full frame sensor so that's also going to affect fitting subject within frame at a given focal length and distance which will affect DOF but I don't know by how much. You'll have to experiment.
     
  8. Thanks very much everyone. That's very helpful. I think I need to get something vertical to focus on, manual, and then try to get as close to that as I can and push it out of the way? If I use the remote cord with autofocus there's no telling if it's focusing on my nose or eyes or shoulder. Hence the adequate dof, as you say.
    Tim, when you say "place your eyes right in line with the center of the lens....." how do you place your eyes there? Do you look at the lens and eyeball it and try to get aligned with the lens? Not sure how to place my eyes in that line since my head will be in front of the lens and so I can't look thru the view finder.
    Thank you again to everyone for your advice.
     
  9. The closer the camera is (as in my case arm's length) the more careful and precise when fitting in frame especially if you've leveled the camera on a tripod. What I had to do hand held is look for the center of the lens where I see the aperture hole dead center from faint light coming in from the mirror through the viewfinder. You may not have this with your camera.
    I had several reshoots because I was trying to get my head and mainly face to fit somewhat centered in the frame. There's a kind of bowled mirror effect throwing things off where any slight move left/right/up/down and half my head is in the frame. I chimped the LCD preview, made slight move of camera with my hand & arm and looked dead center at that aperture hole. That worked the best.
    This won't work or will be difficult to see to adjust the farther back the lens is to subject especially body shots. And I should've not told you about the focal lengths because now that you're using a full frame camera all that is just going to confuse things. Use the previews to fit yourself in the frame the way you want and if you see bowled mirror type distortion change distance and/or focal length.
    35mm on my APS-C sized sensor framing of subject is going to look different on a full frame in how much you fit within the frame at a certain distance without adding bowled mirror effect distortion.
    This can be made much easier if you had a friend or someone as a stand-in. That's what they do in the movies.
     
  10. Thanks again Tim! What I am learning here is that there is no magic bullet or foolproof trick, just educated guessing and trial and error and keeping settings like aperture and crop sufficient to allow for imprecise focussing that may not be exactly where you want it. I guess getting a shallow DOF with a self-portrait without assistant is not easy, unless you just take a million shots and hope one is focused on the eyes.
     
  11. SCL

    SCL

    Hi Sarah - I love experimenting and over the years have found several things which may be helpful to you in your quest for the "ultimate selfie". First is to ensure you have a non-distracting background - by that I mean that if you are using AF, the background is well out of the potential focus point, and that you are using only 1 point of focus. If you are using manual focus not an issue. The 2nd point, especially if you plan to use narrow DOF and manual focus is to figure out exactly where your eyes should be. A useful tool is a cheap styrofoam wig head with eyes drawn on it, mounted on a tripod. You adjust the eye level of the head to your eye level and drop a plumb line down from the center column...mark the spot on the floor(or other surface) with a piece of tape. and measure how far the eyes of the head are in front on that spot. now measure (side view) how far your eyes are from the enter of your head. This will tell you exactly where to stand. Lighting is important...if you don't have a modeling mirror to look into, you may need to do a test shot or two. Lastly, we always think we have the proper expression on our faces, but rarely do. A modeling mirror may help or, again, a series of shots may be necessary. Another tool I've found useful is (on my digital camera) the intervalometer for a series of shots. An simple example of all these put together is from my "Grumpy" series.
    00eCeg-566108384.jpg
     
  12. SCL

    SCL

    In my "Artist" series, I wanted a different look so switched to a longer focal length lens and reduced the DOF. Also, made the decision for the eyes to be just slightly out of the range of sharp focus. With a little experimentation, you can have a lot of fun and produce some striking photos. My family has gotten used to some of my shenandigans and we all have a good laugh while I have the benefit of learning different techniques.
    00eCel-566108684.JPG
     
  13. Interesting samples, Stephen. That is a really pronounced improvement in the perception of your portrait on the second "Artist" shot. I see you get the same extreme change as I do in proportion and geometry of your entire face to where you look like a different person.
    I've been in heated arguments in the past with other photographers that what I'm seeing is perspective but my experience using a precise flat field enlarging camera for the commercial press businesses I worked, which does not exhibit this distortion, tells me there's something else contributing to this look.
    My gripe about my self portrait is that the camera system along with distance makes my forehead huge if I do a full or half body composition with the camera positioned level with my hips at 55mm focal length due to my head being close to the top of a vertical frame. But at arm's length at 35mm on an APS-C sensor DSLR it makes my forehead narrower by comparison.
    I believe this is the reason fashion photographers shoot full body shots of their models standing up and stepping way back where the camera is level to the model's head and using a much longer focal length.
     
  14. I would use MANUAL focus on something that is temporarily positioned where your face would be.
    That would eliminate the AF issue.
    Sometimes AF just creates more problems, so turn it off where appropriate.
     
  15. SCL

    SCL

    I'm a widower & the kid & grandkids have left the nest - leaving me with either my cats or me. An interesting dilemma when I want to concentrate on different things relating to portraits. So the experiments periodically go on...especially if I'm bored :)
     
  16. Remote + timer?
     
  17. Thanks again everyone. Stephen, those are fantastic self-portraits. Thank you for your tips. The Styrofoam head is a great idea.
    Nish, I do have a self-timer function as well as a cord that's long enough to reach. I think that has timer function too. Thank you for the manual suggestion Gary.
     
  18. Need a bit of stuff for my technique, but it works. I have a bust of Julius Caesar, I studied Latin so translating his Gallic Wars explains his bust. When I set it on a wooden stool, I can position myself beside him on an adjustable stool to get my eyes precisely at his level. With camera on tripod at 5.6 or 8 for decent dof, I auto focus on him then go to manual focus to lock. A piece of gaffer tape on the floor beneath him is where i place my adjusted stool. Depending on how energetic, I either set the timer and jump to the stool or for more precise work either use a remote trigger or tether and place the monitor where I can see it. Then use a remote trigger. I haven't tried live view, but that would be super efficient.
     
  19. I stand in front of my G1X it never fails.
    https://flic.kr/p/Rzu56W
     

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