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Every Photo is a Self-Portrait

Sometimes, when the sun is to my back, it can be difficult to avoid having my shadow intrude into the shot I'm trying to take, turning it into a sort of self-portrait, if you will. But the truth is, every photo is always a self-portrait of the photographer who shot it.

I always find it interesting to go somewhere shooting with a group and then compare the results. Two people can be standing right next to each other and end up with entirely different images of the same subject. I'm not saying that one image was better than the others either. Everyone's images can be equally stellar and at the same time also quite different. One may choose a longer focal length and concentrate just on a small detail of a scene. Another may compose an image with a wider angle that places that detail in context. One may an entirely different detail of interest. To each his own.

American photographer Minor White is on record as having said that "all photographs are self-portraits." This is the earliest attribution of the quote I've been able to find, but the idea surely has earlier roots. Still, no matter who first noticed it, there's a certain truth this idea. Every photographer develops their own way of expressing things.

Every photo you take is the result of numerous choices. From the choice of lens and aperture, shutter speed and other technical choices, to the framing and other compositional choices, you can't help influencing the shots you take. That's what being a photographer is all about. You are an active participant in creating your photos, and it shows. Even your choice of subject matter says a lot about you both as a photographer and as a person.

Most current smart phones have both front-facing and rear-facing cameras since selfies are all the rage these days. But every camera faces both ways, even when they have just the single lens facing forward. Somehow, a camera can see into your soul and record your every thought and action. Whatever you decide is important and however you decide to express that in a given image is there to be seen in the result. If your enjoying what you are shooting, the evidence will probably show in the images you take. If you're not really not that into it, the images will likely not have much vitality either.

Every photo really is a self-portrait.

So, apart from how cool this idea is of every image being a self-portrait, what are you supposed to do with it? This is where things really get interesting. Since there's no way to avoid having your shadow present in every image you take (figuratively speaking), why not use this to your advantage? Look for ways to make your photography "your" photography. Express yourself in your images. If you find you like a particular technique, push it to the limits and see what you can do with it. I've long been fascinated with images shot low to the ground. Since first realizing this, I've tried to find ever better ways to hold the camera at ground level as well as ways to get my face at that level so I can see what I'm doing. It can present an interesting a fun challenge.

I can give you other examples as well, but that's not my point. What I mean is that you should find out your own thing, whatever it is that interests you, and look for ways to express it in your work. Since it's unavoidable for your influence to show in the photos you take, go with it. Take that idea to its limits and make the best self-portraits you can.

Date posted: January 8, 2017


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