In a group I participate in, everyone was challenged to produce a selfie.

My immediate response was typical — I don’t shoot people; I don’t shoot portraits. I
shoot landscapes and nature and birds and wildlife. I especially don’t shoot selfies.

But… this was a group challenge, and it was intended to push us out of our comfort zone, and so I decided to take a step back and think through my reaction.

The bottom line, I just don’t like how I look in a photo. It’s not a rational reaction, and when I thought about it, I realized it was almost phobic, and that it was time to sort it out and try to move past it.

So, self-analysis time: I took a quick selfie, put it up on the monitor, and started asking myself what I didn’t like about it. Easy answer: my weight, and how pictures tend to emphasize the double chin. The second thing that came to mind?

That I’m bald. It wasn’t something I’d really thought about, but I miss my hair. And in retrospect, what this is really representing is that in my head, I really prefer to think of myself being the 35 year old me (with hair), not the 60 year old me (with vast swathes of missing hair).

On a technical level, there’s a third problem with a lot of of my face: I tend to have deep set eyes, and if I get shadows underneath, I end up looking like a zombie raccoon.

I can’t fix being older, but I can get over feeling annoyed at it. I will always have raccoon eyes and that double chin, but those are things you can work on in your positioning and lighting. So I really have no excuse to try and get a selfie that doesn’t piss me off, right?

Right. I had some time, so I hauled out the phone and started experimenting.

I have this new ring light. I bought it partly as a key light for the video work I keep putting off (because headshots on video are basically motion selfies. See, there’s a practical reason to get over this, too), and as a light for the tabletop photography setup I’m putting working on (almost done tweaking. this time for sure. Really! maybe)

so I decided to work on find a pose I liked that minimized the double chin, and light it to fix the eyes, all without simply shifting the point of attention to the bald pate. I seriously considered a hat, and in fact when I was developing the now-dead Youtube channel, that was part of the testing even though I didn’t really think about why — but I’m not going to stop being bald, and it’s time to accept reality. Or even embrace it. Maybe I’ll get my logo tattooed up there. (no, nope. not serious).

So, after an hour of tweaking and experimenting and about 30 tries, I did an image I kinda like. The double chin isn’t overly pronounced — nobody will mistake me for 150 pounds, but it doesn’t scream for attention, either. It’s pretty realistic. The eyes came out okay, too. you can see the troughs, but they don’t scream “haven’t slept in a month” like they sometimes do with shadowing. And the baldness? I’ll get used to it. it looks okay here.

technical hint: shift the head forward on the neck and look up, then shoot down slightly with the camera a bit above.

There was one fairly large technical glitch I had to sort out — the challenge of lights and reflections in my glasses. That took then longest to tweak to acceptabiliy, and you can actually see the ringlight as a little catch light in the eye, too.

So yeah, this is okay. And as you notice above, I also did a personal animoji, and if you follow me on social nets, you might notice it’s replacing my old avatar images on many of them where I used to use photos of mine instead.

I might as well not just get used to the face, but embrace it. I’m certainly not going to get my hair back any time soon, and I do carry it around wherever I go.

Now, I don’t see this as a final portrait, but it’s a good prototype of one. I really need to haul out the fuji and so some more formal setups, and probably also do portraits outside that include the shoulder and another set that are waist up. That one will be fun to position. (turn slightly sideways and cock your hips. It’s so slimming)

But more seriously, there’s a lesson in this for all of us. Whenever you react to something in photography (or life) with a quick emotional “nope!”, step back and ask why. What’s really there is a big flashing sign that reads “now leaving your comfort zone!” and our normal reaction is to avoid going there. Stay where it’s safe.

The problem, is going outside your comfort zone is where you learn new things and grow your skills. One big self-criticism of my photography over the last couple of years was a growing “nope!” zone where I had specific things I did, and a strengthening unwillingness to move out of that. Ultimately, I think it was part of the reason my froze up and I started hating what I was producing — it was all the same and derivative of what I’d already done, and so why bother?

So I am trying to remind myself to recognize those “Nopes” and understand them better, to look at how to set them aside and grow beyond them, and use them to challenge myself and grow my skills in new directions. And sometimes learn a bit about myself along the way.

Never a bad thing, that. Right?

So… don’t take “nope” as a answer. Take it as a challenge, and see what happens.