Achieve Focus When Shooting a Close-Up Self-Portrait - dummies

Achieve Focus When Shooting a Close-Up Self-Portrait

By Thomas Clark

Achieving a perfectly placed focal point can be difficult when creating a self-portrait. You have to deal with all of the factors discussed in this chapter, without being behind the camera. A certain amount of control is taken away from you as a photographer in this situation.

The good news is there are a bunch of options to successfully get the shot you want without having someone else operate the camera for you.

The first thing you need to do is to place your camera on a tripod. This keeps it stable, and frees up your hands to enable you to pose for your shot. Secondly, choose the option that works best for your shot:

  • Use an inanimate object as a stand-in. To do so, place something (like a light stand, lamp, or a cactus, etc.) in the area where you want to take your close-up.

    Compose your shot and place your point of focus on the stand-in object (if you used auto-focus then switch to the manual mode once focus has been achieved so it doesn’t move around when you press the shutter again to take the shot).

    Now tie a string to your tripod head and stretch it out to the stand-in at the point in which you placed your focus. Mark the string where it touches the object, and that will let you know exactly how far your face should be from the camera when you’re having your close-up taken.

    Use the camera’s self-timer to give yourself some time after pressing the shutter, and get into position. You can use a cable release if you have one. After using the string to get your exact distance, drop it before the shutter is released. Re-measure your distance with the string before each shot to ensure you’re positioned correctly. You can now worry about your expression rather than focus.

  • Use your cable release or remote shooting device in order to auto-focus. Be sure to set your camera to focus in the center of the frame. Position yourself in front of the camera with the cable release in one hand. If you want your focal point to be positioned on your eye, then place your eye in the center of the lens.

    Use the cable release to auto-focus and to take the shot. Your eye should be in focus. By allowing some extra edge room in your frame, you can crop the image off-center so the eye is no longer placed right in the middle of your composition.


100mm, 1/160, f/2.8, 100

  • Use a flashlight. Most cameras offer an option for all auto-focus hot spots to be active at once. This causes the lens to focus on the nearest object, or the area with the most contrast. By holding the flashlight right next to your eye and shining it directly at the camera, you should cause the auto-focus to pick up on that spot.

    With this technique you can auto-focus on yourself without having to be in the center of the frame. When you achieve focus, remove the flashlight from your frame and take the shot.