I was recently asked to write a guest blog post for one of my favorite photographers, Lisa Haukom of The Goldenbrand Studio, on the subject of self portraits. What made me (1) say 'yes' and (2) light up at the same time (and within seconds) was the fact that this topic is rarely chatted about amongst friends, business partners or spouses/partners. We talk about what to wear for family photoshoots, corporate head shots and company branding photoshoots, so why not self portraits?
Lisa is a master at creating the scene, mood and, of course, swoon-worthy images for her clients. She also teaches others (beautifully, I might add) to take the reins and shoot their own self portraits in her Self Portrait Studio membership. I am proud to say I am a member and most of the images on my website were taken by yours truly.
Once you wrap your head around the possibility of taking self portraits, you'll want to pin this article and refer back to it over and over again.
As a wardrobe stylist, you might think I’m all about the outfit. And while there is a process, it may surprise you what takes precedence.
So if you’re stressing over what to wear, don’t. Let me take that weight off of your shoulders.
To me, what comes first is the vibe. As you begin your self portrait journey, it’s important to keep your big picture in mind. What do you want to convey? The emotion behind the image matters. When you lean into evoking specific emotions and they align seamlessly with your messaging, you will achieve resonance. In big ways.
Just as there are many sides to our personality, same goes for our style expression. If it’s authority you’re after, pick a power pose (think masculine energy) and keep your outfit tailored. Want authority + glam? Keep the same pose and whip out some sequins. When you want a more playful or whimsical outcome, choose lightweight fabrics that flow. And if it’s as simple as being seen as approachable, stick to monochromatic clothing and ensure your pose is open (body) and soft (where you feel at ease versus stiff).
Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty. What lights you up? What draws you in? What do you want to recreate?
Please note, when recreating images (and outfits), you don’t have to be literal. I don’t want you giving up on something you love because you believe you don’t have the right look. I guarantee I could waltz into your closet and find plenty to choose from.
Be flexible and keep an open mind.
Let’s look at three scenarios: prints, solids, and a mix of both.
This is the eye candy category. I love the energy of cool patterns and textures. You can approach this three ways — print in clothing, print in background or print in everything.
Example one: The model wears a geometric patterned dress and is placed within color blocked solids. I love how the greenery softens the strong lines in the pattern of her dress. Think about taking a print dress of yours and finding a place in your home or outside that showcases similar coloring in strong solids. And one solid color is beautiful, too.
Example two: The model is wearing two solid colors placed in front of a print backdrop. How ingenious are the newspaper clippings? Talk about something everyone has access to. The newspaper clippings purposely blend with the model’s clothing choice. While the background is busy, the lines and colors are balanced.
Example three: Leave it to Alice + Olivia to deliver a punch every single time. With prints everywhere, the color palette is identical, making it easier on the eye. Notice the use of solids as separators of the prints. You could recreate this by taking two prints in the same color way, or the same color and pattern (think blue/white stripe blouse with wider set blue/white stripe pants) and sit on a patterned or textured piece of furniture. Or find a cool wall instead (chevron would be fun with those stripes).
Never underestimate the power of solid color. It can stir a higher emotion count than print, and that’s because it gives your brain plenty of time to catch up with your eyes. There are also three options to consider — dark clothing against a dark background, light clothing against a light background, and 50/50.
Example one: I love a good mood-setting portrait. This is about as easy as it gets from a clothing standpoint — black turtleneck against a black wall. The purpose of this scene is contemplation. Think about the ways your messaging can be wrapped around this.
Example two: Attention-grabbing can be done in a soft way, and this is it. While the pose takes practice, you don’t have to overthink your clothes — white jeans with a white top will do the trick. You set the focal point when you explore light solids. This model evokes a bold kind of grace. And the imperfect backdrop makes her approachable.
Example three: While you have to be careful with high-contrasting colors in an outfit when you’re with others, you don’t have to worry about it when you're shooting solo. Notice how the model uses solid accessories to tie everything together and the light colored shoes keep the eye where it’s supposed to be — on her face.
Shaking things up allows you to take on a persona you may not easily be able to grab hold of. It adds allure and it gives you an opportunity to spread your wings in different ways. Let’s explore mixing prints on a light background, mixed solids on a print backdrop, and dark print on a dark solid background.
Example one: Pairing a few prints together always makes me happy. This works on the model because she used two different scales (medium and large) and two different patterns. Because black and white is in the skirt, it’s perfect to pull into the top, yet still allowing the skirt center stage. She is anchored by neutrals and solids — shoes, bag and background. How about that background! Did you notice the pattern play here? Those geometric lines act as another print — vertical and horizontal stripes. It works beautifully!
Example two: The lines and angles in the print floor against the round tables, chairs and glasses in a warm neutral palette support the model while allowing her to shine, in a very strong way. And she shines for many reasons: (1) the obvious … sequins leggings, (2) her graphic tee is having a conversation with the floor and (3) her neutral accessories mimic the room. Then there’s her power pose. Consider any patterned rugs in your home. Can you build an outfit around the color palette? Perhaps add in some juxtaposition as this ‘glam meets down-to-business’ shot does brilliantly.
Example three: This image is all about mood setting. And while you may think this is simple, keep in mind the eye only has one place to go, so it has to be right. The black print dress, black boots and minimal jewelry against the dark background means all eyes are on the model’s body language. We connect with her. We could be her. Soft and approachable, even in a dark palette.
While there are many options to explore, it all begins with the vibe. Everything is wrapped around it.
When it’s just you and a blank canvas, you have the freedom to play.
And please play! You hold the power. Remember, if you have clothes in your closet, you’re good.