Artist Living

Inspiring Photo Recipe on Self Portraits by Beryl Young


With great excitement, I’d like to introduce you to photographer, teacher and mama Beryl Young!  Prepare to be inspired!


As a freshman in college, I had the experience of hatching, like the ugly duckling, from a timid, awkward, and quiet girl into a confident, extroverted, and beautiful young woman. I can vividly remember the defining moment when my transformation was complete. I took my roommate with me to the hair salon down the street from our dorm, and proceeded to chop off the long, frizzy, fro-like mane I had been sporting since childhood. When the stylist turned my chair around and I saw myself in the mirror, I think I gasped; the mirror revealed shiny ringlet curls that framed my face perfectly. For the first time in my life, I actually felt beautiful.

Despite the new me gazing back from the mirror and my positive new outlook, when I saw myself in photographs there was still a big disconnect. The smiling girl in the images didn’t look the same as the person in the mirror. All I saw in the photos was her double chin, or the hairs that fell out place, or the extra pounds she still had left to lose. And so began my adulthood apprehension of being in front of the camera.

Nine years later, I decided to embark on a 365 project. It meant taking a giant leap out of my comfort zone by putting myself in front of the camera day after day. The first of the 365 days was THE WORST. My husband sat on the couch next to me chuckling as I took image after image. Each time, the process was the same: I would shoot, turn the camera around, look in the viewfinder, shake my head in disapproval, and shoot again.  I was disappointed, because I wanted the world to see me as I saw myself. I wanted everyone to know the me that I walked side-by-side with every day, but I couldn’t seem to capture that me with the lens.

Over time, the act of subjecting myself to my camera lens became less frightening. It actually became a freeing experience. I began to learn the contours of my body, to correct my posture, and to discover the features I loved most about myself. It was no longer a chore to take a self-portrait, but an act of self-expression. And when we tragically lost our first daughter Bella Rose in September 2009, self portrait images were my emotional release and the way I reconnected with my broken world.

My camera didn’t have expectations. The lens didn’t require me to plaster a smile on my face and be happy. With my camera in hand I was free to visually share my story. If I wanted the world to know I was tired, I would shoot tired. If I wanted the world to know I was stressed, I would snap stressed. If I wanted the world to know I was loved, I would photograph loved.

Self-portrait images allowed me to re-discover myself and feel beautiful in photographs. It tore down walls I had built up, allowing the world to see exactly how I was feeling. Self-portraiture revealed me—to myself and to others—in entirely new ways.  When was the last time you turned your camera on you? Today I am sharing my recipe for nailing the perfect self portrait and I hope you’ll cook up something lovely with my tips and techniques. Are you ready to feel empowered? Radiant? Beautiful?

WHEN: Before you turn the camera on yourself find a quiet space and think a bit about the story you want to tell. How do you feel about YOU today? What do you like most about yourself or your life right now? What is something you dislike? Take 10 minutes to grab a journal and use the prompts above to write what’s in your soul. Writing can give so much insight into what’s going on deep inside you, and it might lend some clues as to how to best setup your self portrait and create the lighting, mood, and atmosphere that will tell your story perfectly.

PREP: Some tools I have found handy when taking self portraits are my tripod and remote timer. A tripod can give you the freedom to set up anywhere and a remote timer can allow you to take multiple shots without having to run back and forth from the camera to your shot location. However, these tools are definitely not necessary! When I upgraded camera gear last year I found my new camera too heavy for my tripod and my remote time was no longer compatible. So instead I balance my camera on a table, and either use the in-camera timer or my reflection in a mirror to achieve the self-portrait I desire.

FOR P&S USERS: Turn off your flash and put your camera in Portrait Mode to soften skin tones an achieve a nice blurry background.
FOR DSLR USERS: Turn off your flash. Select the Aperture Priority mode and dial your f-stop down to 2.8 if possible. The lower f-stop will allow for a nice blurry background and will be key to getting light in your camera and keeping your shutter clicking fast, especially if your photos are taken indoors.
COMPOSE: Are you feeling a little out of your comfort zone turning the camera on yourself? Remember you can get creative! A self-portrait does not have to include your face. Think of ways you could photograph your feet, hands, back, or other body parts to help convey your message. Also take some time to consider location. What location will help tell your story the best? Is there a special room in your home? Do you have a gorgeous backyard garden? Is there awesome morning light at the neighborhood park? Pick the location that speaks to you and your message.

CAPTURE: Set your focus in camera before you get in the frame. I visualize my image before I shoot and often use a stand-in (my husband, a stuffed toy, doll, etc…) to setup my focus. I typically focus on the eyes or face somewhere but you should also feel free to take artistic license if it helps tell your story. I’ve been known to switch my lens to manual focus and blur the entire image if I am having a particularly ‘fuzzy’ type of day.

The creative license you take is all part of the fun with this process.  Use your imagination and work to capture the YOU you’re longing for the world to see. xo.

Guest blogger, Beryl Ayn Young, serves as chief photography muse over on her personal blog and serves as teacher of photography courses aimed at nourishing the mind, body, and soul.  She believes feeding the spirit with lifelong learning, photographic healing, & a glass half full perspective. Beryl leads classes and offers mentoring aimed at teaching you how to improve your camera skills and cherish life’s journey. Come discover how photography + self exploration + editing techniques = a radiant new YOU during her upcoming photography e-course, Radiate, launching this June 2012.

*For more Photo Recipes and Tips to Change Your Photos Overnight, see Me Ra’s bestselling book “Your Baby in Pictures”.

How about the Gift of CONFIDENCE for Mother’s Day! 

We have ONE upcoming CONFIDENCE Photography Workshop for Women before we take several months off of workshops:  Minneapolis, MN!  CLICK for more juicy details!  If you need help with the cost of the workshop, such as some type of payment plan, let us know!  We love working all kinds of good things up so you can gain confidence!


  1. I have always steered away from self-portraiture, but this post has me newly motivated to change my ways. It is inspiring to hear about the power these self-portraits have had in your life.

  2. freida hall says:

    Beryl – thank you for sharing such an intimate part of you – i loved the line of yours, “For the first time in my life, I actually felt beautiful.” – so empowering and inspiring i would imagine for many women coming across this post today – fantastic & lovely. to turn the camera around on us…the ladies behind the lens… (that often!!)… what a concept (kinda makes me tense and cringe)… seeing you do & share it though makes me feel like tossing this idea around… good stuff here, much appreciation and love!

  3. sorry if this shows up 2x’s …

    but, oh my goodness, this is a beautiful post!
    thanks for sharing Beryl.
    love your workspace too!

  4. Beryl Young says:

    Thank you ladies!! It wasn’t until I started going through the archives that I realized just how many self-portraits I have!! (there has to be at least 50+ over the last 2 years). And each one bears a different meaning, a different emotion, a different feeling, a different time. It’s powerful stuff and even though at the time I hated to look at them, I am so glad I have each and every one of these now.

  5. ajira says:

    Wonderful post Beryl! I can so relate to using self-portraiture as way of exploring and expressing my emotions and mental state. I find that I’ve taken the most vulnerable and true images of myself when I’ve not been thinking about who might see them but rather focused on what I wanted to say or how I was feeling/thinking at the time. I don’t have a remote so always use a timer or reflective surfaces and so far so good. I do dream of what a timer would allow me to do though. 😀

  6. Fabulous post – beautiful lady! I have this linked to my blogging-photography post today on self portraits, thanks for sharing!