Sunday, April 28, 2013

Photo: Me

Self-portrait, 27 April 2013
I took this black and white self-portrait yesterday morning. I had been out late the night before for a friend's birthday party, but woke early because that's how the body plays tricks on you. Everything in my immediate vicinity smelled like I'd been french kissing a smoker (we were never allowed to claim our party room because the previous party didn't leave, so we moved to the smoking porch). Before I'd even taken a shower, I threw on a different shirt and took the picture.

Because my camera phone isn't awesome but is very convenient, I take nearly 100% of my photos with it. When I do that, however, I need to make allowances. For example, one of the best places I've found to take pictures are in one or the other of my bathrooms. Undecorated walls of a neutral color, mirrors to help me guide my camera, good forward lighting -- an economical portrait studio.

But since I take most of my self portraits in the same rooms, I try to disguise that fact to the extent I can. I shot this with the vanity lights at a strong angle to my face, hoping to get a nice left/right cast of the shadows. I always try to minimize the extent to which any "bathroomy" stuff shows in the background, but you can see the edge of the shower curtain over my left shoulder.

In-camera, I selected a diffusion effect that slightly blurs anything not in a central portrait area (a cheat for the camera having only a fixed lens unable to properly apply depth of focus). I oriented it portrait style because I've got one of those heads that looks out of place in wide ratio pictures; 'tis a defect I shall bear to the end of days.

For post-processing, I cropped out the evidence that the photo was off center: having to hold the camera in such a way that I cannot see the preview means a fair bit of "I think it's straight!?" I used a one-stop filter that added the dark vignette and applied additional grain, partially to hide the fact that I'd accidentally shot the photo with Auto-ISO (which invariably means "high ISO" and lots of digital noise). I tweaked the contrast and shadow levels to crush my shirt into black (it's actually textured and earth tones) while toning down a bit of the overexposure on my forehead and nose. Finally, I boosted the sharpness overall, to increase the "spiky" look of my facial hair.

One way to tell this was taken early in the morning is that I don't have my glasses on. I'm the sort of person who wears my glasses all day, every day. Not because I need them to see clearly (although I do), but because if I put them down, I'm bound to lose them. This shot was taken before I'd even put my glasses on for that morning. I hadn't showered, I hadn't even really bothered to comb my hair.

When I showed this photo to a friend, she was surprised. "How could you take a photo before you'd showered?" I told her that nobody's ever going to be able to smell the stale smoke that I was rife with, and the world will be a better place for that omission. But she was put off that I might take a well-prepared photo of myself when I didn't look my best.

That just isn't my photographic goal. I'd rather have a shot that encompasses a certain mood or look. If I look good, that's fine. If I look real, that's much better. I don't take pictures knowingly thinking that I look awful in them, but I also don't retouch stray hairs, facial lines, eye colors, or weird accidental things. For example, if you look on the photo Me's right temple, you can see one of the funny silver hairs I have growing in my sideburns. I've only got one or two on each side, but they're hilarious because they're unlike anything else on my head. Who would remove a detail like that?

At some point, I'll have to group up all the shots I've taken of myself. I don't think I snap one very often, but I'm starting to suspect I do it more frequently than I think. Maybe it's a reaction to the time of my master's degree, where professors would have photos from their fancy head shots taken decades ago, but it no longer looked very much like the manner in which they arrived for work in the morning. "Why does he have hair? Was that from the 70's?"

A fun aside: while I was editing this photo, I decided to black out my pupils, removing that little eye light in each one. It was very creepy. There must be something in that little glint that gives a life and vibrancy to a picture, because without it, I felt like the photo didn't represent me very well.

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