The Ultimate Guide to Taking Photos of Yourself for Instagram

So here's a thing you might not know: nearly all of my blog and Instagram photos were taken by me, using a tripod and a remote camera shutter. 

I do this partly because I feel very anxious about asking my friends and loved ones to take 20 photos of me in slightly different poses, and also because my Type A ass is a huge subscriber to the "if you want something done well, do it yourself" philosophy, for better or worse.

But since I've been working to add more photos of myself into my Instagram feed, and because I've always loved fashion and want to share outfits, I've had to think more outside the box. 

In the last few months especially, I've discovered and cultivated some tips and tricks that have really helped elevate my Instagram game. You won't be seeing any lame mirror selfies here, babes.

Ready to free your Instagram Boyfriend and take some bomb photos of yourself on your own time? You're in the right place.


Equipment you need.

A tripod.

A tripod is an absolute must-have for shooting your own photos. You can get a really inexpensive one that will do the trick perfectly. I have this one from Amazon. Get one that is an adjustable height and allows you to fold it up for easy transportation.

A camera.

I won't lie to you, your life will be 10000% easier if you have a DSLR or other wifi enabled camera that's not your iPhone. When you have a camera like this, you can download a companion app that will allow you to remotely control the shutter on the camera as well as see exactly what you're taking a photo of - aka, yourself!

If you absolutely can't afford any kind of wifi-enabled camera, you can use your phone with the self timer, but it means you'll have to run back and forth and take much longer trying to get the right angle. I used to do this all the time before I got my Canon Rebel and discovered the app, and it sucked. It would take me an hour to get a semi-decent photo, and half the time it wouldn't be focused in the right area or half of my would be out of frame.

All of this to say - start saving up now for a nicer camera. It doesn't even have to be a DSLR, just make sure the camera you buy can connect to wifi and you're golden!


General photography tips.

Before you can get into the nitty-gritty of posing yourself and finding a perfect background, it's imperative that you understand the basics of good photography.

We don't have the time to dive deeply into every facet of photography, and frankly I'm not qualified to teach you that, but I can tell you the basics.

Good (natural) lighting.

I mean, it's a must. If you don't have good lighting, just wait to shoot. I know it's hard, but I've spent so much time trying to rescue too-dark photos from gloomy days when I should have just waited.

You always always want to use natural light. No matter what, artificial light, such as indoor lamps or lights, will never look good. It makes everything harsh and orange and washed out and it's just bad y'all.

For extra bonus points, shoot photos in the golden hour, which is the hour directly after sunrise or the hour directly before the sun sets. It effuses everything with a soft, indirect golden glow that makes every photo look 10x better. 

Rule of thirds.

This is the concept that photos look more dynamic when the subject occupies a third or two thirds of a photo. It's a bit hard to explain with words, but imagine your photo is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. Your subject should always be off to the side or in the top or bottom third or two-thirds of the photo, as opposed to directly in the center. 

If you're using your phone, you can adjust the settings to see a grid when shooting photos that will help you better visualize the rule of thirds. 


Pay close attention to what is in the background of your photo. Generally speaking, simpler backgrounds will look better than super cluttered backgrounds. Also, softly blurred backgrounds will always make you (the subject) stand out and really pop. You can achieve this effect easily using built-in settings on your camera or phone (hello portrait mode) if you don't trust yourself to adjust the F-stop yet.

Utilize movement.

Mimicking motion and movement in your photos will always look more dynamic than just sitting stock still and staring ahead. (I'm super guilty of this all the time, I know, I'm working on it). This can be as simple as walking forward towards the camera, shifting back and forth slightly while shooting, playing with your hair, or moving your arms and legs around.


Using a remote shutter or self timer.

Like I mentioned before, I use Canon's CameraConnect app to remotely control my camera and see exactly what I'm taking a picture of. This has been an absolute lifesaver as it allows me to adjust the focus and zoom without having to run back and forth between my tripod constantly.

It's pretty straightforward to figure out the app, so I won't go into too much detail. If you don't have a Canon, do some research as I believe there are third-party apps you can download that will act in the same manner for any wifi-enabled camera.

If you don't have a wifi enabled camera and are stuck with a self timer, here are a few ways to make it less painful.

Use a mirror.

I used to sometimes prop up my full-length mirror behind my camera and tripod so I could at least sort of get an idea of where I was in the frame and what I was taking a photo of. It's not ideal, but it's something.

Mark your spot.

If that's not available, my suggestion is to set up your scene and tripod so everything is in order. Then place a piece of tape or something else on the wall or area where you want to end up in the frame. That way you can aim for that when you push the button and set off the timer. It will take some trial and error, but is a tiny bit more effective than just pushing the button, diving into the frame and hoping for the best. 

Use a stand-in to focus.

My biggest issue with using my camera on a self-timer was that it would never focus on the right thing aka my face. This probably won't be as big an issue with a phone, since they usually have autofocus, but we all know that doesn't always work.

If you're having issues focusing on something, put a placeholder where you want to be in the photo. This could be a pillow, stuffed animal, etc. I used to use my dress form since it was about my height and human shaped. Then I could focus on that, push the button and shove it out of the way and, again, hope for the best. 


Finding (and creating) scenes.

I'm much more into quote-on-quote lifestyle photography than just straight outfit photos. Really all that means is that in most of my photos I'm doing something else like sitting on my couch or drinking coffee or laying in bed as opposed to just posing in front of a white wall to showcase my clothes (not that there's anything wrong with that).

This does require a bit more imagination in regards to setting up a scene and creating something more visually interesting. For the most part, I just use what's in my house, but sometimes I get a bit more in-depth, either moving around furniture or decor or creating little "scenes" with random stuff. (Like, I've created an entire pillow fort setup for a single photo before).

It's easier to "find" scenes out in public where things are just kind of set up for you, but I never leave my house (more on that in a minute) so most of my photos are taken indoors, in the same environment. 

I like to use my bed a lot because it's a neutral, bright white space. For other kinds of shots, I use my desk, record stand, couch and coffee table, or bookshelf as a background or setting. 


Posing tips.

I'm not a model or a professional photographer, so I'm not about to tell you how to go about posing yourself for photos. Instead, I'll say to experiment with what looks and feels right to you and go from there. I usually end up turning my head away from the camera and smirking. Like, every photo. 

If you're totally at a loss, scroll through Instagram and Pinterest and save photos of people whose poses you like (just don't copy people's content, it's not cool!).


Shooting in public.

These tips are for the most part hypothetical, since I still haven't managed to tackle my intense anxiety about strangers staring at me as I pose in front of a tripod on the street. But I'm hopeful I will get over it one day so I don't have to keep taking photos in my apartment. However, I'll share my tips from the few times I have done it.

Get over yourself.

Listen, it's going to feel weird and awkward and sometimes people are going to give you funny looks or worse, ask you what you're doing. To make myself feel better, I used to come up with elaborate stories about why I was taking photos of myself - I'm an art student, I'm taking a photography class - but uh, no one ever actually asked. Whatever.

The best thing you can do is to find your groove and ignore them. I promise it's not actually as weird as you think. I once saw someone walking an iguana on a leash. You're not the weirdest thing on the streets.

Find some go-to poses.

Since you will probably feel uncomfortable at first, and want to get it over with as soon as possible, I'd suggest finding and mastering some go-to poses to use out in public that you know will show off your full outfit or get whatever shot you're looking for quickly. Just experiment and have fun! 

Go at unpopular times.

I now live in a city which means there are literally always hordes of people everywhere, but no matter where you live, you're bound to find times and locations that are less crowded. Usually early mornings are a safe bet. When I lived in a college town, I would go to campus super early on Saturday mornings because it would always be completely deserted. Find what works for you!

Be mindful of your surroundings.

Don't trespass onto people's private property, don't stand in the middle of an intersection and hold up traffic, and generally just don't inconvenience anyone. If in doubt, find someone to ask. Also, I don't know why you'd be taking glamor shots inside of a store, but if you do, just know that most stores frown upon people taking photos or video on the premises and you will probably be asked to knock it off or leave. 

Phew! That was a doozy of a post. If you made it this far, kudos to you! If you have any more questions or suggestions, drop a comment below or hit me up on Instagram, I'm always happy to chat!