Self-Portraiture with Platypod Ultra & Photographer Gilmar Smith

By Gilmar Smith

Back at the end of 2011, when I started playing around with my camera, I fell in love with self-portraiture. When you're starting with photography, you always have this urge to photograph people. I became obsessed with photography really quickly, and my family became really annoyed with it. I got a set of strobes, turned my garage into a studio and was absorbing all there was to learn online about photography and lighting. But, I didn't have anybody to practice on, so I bought a nice remote and started taking self-portraits.

Self Portraiture

In the beginning, this was just a way to learn to light. It was awfully uncomfortable being in front of the camera, and honestly, sometimes it still is. But, self-portraiture allowed (and allows) me to experiment with my gear, learn a little bit posing, and most importantly, to ease myself out of the discomfort of being in front of the camera.

Soon after, I joined Self Portraiture group in Google+, and what first was an experiment, turned into my favorite thing to do: ‘Self Portrait Sundays,’ the weekly challenge I always looked forward to. I met lots of amazing people in that group that, with time, have become some of my best friends.

I have continued working on my photography, learning a little bit of everything. I gave long exposures a go; I worked with a Motorsport team for a while; I did concert photography, and even experimented with macro photography. I learned something different by trying all those photography genres, but I discovered that what sets my heart on fire is photographing people.

Back then, I was earning a few bucks here and there on assignments. Photography was mainly a hobby, and, at the same time, an emotional outlet. My life has been a little rocky in the last six years, to say the least, so I'm thankful I’ve had my camera by my side to help me ease my pain. At the end of 2015, after giving birth to my daughter, I found myself suffering from postpartum depression. I spent most of my pregnancy on bed-rest. Then, I had surgery right after giving birth to my daughter, making my recovery time even longer. To sum it up, I was on bed-rest for a little over six months.

As much as I adore my family and my two kids, I really needed to do something for me to find myself again. I grabbed my camera and made one of the craziest decisions I've ever made — I started a 365 Self Portrait Project. I had to plan my set up, lighting, shooting and editing between my daughter's feedings and diaper changes, picking up and taking my son to school, homework, and cooking. It was all chaotic, but I also found the "me" time I needed so much.

I enjoyed every second of it. I learned tons, every day, trying out different lighting techniques, shooting, and editing. That project, at the time, was the self-care I needed to develop my personal style. I still do lots of self-portraiture for fun, and even to test light setups or to try a new editing style. I think as creatives, we have to allow ourselves to play and to grow as artists. I don't have the studio garage anymore (I still miss that place), but I do have a little place in my living room that is always ready for pictures.

 One of the tricks I use to set my focus is placing a light stand where I'll be standing, set my focus, lock it, then replace the light stand with myself.

One of the tricks I use to set my focus is placing a light stand where I'll be standing, set my focus, lock it, then replace the light stand with myself.

You can see that I have a pretty simple set up — an Octabank, my favorite backdrop from Franklin Backdrops, a stool and a little square of wooden floors I got from the local Lowe's Hardware Store.

Here’s What You Need to Get Started with Self-Portraiture:

  • Remote: I use a Vello Wireless ShutterBoss Remote. I've had it for many years, and it works great.

  • Tethering cable: It's really up to you if you want to shoot tethered or not. I do it to make sure my images are coming out the way I want them and to double check that my focus, exposure and posing is on point. I have a cable from Tether Tools and a Tether Table Aero System that allows me to place my laptop close by, on top of my tripod.

  • Platypod Ultra: You're going to need your camera to be in a sturdy place. The Platypod Ultra, besides not taking up additional room in your camera bag or on set, keeps your camera safe. You can either use it on the floor for low-angle portraits, on tabletops or pretty much anywhere. For landscape photographers, it's a great idea to use a Platypod Ultra or Platypod Max to shoot self-portraits that will add a human element to a beautiful location, giving your image a sense of scale.

Challenge yourself to do something new with your craft regularly. Experiment. Limit yourself to shoot with just one lens, one tool, your Platypod. Limiting yourself to one tool will boost your creativity. Experiment with self-portraiture; when you learn to put yourself at ease in front of the camera, you will be able to use those techniques on your subjects, too. We learn the most from our experiences. And, most importantly, have fun!

  Pictured: Gilmar Smith. By: Gilmar Smith

Pictured: Gilmar Smith. By: Gilmar Smith

Gilmar Smith is an Orlando-based photographer, content creator, Photoshop addict & social media junkie! Visit her at  gilmarphotography.com and be sure to follow her on Instagram

Ajna Adams