Moment Driven Self Portraits by Anna Holden

Next up on the blog.... Anna Holden is a documentary family photographer based in Connecticut, USA. Whilst she loves photographing the lives of others, one of her current passions is getting in the frame with her own family and documenting the things she doesn't want to forget. Here, she shares some of the things she has learned to encourage the TDL community to do the same........

It’s been a rough year.

A global pandemic. Watching the world suffer and shut down. Months of social isolation. Worrying about getting sick or being asymptomatic and infecting a loved one. Realizing how very racist our society still is. Seeing the effects of Global Warming almost daily. Stressing over what the future will bring. All while home-schooling the kids, working from home, and attempting to maintain some semblance of order in the house.

Yet, I’d argue that it’s more important than ever to document our days.

Family dinner in April. Our oldest should have been at college, but she came home for spring break and never went back. ‘By staying home you save lives’ and ‘#FlattenTheCurve’ flash on the TV throughout dinner

These are unprecedented times. This pandemic will go down in the history books. Your grandkids will want to know what life looked like. Regardless of how you’re feeling, I urge you to not only document these days, but also make sure YOU are in some of the photos. You’ll be glad you did. I promise. And with photographers considered non-essential personnel, this means making self-portraits. That is, unless you have one of those rare and mythical partners who actually takes photos.

Barbers were also non-essential personnel. So for the first time ever, I picked up a pair of clippers and gave my little guy a haircut.

Yeah, I don’t have one of those. As such, I’ve been working on my self-portrait craft for the past few years. I want to be sure my family has photos of me, not just taken by me, to remember the fun we had growing up, our home throughout the years, and ultimately, how very much I love them. It's likely these photos will likely be the only photos I’m in with my family for the entire year. The only photos showing what my days, my life, looked like during these crazy days.

So I’d like to share some things I’ve learned to make it easier for you and encourage you to begin making your own self-portraits with your family.

So much more togetherness during lockdown; so many meals at home. And these two still insist on sitting on my lap every now and again.

1. Intervalometers (or Interval Timers). Not just for star trails.

I started my journey with a remote, but tossed that aside once I discovered the intervalometer. Most cameras have one built in for time-lapse photography, but they are equally amazing for capturing authentic, moment-driven, self-portraits. Learn how to use yours! I set mine up to shoot 300 frames, one every second, which gives me 5 minutes at a pop to be present with my family. Naturally, there’s a lot of crap, BUT there’s always a gem or two mixed in. I highly recommend culling the photos quickly and as soon as possible. Often, I’ll shoot something 3 times, leading to 900 photos in just fifteen minutes! I make it a point to blow through them ASAP, flagging only a handful or so that jump out to me, and deleting the rest right away; otherwise they build up and clog my computer rather quickly.

My vegetable garden has never done better as we’ve had nowhere to go this summer. I set the camera up here to get the kids helping me pick tomatoes, but I can never resist giving my daughter’s bare belly a zerber and this photo is by far my favorite from this session. Love one second intervals for capturing real moments and true emotions. 

2. Nailing Focus (from in front of the camera!)

I know, I know. It’s hard enough to focus on what you want when you have your camera in hand. HOW do you focus on multiple, moving subjects when you, yourself, are one of them?! For starters, I always shoot self-portraits at a higher f-stop than normal. This means I also bump up my ISO significantly as I’m usually shooting my (moving) kids and don’t want to sacrifice shutter speed either. This gives me a greater depth of field and thus, a better shot at things being in focus.

Another thing to be mindful of is whether your camera allows for continuous auto focus when using the interval timer. My Nikon does, meaning it will constantly refocus, which is great if there’s going to be a lot of movement. My Sony does not, so I only use it when I can really stop down, or if we won’t be moving much.