Tips for Powerful Self-Portraits with Chinelle Rojas

Image credit Chinelle Rojas.

Selfies and self-portraits are not one and the same. I think of a selfie as a random snapshot that doesn’t require much thought – it’s what you do when you want to show off what you look like at that exact moment. I feel like a self-portrait, however, requires careful planning. You must intentionally take a self-portrait. There is a more meaningful purpose behind it. It could be that you want to feel a little better about yourself or that you want to create something magical with yourself as your muse.

My name is Chinelle Rojas and I am a black creative entrepreneur who alternates between logo design and self-portrait photography. These two disciplines have remained constant throughout my 12 years in the creative industry. They bring me the most joy and keep me grounded.

I’ve been dubbed “The Selfie Queen” by my fellow photographers (although there are other amazing self-portrait photographers I’d say way better than me) and my passion project “My Black Self” led me to become a Fujifilm x-photographer. There are a few things about self-portraiture that constantly appeal to me.

Personally, I like the ability to be creative without having to talk to other people. I don’t have to guide someone else when they’re posing and I don’t have to wonder if they’ll be okay with me trying something new when it comes to editing their photos.

Besides the fact that I love pretending to be a model and doing makeup, doing self-portraits also gives me the freedom to explore different skills. If I’m trying to learn how to use an external flash or experiment with different lighting setups, for example, I don’t have to call anyone else to figure it out. I can do everything myself.

I would never ask a client to do something that I was not comfortable doing myself. Self-portrait photography therefore also helps me put myself in my clients’ shoes and understand what they may be thinking or feeling.

Self-portrait of Chinelle Rojas with colored locs, taken with a Fijifilm GFX50S II.
Abstract self-portrait by Chinelle Rojas taken with a Fujifilm XT-4.  His torso was replaced with a colored slinky in post-production.

Preparing for a Self-Portrait Photo Shoot

Each self-portrait starts with an idea – I get inspired by literally anything like the appliances in my house, food, or a place I’ve discovered. Once the seed of the idea is planted, I water it by hopping on Pinterest and scrolling through different images and concepts for inspiration, while making sure the vision in my mind doesn’t match the one I someone else has already created.

Once I have decided on the direction I want to go, I sketch it. It helps me the most in the planning process because I can really think about how I’m going to pose and what I want the final image to look like.
Sometimes I scour Adobe Stock for images that I can use and incorporate into my more creative self-portraits. I like to think about the lighting and background I want to add to the image that could take my creation to the next level. I like to decide what I’m going to use to enhance the image before I shoot. If you know what you want the end result to look like, then you can’t just take a bunch of random photos and hope for the best. The planning part is essential because it ensures the smooth running of the whole process.

Self-portrait of Chinelle Rojas wearing a pink wig, taken with a Fijifilm GFX50S II.
Self-portrait of Chinelle Rojas taken with a Fujifilm XT-4.  The theme of the photo is

I then prepare to create by doing my hair and makeup, putting on the right clothes and setting up the camera. I use Fujifilm gear for all my photography – my current favorite being the X-T4 as its flip-up screen makes it easier to know I’m in the right place. Interval Timer Mode is a game changer that lets me move freely through my poses without having to cycle back and forth by resetting a 10-second timer or clicking a remote.

Of course, taking test shots is a must to make sure my lighting and setup is correct, so sometimes I ask whichever one of my children is closest to stand in front of the camera so that I make sure everything is fine. This is to make sure the exposure, along with the other settings, is how I need to create the image in my head and to make the editing process as easy as possible.

Once I find my sweet spot in front of my camera, I shoot with the interval timer mode set to infinity, so I can seamlessly transition through my poses. I’ll then check the camera, scroll through the images and see if there’s anything I feel like a keeper. I usually end up with around 200-300 photos to sort through.

Sometimes people think I could get the final shots with just a few frames just because I’ve been doing it for so long. While in reality I very rarely nail my vision in my first posing session and usually come back for three to five more sets before I feel comfortable breaking it all down and moving on to the editing part of my process .

Abstract self-portrait by Chinelle Rojas taken with a Fujifilm XT-4.
Prismacolor pencils are held in the foreground with bokeh to give a Gaussian blur look to half of the photo.

Editing selfies in Lightroom and Photoshop

Luckily, Adobe Lightroom makes it super easy to browse through all the photos and choose the ones that work. It helps me choose the last 10-20 photos that I will upload and edit. I usually start with some basic tweaks, like color grading or applying a preset – some I made myself, some I bought – as a base, then I go through them review one more time – now using the new comparison view feature – to decide which best matches the look I’m envisioning for this session.

Then, depending on the look I’m aiming for, I can switch to Photoshop to polish up the images. For example, I can use the dodge and burn tools to lighten or darken areas, eliminate skin imperfections, or, as with my more creative self-portraits, I can even add different layers. Although many of these edits can also be done in Lightroom, Photoshop allows me to apply more advanced techniques and I really appreciate how easy it is to switch between Photoshop and Lightroom.

Once I’m happy with how my self-portrait looks in Photoshop, I often go back to Lightroom and add another preset or do a little global color grading. It usually ties everything together.

Self-portrait by Chinelle Rojas being edited in Adobe Lightroom.

Go beyond the selfie with a thoughtful self-portrait

I would like to see more people taking self-portraits rather than selfies. Creating really good self-portraits takes a lot of patience, which not everyone fully realizes. You’re both the photographer and the model as well as the producer, stylist and makeup artist, and you can’t expect to get the perfect self-portrait in just a few pictures.

You really need to think about why you do what you do and what you want to get out of it: think about the purpose of your work beyond just getting likes. It will make you a better photographer in the long run.

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