Anna Gay: The Art of Self-Portraiture

What inspired you to become a photographer?

I became a photographer by accident, actually! I studied theatre and dance when I was in college, and continued to dance for a couple of years after I graduated. In 2007, I injured my knee, was no longer able to dance after my surgery, and could do very little physical activity, for that matter. I took up drawing and photography as a hobby, and to take my mind off how much I missed dance. I immediately fell in love with photography, though, and was absolutely obsessed with photographing everything I saw. The way I saw the world completely changed once I picked up a camera, and I started to notice a lot more beauty in the world. From that point forward, things started progressing very quickly from it being just a fun hobby, to something I was very passionate about.

What is your photography style?

My photography style is constantly changing, so that is tough to answer! The one thing that I feel has remained the same, especially with my portraiture, is that it is somewhat quirky. I have no agenda of making a political statement or even creating what some people might consider a work of art. My goal is to bring out what is real in people (and myself when I am taking self-portraits) and highlight the beauty and joy in the world, that is in all of us. People say that a lot of my photos are humorous, which is true to an extent because I have a pretty easy-going outlook on life and try to keep things light. I also use a lot of props, scenery and color tones in my photos, so that sort of lends itself to a bit more of an upbeat style.

Your photos are absolutely gorgeous.  Do you have any tips or tricks to creating a unique photo session?

Thank you! Any time I schedule a shoot with someone, whether they’re a friend or a stranger, I try to have a pre-shoot meeting to sit down to talk with them for about an hour in order to discuss what they are looking for in the shoot, but also to get to know them. If the person is someone who I do not know, getting to know them before the shoot helps me find out what aspects of their personality really shine, and also gives them the chance to get comfortable around me. My goal as a photographer is to help them relax, and just be themselves in front of the camera. I also try not to set a time limit for shoots. I know a lot of photographers whose sessions will run an hour or so, but I like to leave at least 3-4 hours open, because I like to get as many shots as possible so the client has a lot of shots to choose from. I also keep in mind that the client’s patience runs out about 5 times as fast as the photographer’s, so I try to keep the shoot moving while having as much fun as possible.

You have created an e-book about self-portraiture.  Can you tell us more about that?

One of my favorite styles of photography is self-portraiture, for many reasons, but the main reasons are a) it is a wonderful way to hone your portrait skills and b) it is a great emotional outlet for self-expression. Before I started taking self-portraits, I was absolutely terrified of photographing another person! But, over time, as I practiced with self-portraits, I acquired a set of basic skills that made me more comfortable in my portrait work. I started a self-portrait 365 project, and the things I learned about composition, lighting and post-processing, became invaluable to my portrait photography. Last year, Darren Rowse, the editor at Digital Photography School, interviewed me on dPS, which eventually lead to him asking me to write the e-book. I absolutely jumped at the opportunity, because I knew there was definitely an interest in self-portraiture, but for those who had never tried it, I knew the book would encourage them to give it a try in order to improve their photography.

How important is self-portraiture?

If you look at the work of photographers, or any type of artist for that matter, throughout the ages, you will find that many of them explored self-portraits. Not only is it a form of self-expression, it is a valuable learning tool because you have the opportunity to work at your own pace, in a safe environment, and experiment through trial and error. If you do not have a willing model readily available, you can always use yourself as a model to experiment with different techniques of light, post-processing, etc. without the pressure of pleasing another individual. It can be a very freeing learning experience that will help you acquire skills that will not only carry over into your portrait work, but your photography as a whole.

What do you think photographers will learn though self-portraiture?

What you learn through self-portraiture depends entirely on you. Just like any learning experience, if you go into self-portraiture with an open mind, the sky is really the limit on what you will learn. A lot of photographers shy away from self-portraits, because they’re so used to being behind the camera, that it feels strange and narcissistic to be in front of it! It is a great way to learn how your subject feels being in front of the camera, and as a photographer, a little bit of empathy can go a long way. On a more personal level, it will definitely make you more self-aware, and self-awareness is something that everyone probably longs for, and is a trait that can help you develop on a more artistic level.

How important are props in self-portraiture?

Personally, I have found them to be very important. Not only do they help set mood and add visual interest by indicating time, place and emotion, they can also give you something to focus on while taking your self-portrait, rather than worrying too much about how you look in front of the camera. If you do a quick search for self-portraits on a photo-sharing website like Flickr, you will find many of the photographers are using props.

I read you offer tutoring for photographers.  Can you share more about that?

I mainly offer tutoring in Photoshop and Lightroom to absolute beginners. Honestly, I love sharing what I know about photography with other people, whether they’re a professional, or someone who just wants to know how to upload and edit photos of their kids. I think as photographers, sometimes we tend to bottle up our knowledge and not share it with other photographers, which is really a shame, because we can all learn so much from each other.

What advice would you give new photographers just starting out?

Know that photography is not an easy business. It is absolutely cut-throat at times because there is so much competition. The key for me so far, in terms of actually paying my bills, has been to network as much as possible using Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, and to also keep an open mind. At first, I wanted to classify myself as strictly a portrait photographer, but I quickly realized that for the time being, that just wasn’t going to work, so I got rid of my tunnel vision and started doing everything from portraits, to weddings, to advertising, to selling my own Photoshop actions and textures. You definitely have to be self-motivated in that regard. But, overall, the key is to really love what you’re doing. Also, just practice as much as possible! Find other photographers in your area, and spend a day shooting with them. Not only will you make new friends who share your passion, but you will begin to network and build professional relationships with other photographers.

About the Author: Anna Gay is a portrait photographer based in Athens, GA and the author of the dPS ebook The Art of Self-Portraiture. She also designs actions and textures for Photoshop. When she is not shooting or writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband, and their two cats, Elphie and Fat Cat.

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carey anne photography - June 29, 2011 - 1:19 pm

I can’t wait to read this piece of absolute gold!

Janneke Marquez - June 29, 2011 - 10:56 pm

I’m so intrigued by your artistic style! I am definitely going to follow you and I loved reading through your photoshop tips. You’re very thorough and straightforward. Thank you!

Bonnie - June 29, 2011 - 11:16 pm

I’m a newbie baically…I mean I LOVE taking photos..have photo shop and haven’t touched it yet!! Hope to get somewhere farther than where I am right now. Looking into a online course for now. Thank you for all your your pictures!!!

Karlen - June 30, 2011 - 8:58 am

Hi Bonnie,
Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to sign up on our email list to find out about all of our upcoming online workshops.

CynthiaK - June 30, 2011 - 3:55 pm

What a great interview! Interesting and informative! I absolutely love Anna’s work – so unique, creative and fun!

If you haven’t yet tried self-portraiture, you really should!!

Spatch - July 3, 2011 - 10:10 pm

Awesome stuff, I really like your style.

Sarah - July 9, 2011 - 2:34 pm

I have the SAME story!! Danced since I was 4, got my Bachelors in Dance, got to dance for 6 years professionally in Las Vegas but it all ended when I tore my ACL in my knee. After about 9 months of complete depression I went back to school for massage therapy and started doing photography on the side.

I love photography! But I will always love dance more then anything in this world!! Atleast with photography I am still choreographing!!

Allie Miller - January 6, 2012 - 9:23 pm

I loved this.. Saw it featured in DPS and she is abs fabulous foto-gal! and inspiration!!

FrancisMusoi - January 22, 2012 - 5:05 pm

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I didn’t have sex for a year. Please call or mail me francismusoi@gmail phone 0727381868.

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