ISHOTMYSELF Shooting Tutorial

Choosing your theme and Location

Wherever possible shoot outdoors, itís the most successful option in terms of light.

You don't need to have a consistent theme but some of the best folios have used simple ideas throughout, like bubbles, feathers, Scrabble, or clever exploitation of colour.

If there's one thing we hate at ISM, it's porn clichés. In fact, clichés in general. We're here to SUBVERT porn stereotypes so we aren't interested in pictures like this. Pouting, stilettos in bed, long acrylic nails, nurse costumes and high gloss lips are all things that are well represented in the pornosphere, so use your imagination instead. You can satirize porn but if you're aiming to be ironic you need to have a subversive twist.

Remember that above all else ISM is about PEOPLE and that means YOU. We want to see whatís in your head as much as whatís under your clothes!


1. Getting the light right

We will not accept folios shot under energy saver (CFL) house light bulbs or lamps. Please read the following for more detail.

The most critical factor in your shoot being successful, from a technical point of view, is light. You can experiment with artificial light sources and if you have skillz, or a lot of patience, they can work really well. But for most people that doesnít work and there are really 3 options to get the shoot done right first time.

1.1 Shoot outdoors.

The easiest (and often the most flattering) light for shooting is under a cloudy sky. If you're in bright, midday sun, you'll have very harsh shadows and whatever is in shadow, will be black in the picture. Usually, that will be your eyes. So using the flash in this situation can fill shadows really well, but it's usually a good idea to "stop down" (deliberately under expose a bit) unless you have very dark skin. On most cameras the function is called AE shift or Exposure Compensation and has a symbol '+/-'. Stopping down buy about 2/3rds of a stop (-0.7) is usually about right for fair skinned complexions, but if you're a lady of colour you may actually get better results by stopping up by 1/3. Shooting towards sunset can work really well, because you have a combination of low direct keylight (the sun) and soft fill (the sky). During the day, the direct light from the sun is much brighter than the background sky, but as the sun sets it becomes much dimmer relative to the sky. Set the white balance to Outdoor, rather than auto.

1.2 Use the flash indoors.

Contrary to what most people will tell you, the flash actually can be flattering Ė because itís next to the lens, there are hardly any shadows, including micro shadows that you might get from irregularities in your complexion. The difficulty with flash is getting even exposure, especially when parts of your body are different distances from the camera.

1.3 Shoot next to a window.

But you need to do this when the light outside is really bright Ė middle of the day. Also, thereís no point trying this if you turn your back on the light. Side light is often the most interesting. Next to a window means within say 1 metre (3 feet). Set the cameraís white balance to Outdoor (because the light is coming from the sun) and do a test to check the light. (See below, Shutter Speed).

House lights are completely useless for amateur photography. Firstly, they are way too dim Ė by a factor of at least 50. Thatís right, youíd need at least 50 light bulbs in your room to get anything like daylight levels.

Secondly, they are never where you want them.

Thirdly, their colour is usually difficult to work with. Different kinds of light have different colour. Most cameras have an "indoor" white balance setting, but it's calibrated to something like a 75 watt old fashioned light globe. If you have less powerful bulbs, the colour will look yellow. But most of us these days have energy saver bulbs, which are green-ish, and that's a very bad colour to shoot under. Fluroescent lights are even worse.

Attempting to shoot under a lamp or candle light or by a fire is pretty much going to fail, but again, if youíre patient or a pro, then by all means give it a try. But if the pictures arenít sharp, or if theyíre grainy, we canít use them.

3. Location

So outdoors is best, but where? In your yard, for sure. Out in the hills or on the beach, ok. But do you live near something thatís unique to your part of the world? One contributor did a shoot around the sights of London; another shot herself in front of buildings in Santiago; and we have some ancient Tuscan ruins, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the streets of San Francisco. These are accomplished by stealth and the right choice of clothes Ė and preferably, someone to keep an eye out for you.

It makes the shoot a lot easier if you can find a location you can interact with. Examples weíve seen include a playground, a railway graveyard, creeks and rivers, abandoned buildings.

If youíre shooting indoors, we love to see your personal space Ė a messy bedroom, studio, or the remnants of last nightís party all imbue your photos with a unique sense of who you are.

Locations that donít work very well or weíve had enough of include empty dorm rooms, bathrooms and showers.

4. Mirror Photography

Mirrors are a fantastic aid to self photography because they free you from the ďarms lengthĒ restriction and make it easy to get all of yourself in the picture. But they also pose some special problems.

You might use a full length mirror, and they can work really well outdoors. Or you might use a smaller mirror to selectively photograph parts of your body.

Make sure the mirror is clean. Even if it looks clean to you, the angle of the light and camera during your shoot may highlight surface dust or oily film that will detract from your pictures. So get to it with glass cleaner before you start.

The flash probably wonít work very well in the mirror. Itís best to hold the camera away from your body so the reflection of the flash doesnít white you out.

If you're indoors, first put yourself in the best light, for example next to a window, and then place the mirror to face you. Always have the light on your body, not behind the mirror. If you're outdoors, avoid tilting the mirror back too much so there's a lot of sky in the photos. It will unbalance the exposure and you'll come out looking very dark.

Click on thumbnails to see a larger version

A, B, C, and D are great mirror shots. They work because there's plenty of light.
E: This is the problem of using a flash into a mirror.
F: Clean your mirror!


5. Shooting ďHands FreeĒ (Timer)

In 2016, we introduced the Hands Free option. This means you may use the timer, or a camera remote control. But weíre on the lookout for people who are trying to take the lazy option of getting a friend to photograph them, so we have a strict rule that you can only move the camera twice during your shoot. That means there will be no more than 3 'scenes' in your shoot. (You can shoot all in one scene if you like).

Once you have the camera set up, make sure the tripod or supporting device is solid so it won't get moved when you press the shutter. Choose an interesting background and think about how you're going to use the space. Think of the field of view as a 'box', or viewport, that you are constrained in.

6. Your Face

Think about your facial expression as you take the picture. If itís sunny and youíre squinting, or you have that look of intense concentration, or you look bored or angry, those arenít good looks. Engage with the camera, or look away in a sexy brooding manner, but think about your facial expression. Shooting yourself is fun and we want that to come through in the images, but that doesnít mean you need to grin like a clown in every shot.

7. Grooming

If you're going to wear makeup, keep in mind that we'll see your whole body, so if you use foundation on your face that's not the same as your skin colour, it could look a bit strange. Also keep makeup in context Ė red lipstick in the forest might not be appropriate. The same with clothes Ė lingerie outdoors just never works, really. ISM is not a pinup site and we'd rather see you in your natural state than a magazine cover shoot.

Body hair or not, it's totally up to you, but shave rash is not a good look. We hope you'll photograph yourself how you prefer to be, not how you think it's expected; definitely don't make the assumption that being a web site for naked people, we'd prefer ladies to remove their body hair. We do not.

8. Nudity Level

Ok so here youíre going to get naked on the internet. If youíve already made that decision, thereís no point in getting all shy and trying to conceal your lady bits. We maintain a minimum standard of nudity that we call "bold and confident", and it's what people who pay to join, expect to see.

So, there will be some pictures in which we can see your vagina, but no more than of your face or any other body part. There's no point trying to cheat by keeping your thighs together, or using a strategically placed flower, or holding the camera under your chin and calling that "full frontal nudity". If you have a lot of pubic hair, then fine, that's your vulva as far as ISM is concerned, but you may choose to be more revealing.

So you need to be very naked but donít have to be graphic and open your labia, though youíre quite welcome to. Casual, open leg nudity is the minimum requirement.

There's no such thing as "too much nudity", meaning, you can be as visceral as you want. You can make porn if you want, but we hope you'll do it in a subversive and/or creative way. There's no reason why a closeup picture of your vagina can't be as beautiful as anything else and could even help win the Art Prize if it's clever.

Click on thumbnails to see a larger version
These pics show the minimum "bold and confident" but you can go as far as you like


9. Composition

One of the biggest challenges of ISM is how to compose a whole folio of unique images. This is where your creativity shines through. Try and think of inventive ways of holding the camera and pressing the shutter. Your toes can be as useful as your fingers for that. Then thereís the angles and body positions Ė what ISNíT obvious? What angle can you find that nobody has tried before? What perspective can you get that only a camera can see?

Mirrors are a great help and weíve written about them in another section. What items of furniture or other human sized object can you use to support your body in interesting positions? While always thinking about the light, of course.

10. Manual or Auto settings?

If youíre going to shoot with flash, then turn the flash on. Donít let the camera decide Ė it will only use the flash when itís already way too dark. If your flash fires occasionally during your shoot, then youíre working in light that is far too dim. Turn the flash on (manual), or move to much brighter light.

White balance is something else best set manually, or else the colour might change during the shoot. That happens if you have different coloured backgrounds or lights coming into the shot. For example if you shoot on a background of green grass, most cameras will adjust the colour and make your skin blue.

Focus usually works well on Auto, except as described below.

11. Focus

Pretty much all cameras have a magic feature called Macro Focus, which is perfect for personal photography. Itís usually a symbol of a little tulip...
For example:

Macro is for distances of less than about 1.5 feet (18 inches, half a metre). It can usually focus right down to a couple of inches and can take amazing closeups. So use it Ė but switch it off when youíre doing arms-length or full body photography.

Auto focus on most cameras is pretty accurate, but it always fails if you point the camera into the sun. If you have the sun behind you, then switch to manual focus.

The other thing to know about focus is that it always works better in good light. Thatís because lenses have better depth-of-field (the distance between the closest and furthest object that are in focus at the same time) in bright light, so the focus setting is much less critical. So again, there is no substitute for bright light to make a folio successful.

Click on thumbnails to see a larger version

The picture on the left is out of focus and we wouldn't accept it. The other is fine.


12. Grain/ISO

Grain is the pattern of fine, multicoloured dots (like sprinkles) you get all over a picture sometimes. It's also called 'noise' and is caused by the camera trying to boost the brightness of the image. It varies from camera to camera but it's a symptom of shooting in light that's too dark, and can always be fixed by increasing the light level. It's measured by the 'ISO' setting of the camera and is usually adjusted automatically on point and shoot cameras, and set by the user on SLR's. You should aim to shoot with an ISO of less than about 200 on a point and shoot camera, and about 800 on an SLR. Manufacturers will make claims about how their cameras can shoot in really low light, but they donít tell you that the flipside is, you get grainy images. Having said that, from about 2015, some manufacturers began putting bigger sensors and image processors in their point and shoot cameras, which can work very well up to ISO1600. Examples are Canon's G7X, and Sony's RX100. These are cameras that sell for well over $500.

Click on thumbnails examples of images that are too grainy

These pictures are all too grainy to use, because the light isn't bright enough. You can't shoot indoors without either bright sunlight from a window, or a flash.



Most cameras store information about the picture, in the image file itself. When youíre looking at the picture on your computer, right click and look at Properties, and there may be an Advanced tab (depending on what image viewer software you use). On a Mac, doubleclick on a file and Get Info. The ISO setting, shutter speed, aperture, flash setting and a whole lot of other info is available.

13. Shutter speed and Sharpness

If your pictures arenít sharp, you need to work out whether itís because of focus, or movement.

Focus problems are usually a general fuzziness. There may be something in the background behind you, or in the foreground in front of you, which is sharp Ė then you know itís a focus problem and you might fix it by using macro focus or manual focus adjustment.

If everything in the picture is blurry by the same amount, or the blurriness seems to all go in one direction, this is caused by movement of the camera, or the subject (you). Again, this is caused by low light Ė the camera uses a slow shutter speed to get enough light in to the pickup element, and you havenít been able to hold steady for the duration of the shot (which may be only 1/30th of a second).

Like with any camera setting, there is no hard rule as to what shutter speed to use. It's always a compromise. Even if you have a steady hand, you're unlikely to get a sharp picture at speeds of 1/30th of a second or slower. Try and keep above 1/50th. It helps to lean your camera onto a solid surface like a doorway, and a tripod will hold the camera rock steady, then you still need to be careful to stay still while the picture is taking.

The camera will choose the shutter speed for you. To see what itís going to choose, point the camera at the place where your body is going to be, and half-press the shutter. Most cameras will show you in the LCD display, what shutter speed it has chosen. It also depends on the ISO setting of the camera. Choosing a higher ISO will give you shorter shutter times, but will also make the pictures grainier. Thereís always a tradeoff, and the only way out is to Get More Light.

Click on thumbnails to see a larger version

If your pictures look like this it's because the shutter speed is too slow. The light indoors is nowhere near bright enough for handheld photography.


14. Zoom

Generally, zoom fully out for self-shooting. If you have an SLR with a really wide angle lens, like 28mm, youíre going to be distorted, especially at the edges of the picture, and youíre better off zooming in a bit.

15. Lens Hazards

Be careful of lens fog, which can happen if youíre shooting in a steamy environment like a bathroom, or youíre in an area of high humidity and your camera is cold or your breathe on the lens. The other common problem with self shooting is fingerprints. If youíre using tanning oil or any kind of lotion, itís going to end up on your lens. Periodically check your lens is clean. Smear is usually hard to see on the LCD display but will show up when your image is on the computer screen.

16. Post Processing

Itís a myth that Photoshop can fix most photo problems. Even if it can adjust the colour or lighting, neither you, nor our editors, want to be going over 120 pictures by hand. So itís always much better to put a lot of effort into taking good pictures. We donít photoshop images other than adjusting the size, or very occasionally we might edit out an unfortunately placed fly or the registration number of your car for example.

If you are going to treat your images in post, ALWAYS keep a raw backup of your images. A common mistake is to shrink the images or over compress them, in which case you want the originals to be able to do it over again.

When you save a .jpg in any picture editing program, the picture is compressed. Usually itís a preset in the program, but youíll be able to override it. Different programs have their own way of measuring compression Ė it might be a number from 1 to 256, or a percentage, or a description like ďhigh qualityĒ. The tradeoff is between quality and file size. If you over compress the image, it will look blocky and have a limited colour palette. The file size also depends a lot on how much detail is in the picture. If you shoot yourself on a highly detailed background, like grass or leaves, the image files are going to be larger. As a guide, your images are over compressed unless they are at least:

300 Kbytes for 2 megapixels (e.g. 1600 x 1200 px) 700 Kbytes for 5 megapixels (e.g. 2592 x 1944 px) 1.5 Mybtes for 12 megapixels (e.g. 4368 x 2912 px)

So by all means, compress your images to make the file sizes manageable (quicker upload times), but not at the expense of quality.

17. Paperwork

17.1 Release

The Release form is a contract under which we publish your images. Read it through and ask any questions that may come up. Write in CAPITAL LETTERS. If you make an alteration, or correct a mistake, please initial it. Check you've filled out everything correctly before sending it in. You can send a scan, or if you don't have a scanner, take a high resolution photo. You'll need to have bright light and position the camera squarely in front of or above the centre of the document, so in the photo it's not distorted. Use macro focus, the document image must be perfectly sharp.

17.2 Bio

This is where your personality comes through. Please do this in your native language, and in English as well. We will publish both. Please put some effort into your bio and avoid obvious and one-word answers. You donít need to answer every question, but at least 2/3rds would be good. If you have anything else to say, put it in your Artist Statement. This is where you tell us something about your motives, how you feel about being naked on the internet, what you set out to achieve, and what youíve got out of it so far.

You only need to submit a bio once, with your first folio. You can update it later if you wish.

17.3 I.D.

We need 2 pieces of I.D. and at least one needs to be government issued, to positively identify you as being over 18. If youíve changed your name, so itís different from your I.D., please provide the name change document too. Please be assured that we treat your I.D. and identity in general with absolute discretion.

18. Common Mistakes

If your folio isn't publishable, we'll email you and let you know what needs to be done to meet our requirements. Here are the most common reasons:

18.1 Technical Quality

We canít emphasise this more than enough Ė we donít count any images which are blurry, out of focus or excessively grainy. Donít waste your time submitting them.

18.2 Nudity Level

The bold, confident nudity level needs to be evident in a fair proportion of the photos. 2 or 3 clear shots of below the waist nudity isnít enough.

18.3 Repetition

In a batch of 120 pictures some are going to be similar, and you might submit say 3 versions of one composition so our editor can choose one. But a series of say 8 pictures from the same angle and distance is repetitious and wonít count towards your total of 120.


Repetition doesn't help get 120 pics for your folio - we'd count these as 1 picture.