Self-portrait photography – part three

Learning how to use lights to your advantage can take your self-portrait photography to the next level. It sounds obvious, of course, lights are important, but not all lights are lightweight or user friendly, so it’s important to find the style and size that work for what you’re trying to accomplish. 

I was required to buy big expensive studio lights for school years ago that mostly sit unused because they are too heavy, hot, and inconvenient. I’ve found basic LED lights to be the way to go, they’re affordable and stay cool, so you don’t have to worry much about them. 

Over the years, I’ve accumulated quite a few different types, but my favorites are basic one-bulb lamps I can use with or without a softbox, that provide enough light so two or three in a scene is usually perfect. 

A basic portrait setup generally requires lights for the background and the subject (that’s you since we are talking about self-portraits) so having more than one light is super helpful unless you rely on mostly natural outdoor light. Even the dark moody images often require background lighting to highlight or separate the subject. Sufficient lighting can go a long way in making your work look more polished and professional. 

So. Many. Lights.

Ring lights and lights that change color are tools I use quite often. You can enhance and alter the entire mood of a scene by changing up the colors of your lights versus changing them in editing. 

self-portrait photography lighting
all of these colors are from a galaxy projector, not editing

Decorative lights are something I enjoy playing with. Lava lamps, neon signs, aquariums, projectors, etc. Anything with a lightbulb in it could lend to some neat photos. Or at least some fun experimenting, and that’s always a bonus. 

String lights/fairy lights can be a great addition, especially if you play with your shutter speed and create some cool light trails in your self-portraits. Even just a simple placement of soft twinkle lights can add a whimsical or surreal feel to your scene. 

Self-portrait photography with led lights

A basic bulb is going to give you harsh shadows and diffused light, using a softbox, a white curtain in front of a bulb/lamp, even bouncing off a white wall, will give you softer shadows. There aren’t any wrong answers, but the right lighting for the scene can make your image. 

I genuinely enjoy experimenting with different kinds of lights to see what I can come up with and encourage you to explore too.


Check out the first parts of this series here and here


  • Nikki

    Nikki is a photographer, writer, artist, and advocate of radical self-love. She writes about mental health, gaming, sex, and inclusivity.

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