How To: Make an Expressive Self Portrait Photo
A camera can be more than a purely visual tool
Sara Lando has developed a talent for photographically compensating for life’s ups and downs. In fact, the Italian photographer, based in the Veneto region in Bassano del Grappa (saralando.com), got her start in photography by making self-portraits that reflected on her life. “I did it in private as a cheap form of therapy. It was a secret that I didn’t want other people to see,” she says.
Several years ago, Lando injured her wrist and was given a medicinal clay to reduce the swelling. Twice a day, she made mud packs and applied them to her arm, waiting half an hour for the mud to dry and harden completely. Of course it inspired her to create a self-portrait. She first imagined a full-body shot, but she didn’t have enough mud, so a headshot had to do.
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Before shooting, Lando realized that the clay had a greenish tint she didn’t care for; plus, the color of any exposed skin contrasted awkwardly with the mud. A black-and-white image would be the best way to fully achieve the striking effect the photographer envisioned. “I knew what I wanted: a neutral expression, eyes right into the lens, with a gray face fading into a gray wall, and the cracked, hardened mud on my face,” she says. “But I also wanted to take the pictures of the wet clay becoming dry. In the end, I liked those better.”
On an overcast day, she shot the self-portrait on a balcony, using a plaster wall to add a subtle texture to the background. She didn’t have a tripod, so she just stacked some books on a chair and set her Canon EOS 40D with a 50mm f/1.4 EF lens on top.
With the cloud-shrouded sun behind her, Lando placed fabric on the back of the chair as a bounce-card. “The catchlight is weird. From very close, you can see the chair, cloth, and camera strap hanging from the chair.”
The photographer exposed and focused manually, making small adjustments along the way. After 28 frames, the mud began to fall off and she knew it was time to stop.
“Many people have commented on the fact that there is a sort of sadness in the picture,” Lando says. “In fact, my rabbit, who had been my pet for 11 years, had just died. So, yeah, there is a sadness, I guess. As I have said, I take pictures as a form of therapy.”