Self-Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

I honestly thought I had this whole self-portrait thing down pat.  I had taken photos of Chris and I successfully at Disney before, so I really didn’t think that trying to do it over Christmas would be a problem.  Of course, I didn’t take into consideration that the time of day, location, and lens I was using were all different than normal.  I also didn’t take into consideration how crowded it would be and how nervous I was to have little children running rampant around my camera set-up.  All I thought was, “oh hey, this is going to be a piece of cake.  I can do this!”.

Self Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

The problem with going to Disney in mid-December is that everything is crowded.  I had been looking forward to the light show at Hollywood Studios all day, and even though the park was a bit packed I was still shocked at all the people who had stayed to see the lights.  I shouldn’t have been, but I was.

Chris and I had decided that we wanted to take our Christmas card photos at Disney (like we do every year) and were really excited to do them ourselves.  Little did I know that everything I’ve learned about photography thus far would be put to the test.  If I had, maybe I would’ve opted for a Cast Member to take the photo instead!

Here’s what happened….

Originally I used these settings and lens to try to capture the picture:

  • f/stop: 5.6
  • shutter speed: 2.5 seconds
  • ISO: 800
  • lens: 20mm f/2.8

Self Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

The angle was horrible, my jacket was too bulky, and the overall picture was really dark.

Second try settings were:

  • f/stop: 8
  • shutter speed: 2.5 seconds
  • ISO: 800
  • lens: 20mm f/2.8

Self Portrait Mistakes to Avoid

Even though I set my lens to infinity, my face still came out blurry.  I’m thinking that it’s probably because my shutter speed was .5 seconds!  It was also really dark so I had to lighten it in Lightroom.  This one was not salvageable either.

We then tried moving to a different spot and then took a few shots from there.  Here were the settings I used:

f/stop: 11
shutter speed: .5 seconds
ISO: 800
lens: 18-55mm


This one was much better because my kit lens has an auto focus that made it much easier to get an in-focus picture.  However, the colors are a bit off (even with editing) and the focus actually fell on the railing instead of our faces.

After all of that, I came away with a few lessons that I’ll take with me the next time I attempt something like this….

  • Up the ISO.  It’s better to have a picture be a little grainy than to have a slow shutter speed and a blurry picture!
  • Make sure your Shutter Speed is at least the length of your lens.  For example, if you’re using an 18-55mm lens at 18mm, your shutter speed should be at least 18mm.
  • Opt for a lens with auto focus.  I couldn’t get a decent picture with my 20mm because it’s a prime lens (also known as manual focus lens).  Once I switched to my kit lens, it was much easier to make sure Chris and I were in focus!

Needless to say we didn’t come back with any pictures from Disney that would work for our card.  Next year, I’ll be armed with more knowledge and experience which will hopefully result in better pictures!

Have you ever attempted a self-portrait?  What are your tips for better pictures?


  1. Oh no!!! I hate when I walk away with no good pictures. Who took yours, or did you use a tripod and self-timer? Whenever I take pictures at night, of people, I use a tripod and set the shutter speed like you said. Even though your pictures didn’t turn out, I LOVE your idea of standing in front of the Christmas lights. I tried portraits with lights in the background, but I needed more for a bokeh effect.

    1. Thank you! We were so excited about the idea for the picture and so disappointed when they didn’t turn out! I wanted to try the bokeh effect, but I think someone else would’ve had to take the picture for us instead of me doing it myself. Bokeh pictures are my favorite! Did yours end up turning out?

      Ah, I should have mentioned that I did use my tripod and wireless remote to take all the pictures! It was pretty stressful too because so many children were running around and I was afraid they were going to run into the tripod and knock it over. haha

  2. These photos are gorgeous. I want to visit Disney again. I love it there. I’m stopping by from the Facebook group. I hope you have a great Monday.

    1. Thank you so much, Leslie! I wish they were better pictures, but they were definitely fun to take!

  3. Self-portraits are so hard! Especially in difficult conditions like these. I have found that if you lower your F-stop to a 4 or a 4.5 (definitely good enough to get you both in focus with a little bit of bokeh) you will get a lot more light coming into your lens and be able to have a higher shutter speed (clearer photos) and you can keep your ISO a bit lower!

    1. Very true! I have a huge problem when lowering my f/stop that my face is never in focus. I really need to keep trying just so I can get better at this. Thank you so much for your suggestions! I will definitely implement them the next time I attempt this!

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