Photographing Dark Self-Portraits

Capturing “Anguish”

I wanted to try something different but I wasn’t sure where to start. As much as I like bright, happy images, I really wanted to try something darker. Not physically, but conceptually. Most of the time we photograph people who are smiling. There isn’t anything wrong with that. Smiling is great. Happiness is great. But other emotions exist too, and the idea of documenting these appealed to me.

Because the words I would use to describe what I wanted to try weren’t that appealing (“dark”, “weird”, “borderline creepy”, etc.), I figured the easiest person to convince to try it out would be myself, i.e., self portraits.

One of the first things I wanted to try involved water. I wanted to photograph “anguish”. As a concept it’s pretty straightforward — not happy. But in execution it got a bit interesting.

I had to figure out a way to portray the emotion, keep my camera not soaked (it’s “weather-sealed” but I don’t know how much I want to trust that), and take the photographs.

I set up a tripod in my bathroom with the camera positioned toward the shower. I tried to get the shower curtain to block most of the water, without obscuring the lens. I positioned myself under the stream and used my phone to trigger the camera.

Wearing just a plain white t-shirt, I turned on the shower and got to taking some pictures. To add to the mood, I kept the water cold. The icy water pouring over my face, getting in my open eyes and soaking my shirt helped me keep my expression in line with the concept. My phone got pretty wet, but luckily Apple’s claim of water-resistance held true.

Sort of behind the scenes.

The pictures that resulted were fascinating to me. I really liked the way they came out, and I laughed a little to myself as I reviewed them. They were so far removed from my normal work and my normal emotional range that the contrast was bizarre.

The cold water was definitely worth it and left me wanting to try out more ideas.

I guess the lesson here is don’t be afraid to experiment, to try something completely different from what you’d normally do.