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A day in the life of a self-portrait photographer: 4 top pros learn a new genre

Rosie Hardy spent a day showing fellow Canon Ambassadors how she takes her fantastical self-portraits, with her finished image looking typically atmospheric. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/320 sec, f/1.4 and ISO100. © Rosie Hardy

On the second Canon Ambassador Exchange, four top professional photographers from different genres took on a challenge that's way outside their comfort zones – this time, learning to take creative and fantastical self-portraits in a style emulating Rosie Hardy's.

Selfie specialist Rosie invited fellow Canon Ambassadors Clive Booth (who normally shoots portraits and fashion), Helen Bartlett (family specialist), David Noton (landscapes and travel) and Eddie Keogh (sports) to take part in the collaboration. She challenged them to shoot something completely unfamiliar to them: a creative self-portrait with a fashion or fairytale theme.

While selfies are everywhere today, Rosie's are on a higher creative level than most. Using herself as a model, she includes surreal and fantasy elements to make images that inspire and intrigue her 164,000+ Instagram followers. Her work is accessible and has broad appeal, but it's harder to create than it looks.

"I think so much of what I do has that extra level that people don't really realise," says Rosie. "Having the tripod set up and having to be in the picture yourself can be quite a daunting task. I wanted everybody to grab their tripods and take their own self-portraits, in the style that I would do mine, so we all had props."

Rosie Hardy talks to her fellow Canon Ambassadors on location, all of them wearing cold-weather clothing.
Rosie advises her fellow Canon Ambassadors on her approach and techniques.
Clive Booth, David Noton, Rosie Hardy and Helen Bartlett sit behind a monitor as Rosie edits an image.
After the day's shooting, Rosie and the other Canon Ambassadors get stuck into post-production.
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So on a cold, cloudy and rainy day, Rosie and the other Ambassadors met up for what they called their "job swap" and headed for Rosie's chosen location: some abandoned cottages near Slaithwaite in West Yorkshire, England. On the way, they stopped at Rosie's lock-up, which contains the props she uses on her shoots. They walked away with objects including a pair of angel wings, an empty wooden picture frame, a giant daisy and an antique car horn.

To start the process, Rosie demonstrated her own self-portrait technique. She exchanged a woollen hat and waterproofs for a flowing white dress, then set up her Canon EOS 5D Mark IV on a tripod and used the camera's interval timer to shoot an image every second. Then she lit a smoke bomb to create a misty atmosphere, threw it to a safe distance and went through a series of poses.

After the demonstration, all the other Ambassadors created their own self-portrait images in collaboration with Rosie. Afterwards, she quickly and expertly edited the images in her own unique style.

While everyone taking part was an expert in their own field, how did they deal with shooting in this unfamiliar way? Let's find out...

Eddie Keogh sits on an inflatable unicorn, pictured in an overcast landscape.
For his selfie, Eddie Keogh used an inflatable unicorn that he had left over from a funny sports shoot. This starting image was taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/2000 sec, f/1.4 and ISO250. © Eddie Keogh
Eddie seems to be flying on the unicorn, leaving a rainbow trail behind; the entire scene is much brighter.
Eddie in full flight, in the final image after Rosie worked her processing magic. "I loved the final, edited image she made in post-production," said Eddie. "I've never taken life too seriously, so this was a perfect portrait for me." © Eddie Keogh

Eddie Keogh, sports photographer

Eddie says: "As I was leaving home to set off for this shoot, I suddenly realised that I probably needed to bring some props for my self-portrait. Last summer I took a funny picture of England footballers at the World Cup in the pool on inflatable unicorns. I'd bought an inflatable unicorn as it was on sale at a ridiculous price, and found it behind the door of my study. I thought, "Bingo, that's going to come in handy at last." When I presented this to Rosie and explained the story, she was firing on all cylinders.

A landscape photo shows a coastline with white cliffs at sunset.

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"I loved the final, edited image she made in post-production. She had me flying through the Yorkshire countryside, hanging on tight to my unicorn with a Canon camera strap as reins. I've never taken life too seriously, so this was a perfect portrait for me.

"The thing that most interests me about Rosie's approach is the fact that she does it all. She is logistics manager, location manager, costume manger, photographer and model. She doesn't need to rely on other people and doesn't need to pay a day rate to a model. It keeps her costs down but more importantly it's 100% a Rosie Hardy work of art.

"On the day, it was cool to see how quickly she worked. There is a lot of work that will be done in preparation for her shoots, and it was interesting to see her lock-up, which is full of crazy stuff used for her shoots. She's very professional, but she has a lovely manner which makes people feel comfortable."

A split image, with Helen Bartlett, wearing a flowing white dress, sitting by a tree within a derelict building. In the edited image the dress has much more volume.
Helen Bartlett's fantasy selfie, as shot (left) and after editing (right). Note the voluminous folds of her dress in the final picture, comped into the image from other shots taken on the day. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/1.4 and ISO100. © Helen Bartlett.

Helen Bartlett, family photographer

Helen says: "Both Rosie's work and mine involve princess dresses, but in my usual work I don't wear them myself! My work is very reactive, so I'm often turning up at places I've never been before, and meeting children I've never met before. I'm then creating on the fly, working out the pictures as the children are playing before they've run off to do something else. What Rosie is doing is incredibly pre-planned, which is absolutely fascinating.

"My self-portrait came totally out of the blue. I chose the angel wings when we were selecting our props, but when Rosie asked if I wanted to wear a blue princess dress and do a Rosie picture, I thought, when am I ever going to get that opportunity again? The picture itself was very much a collaboration with Rosie and Clive. There was a huge attention to detail, for example on the way my hands were positioned. I was trying to remember how Rosie had moved and the kinds of expressions she had in her own picture.

"At the editing stage, it was interesting to see how quickly she found the shot with the right expression. The other thing I found fascinating about the editing was how she used the different elements from several frames, so the dress in my picture was actually three or four different dresses combined. And she blended them incredibly fast. All the edges seemed to blend beautifully.

"The shoot has given me inspiration to try different ideas, perhaps with more pre-visualisation. Knowing your subject matter so well that you can just constantly draw on ideas on the fly is something I feel I could do more in my work. I loved the smoke bombs she used as well. I'm already thinking about how I can get smoke bombs into my photography without accidentally blowing up someone's house!"

David Noton stands in front of a hilly landscape with a row of ruined cottages. The image is black-and-white except for what's within a picture frame he is holding up.
David Noton's selfie, perhaps not surprisingly, features a landscape that's just as prominent as him. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/13 sec, f/11 at ISO200. © David Noton

David Noton, landscape and travel photographer

David says: "In many ways, the preparation for this shoot – the scouting of the location and pre-visualisation – all seemed familiar to me. I was impressed with the work Rosie had put into finding that wonderful location. She worked with maps, then she went and visited, and then had in her mind the pictures she was after. That all of course is exactly what I do, though the picture she previsualises is very different from the kind of images I do.

"When we went to Rosie's store-room with all the props in, I looked in horror at them and thought, 'What can I use?' I think the photo frame was the immediate thing for me. I suppose all photographers say this, but I'm not used to being in the frame, which is why the frame seemed a logical choice for me. My final image, of me in the frame with the farmhouse in the background, is tongue-in-cheek. Rosie was busy with the others, so I thought I'd go off and do my own thing. I would always encourage photographers to do that – use your own vision and find your own subject.

"Shoots like this are a good thing for me because they reaffirm to myself what's important. Rosie is building a picture from her own concept, whereas I'm responding to input from the landscape. I'm trying to create a picture that is true to the experience of being there, and that's so important to me. She uses a location as the raw material for making an image – it's a starting point. Then at the editing stage she builds heavily on that too, bringing in other elements. That's the way she does it, and she does it very well."

Head in hands, wearing angel wings, Clive Booth squats inside a derelict room under a large hole in the roof.
Clive Booth as a fallen angel, in this unprocessed image. "I learned a lot from the shoot but if there was one overriding thing it would be to not be frightened to have a go at things and be more spontaneous," Clive said. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/1.4 and ISO2000. © Clive Booth
A ray of light shines through a hole in the roof onto Clive as he squats in a derelict room wearing angel wings.
Clive's selfie after post-processing work, with elements such as the ray of light added using stock images. © Clive Booth

Clive Booth, portrait and fashion photographer

Clive says: "I hate having my picture taken. I really can't bear to be in a picture, so I never normally shoot self-portraits. However, I loved the location Rosie had found and the wonderful overcast sky on the day. I loved the bleakness of the cottages and the decay inside, with the paint falling off the walls.

"Then we went inside and saw the hole in the ceiling and it just suddenly clicked with me – I'd be a fallen angel. I thought maybe I could put the angel's wings on and dress all in black, then just crouch. I did actually show my face – I wasn't intentionally covering it – but I preferred the shot where it was hidden and I appeared more in pain. That's how I feel about having my picture taken, I guess.

"At the post-production stage Rosie added the shafts of light coming from above, using a stock image, and some dust. I really like it – it's a good picture. One of the nice things about the shoot is that we were thinking on our feet, and it's always good to do that. It reminded me of being at college. It was just so liberating and so much fun.

"I learned a lot from the shoot but if there was one overriding thing it would be to not be frightened to have a go at things and be more spontaneous. I'm such a perfectionist that I can sometimes suffer from paralysis of analysis. Rosie just dives straight in, and I like that. It's really refreshing to see."

Helen Bartlett, wearing a flowing white dress, sets up her camera on a tripod in the arched doorway of a derelict building as other people wearing waterproof clothing look on.
Rosie suggested that family photographer Helen Bartlett wear one of her flowing dresses for her self-portrait, and helped her to pose like a pro.
Rosie Hardy leans against a tree in a ruined cottage, wearing a flowing white dress and with mist behind her.
To kick off the day's shooting, Rosie demonstrated her own self-portrait technique first, setting off a smoke bomb to create a mysterious atmosphere in her image. © Rosie Hardy
Rosie Hardy leaps along a hill in the Peak District at sunset, wearing a white dress.

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Rosie Hardy, portrait, wedding and fashion photographer

Rosie says: "I chose Slaithwaite Cottages [in West Yorkshire, England] for this Ambassador Exchange because of the whimsical nature of the main barn. There's no roof, and I just loved the tree growing through the middle. There's something beautiful about the juxtaposition of outdoors meets indoors, and this place combined it so perfectly. Plus, it's a fairly short walk through a bog from my storage unit, so this location encompassed most things I usually have to go through to pick a location.

"I'm really happy with the self-portrait I took on the day, shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens. It has the whimsicality that I love to create in my photography, and everything managed to work out beautifully. The smoke grenades added the final touch of surrealism, and coldness!

"It was so great to see everybody get so involved with the challenge of shooting self-portraits on the Ambassador Exchange. It can be a really scary thing to be on both sides of the camera lens at once – and especially for people who consistently shoot other people or things, it's a really jarring experience. So seeing everyone get out of their comfort zones was wonderful and very uplifting for me. The thing I took away from the day was that I really ought to start shooting in RAW, and that there are so many different perspectives to take from one location."

Autorius David Clark


Rosie Hardy's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Rosie Hardy holds a Canon DSLR and smiles.

Camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR captures incredible detail, even in extreme contrast. Continuous 7fps shooting helps when chasing the perfect moment, while 4K video delivers ultra-high definition footage to the DCI standard (4096x2160).

Lens

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Offering a wide-angle view with a natural perspective, this classic focal length is loved by documentary photographers. A large f/1.4 maximum aperture makes this an ideal lens for handheld photography in low-light conditions.

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