No selfies here: Chinelle Rojas shares her tips for powerful self-portraits

Self portrait of Chinelle Rojas taken with a Fujifilm XT-4. The camera is inside a dryer machine and facing her as she reaches in.Image credit Chinelle Rojas.

Selfies and self-portraits are not one and the same. I consider a selfie to be a random snapshot that doesn’t require much thought — it’s what you do when you want to show off what you look like at that moment in time. I feel like a self-portrait, however, requires careful planning. You have to intentionally take a self-portrait. There’s a more meaningful purpose behind it. That could be that you want to feel a little bit better about yourself or that you want to create something magical with yourself as the muse.

My name is Chinelle Rojas, and I’m a Black creative entrepreneur who switches between logo design and self-portrait photography. These two disciplines have remained constant throughout my 12 years in the creative industry. They bring me the most joy and keep me grounded.

I’ve been dubbed “the selfie queen” by my photography peers (even though there are other amazing self portrait-photographers that I’d say are far better than me) and my passion project “My Black Self” has led to me becoming a Fujifilm x-Photographer. There are a few things about self-portraiture that consistently draw me in.

Personally, I love the opportunity to be creative without having to talk to other people. I don’t have to guide somebody else when they’re posing and I don’t have to wonder if they’re going to be okay with me trying something new when it comes to editing their pictures.

Apart from the fact that I like to pretend that I’m a model and put on makeup, taking self-portraits also gives me the freedom to explore different skills. If I’m trying to learn how to use off-camera flash or experiment with different lighting setups, for example, I don’t have to call somebody else in to figure it out. I can do it all by myself.

I would never ask a client to do something that I wasn’t comfortable doing myself. So self-portrait photography also helps me put myself in my client’s shoes and understand what they may be thinking or feeling.

Self portrait of Chinelle Rojas with colorful locs, taken with a Fijifilm GFX50S II.
Abstract self portrait of Chinelle Rojas taken with a Fujifilm XT-4. Her torso has been replaced with a a colorful slinky in post-production.

Preparing for a self-portrait photo session

Every self-portrait starts off with an idea — I allow myself to be inspired by literally anything like appliances in my home, food, or a location that I discovered. Once the seed of the idea is planted, I water it by hopping on Pinterest and scrolling through different images and concepts to draw inspiration from, while also making sure that the vision in my mind doesn’t match one that someone else has already created.

Once I decide on the direction I want to go in, I sketch it out. This helps me the most in the planning process, because I can really think about how I’m going to pose and what I want the final image to look like.
Sometimes, I browse Adobe Stock for images that I can use and incorporate in my more creative self-portraits. I like to think about the lighting and the background that I want to add to the image that could take my creation to the next level. I like to decide on what I’m going to use to enhance the image before I actually take the picture. If you know what you want the end result to look like, then you’re not just taking a bunch of random photos and hoping for the best. The planning part is key because it keeps the whole process running smoothly.

Self portrait of Chinelle Rojas wearing a pink wig, taken with a Fijifilm GFX50S II.
Self portrait of Chinelle Rojas taken with a Fujifilm XT-4. The theme of the photo is 'shine.'

I then get ready to create by doing my hair and makeup, putting on the right clothes, and setting up the camera. I use Fujifilm gear for all my photography — my go-to currently being the X-T4 as its flip-out screen makes it easier to know that I’m in the right spot. The interval timer mode is a game changer that enables me to move freely through my poses without having to go back and forth resetting a 10-second timer or clicking a remote.

Of course, taking some test photos to make sure my lighting and setup is right is a must, so sometimes I ask whichever of my kids is the closest to stand in front of the camera for me to make sure all is well. This is to ensure that the exposure, as well as the other settings are the way I need to create the image in my head and to make the editing process as easy as possible.

Once I find my sweet spot in front of my camera, I’ll shoot with the interval timer mode on infinity, so I can flow seamlessly through my poses. I’ll then check the camera, scroll through the images, and see if there’s anything I feel are keepers. I usually end up with around 200 to 300 photos to cull through.

Sometimes people think that I could get the final photos with only a few frames just because I’ve been doing it for so long. When in reality, I very rarely nail my vision during my first posing session and I usually go back for three to five more sets before I’m comfortable breaking everything down and moving on to the editing part of my process.

Abstract self portrait of Chinelle Rojas taken with a Fujifilm XT-4.
Prismacolor pencils are held in the foreground with bokeh to give a gaussian blur ppearance to half of the photo.

Editing self-portraits in Lightroom and Photoshop

Fortunately, Adobe Lightroom makes the process of going through all the photos and picking the ones that work very easy. It helps me decide on the final 10 to 20 photos that I’ll download and edit. I usually start with some basic adjustments, like color grading or applying a preset — some I have created myself, others I have purchased — as the base, and then I go through them one more time — now using the new compare view feature — to decide which one best fits the look that I envision for this session.

Then, depending on the look I’m aiming for, I may move over to Photoshop to finetune the images. For example, I might use the dodge and burn tools to lighten or darken areas, remove skin blemishes, or, like with my more creative self-portraits, I may even add different layers. While many of these edits could be accomplished in Lightroom as well, Photoshop enables me to apply more advanced techniques, and I really enjoy the ease of switching between Photoshop and Lightroom.

Once I’m happy with what my self-portrait looks like in Photoshop, I often go back to Lightroom and add another preset or do a little overall color grading. It usually ties everything together.

Self portrait of Chinelle Rojas being edited in Adobe Lightroom.

Going beyond the selfie with thoughtful self-portraiture

I would love to see more people taking self-portraits rather than selfies. Creating really good self-portraits takes a lot of patience, which not everybody fully realizes. You’re both the photographer and the model as well as the producer, stylist and makeup artist, and you can’t expect to get the perfect self-portrait in just a few frames.

You really need to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you want to get out of it: Think about the purpose of your work beyond just getting likes. It’ll make you a better photographer in the long run.