top of page
  • Writer's pictureGareth Partington

Is there a difference between a selfie and a self portrait?

Is there a difference between a selfie and a self portrait? It's a question I had a to ask myself a few years ago, as when I created a self portrait, a friend of mine would say "You've taken another selfie! I see"

There are similarities between the two as they are a photograph of your face but there is defiantly some underlying differences.

In the age of instagram and social media we are inundated with the image of someone looking into the camera, looking for likes and approval but what's the difference between someone turning the phone of themselves and clicking, to someone turning a camera on themselves. Is there a difference?

The self portrait has been around since painters, sculptors and artist began creating work, but is it different to a selfie? Are the paintings Rembrandt did of himself any different to a selfie created today by any number of famous singers and celebrities? What was the point of Rembrandt painting himself, Picasso, Frida Kahlo or Man Ray? I don't think I'm going to attempt to answer the question of the self portrait in art but my point is artist have always been intrigued by their own image.

Let's explore the possible differences.

Impulsive vs planned

The first point I'd like to raise is that selfies tend to be impulsive, they are photos taken in the moment without much consideration. You are doing something fun you want the world to see, to see how much fun you are having and create a sense of FOMO for your fellow viewers. Perhaps you've got a new hat, or a new hair cut, you whip out your phone turn it on yourself and strike the duck pose. If your'e clever you will think about the light and you might find a flattering window or some shade but most of the time you're not thinking about these things, you are been spontaneous and the selfie is created.

The self portrait on the other hand tends to be thought out and preplanned. When I create them it's usually because I want to practice a lighting technique without judgement if it goes horribly wrong or I'm intrigued to see how I can make myself look.

Can I emulate a famous photo, a moment from a film or create a character and an atmosphere? It's a way for me to perfect my craft without worrying about client feedback or disapproval.

It is very rare that a self portrait will be complete in seconds. It usually takes hours of figuring out the lighting, planning what I'm wearing, then trying to work out how to pose myself.

Inspired by the image of Clint Eastwood

An image of Clint Eastwood as Will Munny in Unforgiven

The look of the selfie vs the self portrait

So when it comes to my self portraits I'm usually trying to create a style or look to them. I have researched how other photographers have created the lighting, looked at historical paintings and what kind of colour grading or manipulation may have taken place. There is usually an end goal in my head as to how I want the photo to look and the atmosphere I want it to create.

I'm quite interested in how my face has aged and changed over the years, so the lighting I choose normally shows off my wrinkles, scars and pit marks. There are many photos no one has seen and that's okay, but my skills with studio lighting improves each time I create one of these. It's a place to experiment, learn and have fun without any consequences.

The selfie on the other hand doesn't seem to have a prethought out conclusion. You can scroll though instagram and type in #selfie and find thousands and thousands of photos of people striking the exact same pose.

They become indistinct from each other, many have softening filters added to skin, trying to make them look like the 'perfect' person. Nearly everyone has become a phone manipulator using filters, and editing apps to increase muscle size, slim waists down and create a flawless complexion. There is a look to them but this seems to be dictated by the current zeitgeist and led by celebrities and influencers. Not much time is spent in the creation and the reliance of the technology in order to create them is very much leaning towards the automation of algorithms.

The final output of a selfie vs a self portrait

So when it comes to creating a selfie the final purpose it seems is for use on social media, it is to be viewed on a phone or a tablet. The image quality doesn't need to be amazing, it doesn't need a full blown super camera to create it. The purpose is to be viewed for a split second, liked and then forgotten about.

The self portrait on the other hand is a creative expression, its a reflection of how you were feeling at that time in your life. When I create them I'm always thinking about how they would look in print, how they would look on different types of paper. How they would look seen on a high res computer screen, it's very rare that I think about how they would look on a phone, even though this is where the majority of people will end up seeing it, if I share it.


There is defiantly a difference between the two categories, the selfie is all about the moment and looking for approval from others. It's about the fun you had with friends, it's about the place you went and the people you saw. They do not require skill and are accessible by all who have a camera or phone. They are easy to digest as a viewer which makes them appealing.

The self portrait is about you, it's about that time in your life, it's about how you were feeling, it is a creative expression and a glimpse into your soul. It is more than a passing moment, it's a documentation created of who you are.

Creating a self portrait is a brave thing to do, it is much braver than pulling out your phone and snapping away. If you have ever created one, shown a vulnerable side of yourself or dared to show apart of you you are not proud of, then you will know how brave it is to then share that image after the creation. There is the anxiety of wondering will that image be received gratefully, will people think you are been narcissistic or not like what you have decided to create. They are a reflection of your thoughts, inner demons and sometimes people do not want to see that side of you.

To most people they may just see your self portrait as a selfie, they won't appreciate the effort, hard work or skill that went into creating it, but at the end of the day you didn't create it for them, you did it for you.

They can be images you are proud of, they can help you develop as an artist and as a photographer when you don't have a model to photograph. The self portrait is an art form in it's self which has been around since the very first artist picked up his/her pencil or paint brush.

A self portrait is very different or a selfie and it's shame in the eyes of most they have become indistinct to each other, but you know, they are different!

Have you ever created a self portrait? How did you feel about sharing the work you made? I'd love to hear your views on how you approach the subject.


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page