Taking a photo of yourself in the gym can bring up a lot of introspective thoughts, like, Am I the vainest person on the planet? Definitely not, says Jessamyn Stanley, yogi, body-positive activist, and author of Every Body Yoga. "It's a very empowering kind of experience to have with yourself," she says. Stanley takes tons of pictures of herself doing yoga, mostly upside-down in a headstand or twisted in a yoga pose, for her Instagram account. "When you look in the mirror, you see a distorted version of yourself, because it's based on your perception," Stanley says. "Even a photo is, but it's something that happened already, so you're going back in time and have a genuine connection with someone that is real."
Photos of yourself doing yoga can also be helpful teaching tools, Stanley says. "When you're practicing the pose, you're remembering all the little cues and letting them sink into the body, whether they're physical or emotional," she says. "Then, you see the representation of that, and it's powerful." Some yogis might consider taking photos of your yoga practice sacrilege, but Stanley has thoughts: "I would make an argument that yoga practitioners over the course of time would have all loved this technology," she says. There are even recordings of Iyengar, who's known as the father of yoga in the West, practicing, she says. "He's on his shit to look good, but you can see how photography helps you understand your body in a different way."
Stanley wasn't always open to the camera, though. "For a while, I didn't want to take pictures of my body, because I was scared of it," she says. "I was like, Fuck, I don't want to see myself in a pose." But seeing curvy, vibrant bloggers on Tumblr, like Big Gal Yoga, sparked something inside Stanley. "I was like, I think I can look at myself, finally," Stanley says. Having studied film and video production in college, Stanley knew a thing or two about how to set up and take photos. She read blogs about how to photograph herself, but they were mainly tips for food or fashion bloggers, so she figured the rest out as she went along. "It's been a long journey since the first pictures I took of myself," she says.
Thankfully, Stanley shared her best tips for taking photos of yourself working out — and feeling good about it.
Take the photos yourself.
There's a huge difference between taking a photo yourself and getting someone else to do it for you, Stanley says. "In the beginning, I asked my roommate — who was also my ex-girlfriend, so there's a whole other dynamic there — Can you take my picture?" Her roommate declined the offer, and Stanley says she's grateful that she did. "The photographic experience for me is a journal of self-discovery," she says.
Taking her own photos let Stanley really see herself, she says. "I went from a place of not wanting to look at myself, to setting photos up so I could really look at myself and really see what's there." Selfies deserve respect, Stanley says. "We condemn taking the selfie, but you know Van Gogh's self-portrait is shit people travel to see." She adds that selfies reflect an emotional and spiritual journey that she clearly remembers when she looks back on the photos. "You hold onto the moment, and it's worth respecting," she says.
Get over the other people in the gym.
It's normal to get distracted by what other people are doing around you, or what they might think if you take a photo of yourself in front of them, but everyone's self-conscious, Stanley says. "Everyone's thinking about themselves — even if it's, Oh shit, I hope nobody's looking at me." If you can understand that as a concept, wearing and doing anything is possible, she says. "The only reason someone would care is if they were like, Wow I'm embarrassed to do that; I can't believe that person isn't," she says.
Stanley suggests setting up your camera or phone somewhere discreet, so you can forget that it's even there. Get whatever props or accessories that you need, but "don't make a stage," she says. Start video recording yourself so you don't have to run back and forth to turn it on, and just do whatever you were planning to do. "If you're comfortable enough to do it in the room with people not filming, you're comfortable enough to do it there and film," she says. "Most people are trying to film themselves too; everyone's on their own shit."
Wear what you want.
Whatever you feel confident wearing is going to be the right outfit for your photo, but if you spend too much time thinking about it, you'll get in your own head, Stanley says. For Stanley, whatever lets her see, look at, and assess her body is the best thing for her to wear, which usually ends up being her underwear, because most shorts aren't short enough for her standards. "It's really hard to [see and assess your body] in clothing that's distracting to move in," she says. "I like to be able to manipulate my flesh, really look at it and see what's happening."
Don't worry about holding a pose.
If you think Stanley holds each pose for 30 seconds, joke's on you. Sometimes, you'll get the best shot from something that happens three breaths before or after the pose, she says. To get that effect, Stanley uses a time-lapse feature on her camera (she says GoPro has a good one) that takes several rapid-fire photos in a short amount of time. "Anything where you don't have to get in the pose and stay exactly like that is great," she says. "Give yourself space to be practicing it, not trying to hold the pose."
Mess around with video.
Stanley is into Snapchat, and thinks the videos you can take on the app are way more interesting than a still photo. She says using the fast-forward function can be fun, because you can watch yourself move through poses and see the whole process. "You want to be able to see where you're fucking up at different points, and it might not be in the photo moments — it's in the before or after areas where you can be stronger," she says.
Keep pretty much every picture and video you take.
There are hours of video and thousands of photos in Stanley's collection that will never see the light of day, but she keeps them for reference, or in case she wants to say something about them in a post someday. Even if she never posts the photos, she says it can be like having a journal, because they're a glimpse into what was happening in her life at the time. "They're actual photos of what my practice looked like," she says. "It's amazing to be able to look back."
See all your angles.
You can spend your whole workout trying to find the "right" angle for a photo, but there really isn't a right or wrong way, Stanley says. "Initially, I was still afraid of myself, so I would put the camera down at an angle that I thought would be okay," she says. Think like a photographer and aim to make the whole picture look good, rather than just yourself, she says. So think about how you're framing the shot, and whether you can see your whole body, not how you look at a particular angle. "Respect it as an art form, don't just throw it together," she says.
Don't post everything.
It's important to have a place where you can disconnect from social media, even if you post a lot online already, Stanley says. "I feel like 1% of my life is on the internet; everything else is intentionally held away," she says. "Things like that are how I create space." Stanley says keeping some distance from social media is how she stays sane. "I'm constantly thinking about it, otherwise you slip up and your self-worth is in these pictures and who's liking them," she says. According to Stanley, some people get their "self-worth tied up in the imagery and how people react." No shade or disrespect to people who feel that way, she says, "but I'm not trying to do that."