Creative portrait photography

Photographer Nina Collins has built an impressive following on TikTok with her fun self-portraits. Here, she shares her tips for styling a shoot and making the most of a simple setup.
A woman with long blonde hair wearing pink-tinted sunglasses poses against a pink curtain and strings of beads. Her image is visible in the back of the camera on the table in front of her.

TikToker and self-taught photographer Nina Collins had thought a career in photography was unattainable, but she was determined to succeed. "I was a broke student, but despite studying something completely unrelated, I knew that I wanted to work in photography and therefore I needed to put together a portfolio," she explains. "I taught myself through lots of research as well as a lot of trial and error."

Rather than posting on her usual platforms, where she already had a presence, Nina decided to start from scratch on TikTok. "I was afraid of bad feedback," she explains. "I felt like people would be overly critical and notice imperfections in my editing skills or camera settings."

The response to her inspirational TikTok videos was resoundingly positive, though, and she quickly developed a following. "I was up to 20k in the first four months. People's comments were so uplifting and they had no idea who I was. They didn't have to say nice things – they commented because they actually liked what they saw and that gave me the confidence that I needed."

Nina's series of 'Decades' photoshoots, where she shows off fashions, hairstyles and shooting styles through the ages, have proved particularly popular. She also gives the viewer access to her preparation behind the scenes, demonstrating how anybody can have a go at recreating different looks. Her goal now is to inspire other people to pick up a camera and have a go. "I create my TikTok videos to share ideas, methods and solutions, in the hope that it might benefit other people with a passion for photography," she says.

Here, Nina tells us about the simplicity behind her setup, how she styles her shoots, and shares some tips for building confidence when posing for your own creative self-portraits.

1. Hone your ideas

A woman with long blonde wavy hair, wearing a white t-shirt, white trainers and khaki jeans, holds a Canon camera and smiles at the camera.

Nina has more than 60k followers on TikTok and her photography tutorials, featuring tips and techniques for everything from styling a Valentine's Day photo to recreating famous celebrity shots, regularly get more than 20k views.

A woman with long blonde hair wearing pink-tinted sunglasses looks upwards and smiles, her hands to the sides of her face as though she is dancing and raising her arms.

Hair and make-up are important for recreating the look that you want. Compiling mood boards will help you think of ideas and also provide inspiration for era-appropriate props. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/160 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1250. © Nina Collins

"I'm interested in fashion, editorial and portrait photography, so seeing how that has evolved is something I find really fascinating," Nina explains. "There are obvious changes in clothes, hair and makeup but also how the photos look due to the kit and resources available at the time. 'Decades' stemmed from me wanting to create a series of photos that visualised this development.

"I learnt a lot, particularly what I liked and didn't like about each portrait, such as different editing styles and poses, and that's something that I will incorporate into future selfies."

If you want to do your own concept shoot, Nina recommends creating a mood board of ideas. "I made a Pinterest board for each decade featuring outfits, poses and editing styles," she explains. "That helped me to think about what I needed to do to recreate each look."

2. Backgrounds, props and shooting locations

A woman kneels on the floor arranging a pink cloth and long strings of pink beads over a freestanding wardrobe rail. Behind her is a camera tripod.

Backdrops don't have to be expensive or professional to be effective. Use whatever you already have at home to create interesting effects, such as sheets of fabric or strings of beads.

If, like most people, you don't have access to a photography studio, you can set up your own studio at home. In fact, Nina creates all of her looks at her house, relying on props, styling and the quality of her Canon camera to produce the look she's aiming for. "Everything in my setup is very basic," she says.

You don't need expensive accessories, either. "I've used absolutely everything as a backdrop – towels, bedsheets, blankets. You don't even need a proper stand. I've placed them over chairs, over the bannisters and even hung them over cupboard doors. You can also use simple household items, such as plants, to create an interesting background."

To ensure her shoots are as sustainable as possible, the outfits Nina chooses usually come from her own wardrobe. "I try to find images from my chosen era featuring clothes I already own," she says.

3. Choose the best tools

A woman with long blonde hair sits in front of a pink cloth with hanging strings of beads. In front of her is a Canon camera and lens, a closed flip phone covered in stick-on jewels, pink-tinted sunglasses and butterfly clips.

A hybrid camera such as the Canon EOS R6 combines speed, image quality and flexibility, making it the ideal content creation tool. Pairing it with a wide aperture lens such as the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM will give your portrait shots a nicely blurred background.

Nina recommends a versatile camera such as the Canon EOS R6 which she pairs with her favourite Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens. Small, light and affordable the RF 50mm F1.8 STM is ideal in low light and Nina likes its shallow depth of field, which helps to create beautifully blurred backgrounds – something which has an unexpected added benefit: "It's really handy when using a backdrop that needs an iron as you can't see the creases," she says. Find out more about choosing the perfect lens for portraits in our kit guide.

Nina also enjoys the image quality of the EOS R6. "It really is amazing and it gives a professional look to my photographs which are shot with very basic materials at home," she says. She finds the flip screen useful for taking photographs on a timer and likes how simple the connectivity is to her smartphone using the Canon Camera Connect app.

You don't need to invest in expensive lighting equipment either. "My tutorials are designed to be as accessible as possible, meaning anyone can have a go at home," Nina explains. "If I started using light boxes and flashes, it would defeat the purpose. I always use well-lit areas by big windows. Sometimes, if I want to incorporate shadows, I'll use simple lamps and torches – but generally I don't use anything."

If you do want to experiment with lighting, you can find out more about creating a homemade softbox for more flattering portraits in our guide to making your own photo accessories.

4. Experiment with settings

A hand holds a camera, with various settings visible on the rear screen.

Play around with your camera settings to find the best aperture, shutter speed and ISO for your portraits, then you can concentrate on getting your look just right.

A simple approach is best when it comes to taking self-portraits, allowing you to concentrate on your poses and composition. "I don't like to change my settings too much once I'm in front of the camera," says Nina. "I always use autofocus. For portraits, the EOS R6 has such amazing face and eye detection and tracking so it's pretty much a fail-safe. I usually shoot at f/1.8 for a lovely shallow depth of field, around ISO800 and typically a shutter speed of 1/125 sec."

5. Use the Canon Camera Connect app

A woman with long blonde hair sits on the floor of a living room, holding a pair of pink-tinted sunglasses and smiling towards a camera, which is positioned on a wooden table.

Nina likes to keep her setup simple to inspire as many of her followers as possible to have a go. Positioning the camera on a sturdy surface, such as a coffee table, means you can achieve your selfie without the aid of a tripod.

Hands hold a smartphone showing the Canon Camera Connect app, with a Canon camera on a table behind.

Nina says the Canon Camera Connect app is essential to her process – it allows you to frame your shot, adjust settings and fire the shutter from a distance.

Framing yourself, changing settings and firing off the shutter is easy with the Canon Camera Connect app, which enables you to remotely control your Wi-Fi-enabled camera from your smartphone, again without the need for any additional or expensive accessories.

"I don't know if I could do any of my self-portraiture without it, to be honest," says Nina. "You get such a clear view of how you're framing your photos, and you can use it to adjust settings and as a shutter trigger. It's how I do all my content."

6. Practise your poses

A woman with long blonde hair, pulled up at the top with several small butterfly clips, holds a flip phone to the side of her face and pouts at the camera.

Incorporating props is one of Nina's top tips for really defining the decade she is trying to showcase, such as this flip phone. To keep your shoot affordable and sustainable, why not buy secondhand clothes and props from a charity shop or have a look through your parents' wardrobe? Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1000. © Nina Collins

A woman with long blonde hair stares moodily at the camera while pulling her hair out to the sides.

Experiment with movement to add interest to your images and prevent them looking too similar. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/160 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1000. © Nina Collins

"I know what works for me, but I know it's common to get in front of the camera and feel a bit awkward. You might find that you have a 'best angle' but that can mean your photos come out a bit samey," explains Nina.

"Incorporating props gives you something to interact with. You might see me using sunglasses, or a lipstick, or in the most recent decade I did – 2000s – a sparkly flip phone. You can also add movement – try moving your hair, moving your outfit. And remember, no one else is going to see the photos you don't end up using so just try anything!"

7. Experiment with editing

If you're hoping to achieve a specific look, think about how you will edit your photos, whether that's in software such as Canon's free Digital Photo Professional (DPP), or Adobe Lightroom. "For my decades series in particular I relied heavily on editing," says Nina. "I would look at my mood board and pick out distinct things from each era – such as grain, lighting and tone. Images from the 60s and 70s, for example, were very green or yellow in tone. I'll make a note of these key variables and fiddle around with the settings in Lightroom until I'm happy."

8. Be social media savvy

A woman with long blonde hair applies lip gloss in front of a mirror.

Nina has found that sharing her process, from compiling mood boards to styling her hair and makeup, has inspired her viewers to have a go at creating their own self-portraits.

Showing what goes into the creation of a shot is always well-received on TikTok. "On other social channels you might think 'oh that's a great photo', but you won't necessarily know what goes into creating it," Nina explains. "With TikTok you get to see behind the curtain, how I produce something from nothing. People like it because they think 'I could do that as well'."

It's also worth thinking about music. Each of Nina's 'decades' shoots is matched with an era-appropriate soundtrack which is carefully chosen for maximum impact. "As well as being relevant, it needs to be well-known enough to be familiar with the viewers. It also needs to be popular enough that other people will have used the sound too – the more people that use a sound, the better it is for the TikTok algorithm, which leads to more exposure."

Watch Nina bring this shoot together on TikTok and, with the help of her tips, why not pick an era and try it for yourself? Share your creations on TikTok, tagging @canonemea.

Adobe and Lightroom are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

Written by Astrid Pitman

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