Self Portrait Photo Contest Winner: Henry Novak

by | May 18, 2016 | Community, Photo Contest

Each year, our self portrait photo contest results in some hilarious, beautiful, thoughtful, and inspiring photos. It’s a fun exercise in turning the camera around to focus on who’s normally behind it. Henry Novak took home the winning prize this year for his image that immediately grabbed the attention of the judges. It inspires an emotional connection between the viewer and the work, which to some is a bit unsettling, but no matter how it makes you feel, it’s impossible to ignore. Read on to find out how he made this intriguing photo.

Please tell us a little about yourself. What kind of photographer are you and what do you love to shoot?

I am a nineteen year old freshman at Portland State University. I was first introduced to photography my junior year of high school where I studied analogue film and dark room printing for two years. I now shoot digital as well as film and continue to process my own film in my dorm and print at my old high school’s darkroom. I am a concert photographer, but I have acquired a documentarian style and also enjoy street photography. I also love to shoot studio portraiture, both on medium format 120mm and digital.

From concept to pressing the shutter button, how did you create this image?

This photo was actually created for a mandatory art class that happened to be at the same time as this photo contest. I thought “let’s kill two birds with one stone,” and I created the image you see below. At the time, I was feeling pretty depressed having to go to school at a university that had no community, nor what I wanted to study. I wasn’t making very many friends, I was having to take classes that were very irrelevant to the career I’m pursuing, and I was struggling to care about getting an education in general. (I was having a “none of this matters moment,” but trust me, kids: go to school.  It matters).

I decided to hold nothing back and create an honest image that shows how I felt on the inside. I covered my head with a pillow case and decided to photograph myself shirtless to show how stripped away I felt. The bag represents the feeling of being lost and trapped at the same time. Though on the outside I looked “happy” and excited to be attending PSU, it was not true. My insides were slowly boiling up and wanting out but I was stuck there, trapped.

My dorm has one large window where light pours into our room. I utilized it on a bright, cloudy day and had myself laying on the ground and the camera above me on a tripod. I used a white foam-core board to bounce a bit of light onto the right side of my face. After metering and framing the shot, I had my roommate press the shutter.

What was the post-production process for this image? What software did you use or what adjustments did you make (if any)?

In Adobe Lightroom I lowered the color temperature, reduced the saturation a bit, raised the shadows a tad, and finally lowered the contrast just a hair. After I was happy with the color balance and exposure, I exported it into Photoshop where I used the stamp tool to get rid of a couple little blemishes on my right shoulder.

Where can people go to see more of your work?

I post work daily on Instagram: @Wild_Hendo as well as on my website:

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