Face it; selfies are here to stay. Front facing cameras are getting better, and people are taking more of them. Let’s look at how to take better selfies with your smartphone.
For today’s lesson in selfie mastery, I’ve resisted the urge to go glam it up at some Instagram friendly locations and keep the focus on snapping selfies in the kind of environment most of us are snapping them in: at home or other mundane places like our workplace. If you can master the techniques in your kitchen, you can deploy them anywhere.
Nail Your Pose and Angles
Your phone doesn’t take bad selfies, you do. Most truly awful selfies come down to a terrible pose and positioning. Let’s look at some bad selfies of a really attractive person: me.
In the first photo, I’m pouting too much, and the camera is waaaaay too low. Upward angles are never flattering.
In the second, the camera is too low, I’m not really looking at it, and I’m talking. It’s bad enough when other people snap a photo of you mid-sentence or mid-bite of a good meal, don’t do it to yourself.
In the third, the camera is too high and, again, I’m pouting too much.
Now let’s look at a good one.
Boom! So much better. So what’s going on here:
- The camera is angled slightly down, but not too much.
- I’m squinting a little and pouting a little, but not too much. It’s a move professional photographer Peter Hurley calls “the squinch.”
- I’m looking directly at the camera and showing off my epic jawline.
What works for you will take a little bit of experimentation, but everyone does have good and bad sides, as well as good and bad angles. Dial the posing back and try subtle shifts and you’ll soon end up with better-looking selfies.
Face Your Light Source
To take good photos, you need good light—the same is true of selfies.
The best light to use is a big window. It controls the direction of the light coming at you, but it’s big enough not to create awful shadows. This photo was taken facing a window. It’s even more ideal to use a window that isn’t in direct sunlight as you’ll get a more diffused and gentle light.
You should generally face your light source unless you want harsh shadows or dark and off-looking photos.
In the first photo, the light’s hitting me from the side. That’s why the shadows are so harsh.
In the second photo, the light source is behind me. The whole image is too dark, and the light isn’t great on my face.
While windows and natural light work best, you can use artificial light sources too. You just have to play with the angles to make sure the light isn’t creating awful shadows.
In the first photo, the light is directly above my head, so the shadows are too harsh.
In the second photo, I’ve stepped back, and I’m looking up at the light. It’s not the best selfie, but it’s a lot better.
If your phone has a front-facing flash option—or you use Snapchat—then consider using it. It can make harsh light a little less severe, though it might throw the colors of your image off a bit.
Think About the Background
You’re the focus of a selfie. You don’t want an ugly or distracting background taking away from that. If you can, take selfies in front of plain or textured backgrounds, like walls or greenery, rather than whatever happens to be behind you.
In the first photo, the background behind me is very noisy and busy.
In the second, I’ve moved a few feet, so it’s now much simpler and less distracting.
Use Portrait Mode With Care
When portrait mode works, it’s great. When it doesn’t work, it makes your pictures look utterly ridiculous. If you’re going to use it, you need to be careful.
Most of the problems happen when soft textures like your hair or clothes overlap with soft textures in the background, or there’s something see-through like glass in the image. That’s why my hair is blurry in the first photo above. By making sure my hair only overlaps with solid colored objects, as I do in the second photo, you get a better-looking image. Also, be on the lookout for areas of the photo that didn’t get the blur-treatment. It’s common with software-based portrait modes for the software to interpret gaps (like the gap between your arm/hand and body, when you’re touching your face or hair) as part of the main object in the photo, so the space doesn’t get blurred out properly like it would with an actual portrait lens.
The best way to get better at taking selfies is to take more of them. Instead of shooting one or two, shoot ten—and most importantly, look at the photos you like and work out why. Did you find a good source of light? Did you nail your pose? Was your hand position spot on? Learn what works for you, and you’ll be able to bang out high-quality selfies all day, every day. I know I can!
Consider a Selfie Stick
Look, selfie sticks are super obnoxious but do you know what else they are? Effective.
If you want to take selfies with other people or the scenery around you in them, a selfie stick makes it much easier to get a good shot. Just make sure you’re allowed to use them. Some places like museums and zoos have banned them.
Don’t Over Filter It
Once you have a good selfie, don’t ruin it by over-filtering the image. A bit of editing or cropping out your arm is good if you know what you’re doing, but don’t just slap filters on until it “looks cool.” I can guarantee it doesn’t.
Don’t Die (No, Seriously)
Selfies don’t kill people, but people do die taking selfies because they stop paying attention to their surroundings. Never put so much focus on taking a selfie that you forget you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, are near a lion enclosure, or are about to be hit by a train. No selfie—no matter how good—is worth your life.
It doesn’t take a lot of work to go from taking bad selfies to shooting great ones. I deliberately shot all the selfies in this article within a few minutes of each other, in my house. You can take good selfies—and bad selfies—anywhere. And now you know how.