Even the word selfie can be enough to make some people cringe, but did you know they’re not just a Millennial fad? Poet Philip Larkin was well known for his love of a self-portrait back in the 1940s and 50s!
Selfies don’t have the best reputation, with concerns over their effect on people’s self-esteem – and it’s not surprising when you realise that a poorly taken selfie might look nothing like us in real life. In this blog, I’ll show you what not to do and give you some great tips on how to take a selfie that you can be proud of.
The camera angle when you take your photograph is likely to have the biggest difference of everything we talk about here. So let’s have a look at just how important that camera angle is:
Up the Nose
As you can tell from this delightful selfie, taking a photograph from a low angle (known as shooting up the nose) is rather unflattering! Lift up that camera!
Aside from the fact this feels like a mugshot, you’ll find that selfies taken straight-on like this one are likely to really accentuate your features – in a bad way. A 2018 study found that selfies can make your nose look up to 30% bigger! (JAMA, 2018) That’s because camera lenses will naturally distort objects that are really close to them. Try stretching your arm out further or using a selfie stick – or even better, let’s try some more flattering angles.
You can see here that this is far more flattering than the previous two examples, but I’m still feeling that my nose looks pretty big here – and now my forehead looks bloody huge. Again, remember that whatever’s closest to the camera is going to look uncharacteristically large.
At an Angle
Ah-ha! Finally a photograph that I wouldn’t immediately delete! By keeping that camera angle high and turning my head to one side, I’ve taken away the width that was being added to my (already big) nose and now you can start to see some definition in my face as my cheekbones come into shot. You might find that you have a side that you prefer, so try this both ways to see if you like one better.
So now we’ve found a flattering angle to take our photo from, let’s think about some other aspects of taking the perfect selfie.
Photography is all about light and although we’re not talking about high-end portraiture here, lighting can still make or break your selfie. The key things that are going to spoil your selfie are harsh lighting and having the light coming from underneath your chin – it’s known as horror lighting for a reason!
I’ve used a ring light next to show you how lighting can affect the quality of your selfie. Most of the time you aren’t going to see the harsh effects that you’ll see here, but it’ll help you visualise why lighting matters.
Lighting from underneath your face creates many unflattering shadows and is perfect if you’re going for a Halloween look, but otherwise avoid, avoid, avoid! Don’t forget that if you’re near to something reflective on the ground or in front of you, you might still get this effect.
Lighting From Directly Above
If you’re taking photographs with harsh overhead lighting, such as outside in the midday sunshine or in a room with bright ceiling lights, you may well get harsh shadows on your face and in your eye sockets. If your eyes are in shadow, you need to either adjust the lighting or change your position.
Lighting From the Side
Side lighting is OK as long as you don’t create too much shadow on the opposite side of your face and lose the light in the far eye. Try turning your head more towards the light until both of your eyes are nicely lit – or use a piece of white paper as a reflector to reduce the dark shadows.
Lighting From the Front
This isn’t really a bad look but it makes the face look quite flat as you lose the shadows that help to contour your features.
Lighting From a High Angle
This is probably the best lighting you’ll get for your selfie, because it’s creating the shadows that we need to have some definition to our face – in all the right places!
So I’ve shown you some exaggerated examples here. Now let’s have a look at some natural light.
The sun here is far too bright and is making me squint. Clearly not a good look. 😂Notice how the bright, directional light is creating harsh shadows – we want to avoid this. If you’re inside, move away from the window so that the bright light isn’t falling directly onto you. Be careful of patches of light that might hit other parts of your body in the selfie as these will take the attention away from your face:
It’s also possible to soften or diffuse bright light by using a white sheet in front of the window. Or you could wait until it’s cloudy day and you’ll get a much softer, more flattering light.
Other Things to Think About
Unless your background is telling a story about what you’re up to, try and avoid having it too busy or cluttered as it will detract from your photograph.
If you have a portrait mode on your phone, I recommend giving that a try as it can give a really nice soft background to your photograph. It might also go some way to cleaning up a busy background too if you can’t avoid it being there in the first place. If you don’t have portrait mode, try downloading an app such as Focos (iOS) or AfterFocus (iOS/Android) to create a similar effect.
So now you know the dos and don’ts when it comes to taking a great selfie! Here’s a quick summary of the main points:
- Find some nice soft lighting that doesn’t create harsh shadows or patches of bright sunlight in your photograph.
- Hold your camera high and turn your face slightly to get the most flattering look.
- Use portrait mode or keep your background as clean as possible, unless it’s telling a story about what you’re doing.
I hope you’ve found this useful! To keep up to date with all of my latest blogs and content, like and follow my Facebook page. Take care!