We’ve all seen it. The duck face, the peace sign, the pucker, the horribly washed out face due to on-camera flash, the ‘here’s my abs,’ the everyone’s eyes were closed, the cut-off head, the ‘in the bathroom’ shot. The ubiquitous Selfie.
They’re everywhere nowadays and most likely, you’ve taken a few of your own. How did they come out? Were they wonderful enough to display on your wall? Will you look back in five years and be grateful you took that photo? Photographic trends come and go, but with the advent of smartphones, it seems like the selfie plans to stick around a little while longer. If your self portraits could use a little polish, here are a few easy tips to make sure your next selfie says “portrait” and not “cringeworthy.”
1. Get out of the bathroom. Seriously. Just step away from the bathroom. People tend to gravitate toward the bathroom because there’s a mirror in there and usually good light, but this doesn’t mean you have to stay in there. Find another spot where the light isn’t quite as harsh. Which picture would you rather see? A picture of you or a picture of someone standing in their bathroom holding a cell phone? Bathrooms are distracting and almost never flattering. (If you must stand in your bathroom, stand next to a window or a small area of wall and zoom in so that the bathroom is cropped out and undetectable in the background.)
2. Turn off your flash. There was a time when using your flash was the only way to get a shot in a low lit room, but smartphone cameras have come a long way. Even if you think it’s too dark to get a shot without your flash, try it anyway. You might be surprised with the results. Cameras in smartphones have gotten so much better at detecting the ambient (or “available”) light in a room. Unless your subject is at least a few feet away from the flash, everyone’s faces are going to be washed out and the shadows will often be too harsh. The reason most people get photos that are too dark isn’t because the flash didn’t go off, it’s because of exposure. Which brings us to our next point…
3. Exposure. Phone cameras are so advanced now, they basically double as point-and-shoots. Before blindly taking a selfie in a hurry, take a quick second and think about exposure. Good exposure is the difference between a great shot and a shot you can’t use. And if you’ve got a group of friends taking a selfie and you’ve only got a few seconds to keep everyone’s attention, that second you spent getting the right exposure will be well worth it in the end. Most phone cameras can adjust exposure with a simple tap on the screen. Not all phones operate exactly the same so you might need to play around with yours a bit, but here’s a little video I made demonstrating exposure on the iPhone 5s. (Pardon the blur. Holding two cameras at once can be a little hard on the arms!)
4. Let your arms rest. There are some great selfies out there taken at arm’s length with visibly outstretched arms (Ellen’s infamous Oscar selfie is one), but those shots are in the minority. Most often, we’re trying to look natural in self portraits or we’re smiling with friends and not thinking about our giant arm taking up half the shot. Or we realize we held the camera so high that everyone can now see down our shirt. Or our hands were shaking due to the unsteady angle and the shot came out blurry. It’s only later we look back and wish had done better the first time. You don’t always have to hold your phone at arm’s length for a self portrait.
A wonderful trick I like to use is the remote shutter. Don’t think you’ve got a remote shutter for your camera phone? If your iPhone came with built in volume control headphones, then yes you do. Simply plug the headphones in the headphone jack, open your camera app and press one of the volume buttons. Voila! Instant photo. The best part of this method is that you avoid camera shake and you don’t have to position the camera so close so it doesn’t necessarily look like you’re taking a selfie. It also works the same way with Bluetooth.
Some other tricks for avoiding the look of a selfie (and possibly camera shake) is to subtly hold your breath for a small second when you take the shot. If you use the headphones or a remote shutter release of some other type, you can also position the phone on a table or rock or any nearby solid surface and have an even more stable shot (plus it’s further away from you so you can fit more people in the photo!). Remember to always keep an eye on your composition and exposure. Are there heads cut off? Are there arms in the shot? Is everyone exposed properly? If so, you’re good to go.
5. No duck face. Or any face for that matter. Seriously. Just stop it. Smiling with your friends and being silly is one thing, but no one wants to see you pucker your lips and pretend you’re a duck in every single photo you take. Be YOU. Wear your own smile, your own personality, and most importantly, your own face. Because what’s the point of taking a portrait of yourself if you’re too busy trying to look like someone else?
6. Quality over quantity. Digital photography makes it easy to take 50 shots in less than a minute. But which of those are you really going to use? Which of those do you share on Facebook or turn into a profile photo? Does the world really need to see 50 photos of you in the same pose standing in your bathroom? No. The answer to that is no. My simple answer to this? Pick one. That’s it. Just one. If you’ve got ten photos that you really like, chances are that all ten of them wouldn’t be your final pick. Consult your gut. You know the one you like because your eye gravitates toward it and it makes you happy every time you see it. It just “feels right.” If so, then that’s it. That’s your one pick and your new selfie.
Obviously if you have a higher end camera or a full fledged DSLR your options will be much better than using your smartphone for self portraits. But for most of us who just want a quick profile picture or a quick snap of us having fun with our friends and family, a quick and easy smartphone selfie is the way to go. Hopefully, armed with these little tips, you’ll be able to advance from simple “selfies” to accomplished self portraits.