In late November, Oxford University Press chose its annual Word of the Year. This year’s selection? “Selfie.” That’s right: The fine art of taking a photo of yourself has received the seal of approval—or something—from an institution that includes some of the most esteemed scholars of the English language.
Love ’em or hate ’em, selfies aren’t going away. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stuck with crappy photography. No. Let’s dedicate ourselves to elevating the selfie to an art form. Or at least to something that isn’t widely mocked. Here are some tips for taking selfies that your friends will actually want to see (maybe).
Don’t shoot into a mirror
Nothing says I-don’t-care-how-this-looks like standing in front of a mirror and pointing a camera toward it. Not only is the lighting usually bad, but you’ll pick up any streaks, smears, or crud stuck to the glass. Ew. If your smartphone is from the past two or three years, it probably has a front-facing camera. Use it.
Clean your damn room
If you’re going to take a picture of yourself, you’ll probably want to make sure you look presentable first. But why in the name of all that is good do you leave your room a mess in the background? That should look presentable, too! Take a few minutes and make your bed. Stash the Pepto-Bismol and Preparation H out of camera range. And try to reduce unnecessary clutter, so your background doesn’t distract from the center of attention in the photo—you.
Shoot from above, not from below
Unless cultural norms of physical attractiveness have changed radically in the past few months (always possible), most people don’t want to look up your nostrils in photos—so be sure to hold your camera at eye level or higher. This will also produce more-flattering photos in general, since you’ll get a better angle of your face.
No more duckface
Eager to adopt an oft-ridiculed, utterly clichéd photographic pose? If so, by all means, pucker your lips and do your best Donald Duck impression. Voilà: duckface (aka Blue Steel). Otherwise, consider a different facial presentation. And no, sparrowface isn’t an improvement. Really. Go for something less…avian.
(People used to make this face called a “smile” for photos—sort of a grimace, but less ironic. It was popular for a really long time. You retro hipsters should bring it back.)
Mind your manners
There’s a time and a place for everything, including selfies. Conversely, there are times and places where selfies aren’t entirely appropriate. Want to take a photo of yourself on your vacation or in a nightclub or at a baseball game? By all means, go for it. But we advise you not to indulge in selfies while attending a funeral—or during the reading of the will, for that matter.
Also, if you’re a world leader, you probably shouldn’t take a selfie at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Just sayin’.
Just say no to symmetry
Generally, it’s a no-no in photography to place the subject of a photo directly in the center of the frame: Highly symmetrical photos are less visually interesting than ones where the subject is slightly offset. So try shooting your selfies with your face toward one side or the other, for example. And experiment with shooting yourself at slightly different angles—maybe turn your head slightly so you aren’t gazing straight into the camera.
Poor lighting can ruin an otherwise good photo. Too much light can make you look pale and sickly; too little can turn you into a silhouette. Good lighting can be hard to come by if you’re taking a spur-of-the-moment selfie, but try to follow these simple rules:
Avoid backlighting: Unless you’re going for a silhouette look, make sure the main source of light is in front of you, not behind you, when you take photos. Otherwise, the only thing people will be able to make out in the photo is the bright backdrop.
Avoid the flash at all costs: Even the best camera flash can make you look gaunt and sickly. Try to take your selfie in a well-lit place that doesn’t require you to use the flash.
Avoid bad fluorescent lighting of the type you might find in a bathroom: Harsh fluorescent lights don’t do anyone’s appearance any favors, unless you’re going for the recently undead look.
Try to get bright, even, but diffuse lighting if you can: Don’t shine a light directly at your face; instead, move away from the source of the light so it isn’t as harsh, or use a light diffuser. They’re fairly inexpensive to buy, and you can make your own out of simple household items. If you’re serious about selfies, you might find that the project is worth the extra effort.