How to Take a Great Selfie :: Digital Photo Secrets

How to Take a Great Selfie

by David Peterson 17 comments

If you've been living in a tent on the tundra or under a rock in your backyard, you may not have heard the term "selfie." In your defense, the term itself isn't really that old - it was coined in 2005 as a way to describe a special kind of self-portrait. A selfie isn't usually a carefully composed image of the photographer in his studio, taken with a tripod mounted camera on the timer setting (though it can be). "Selfie" usually refers to an image that is much more informal that that, generally taken with a digital camera or smart phone held at arm's length, snapped on the fly and usually destined for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or some other form of social media.

Now you know what a Selfie is, but have you even taken a good one?

[ Top image i can't be saved by Flickr user Send me adrift.]

Now, I'm pretty sure everyone has taken one, even if it never left your hard drive. Now that smart phones have that great flip button that allows you to see exactly what you're going to look like in a self-taken photograph, it's hard to resist the temptation. And the selfie itself (minus its comparatively young moniker) is actually almost as old as photography. Before the advent of that little flip button photographers took selfies by cleverly positioning their cameras in a discrete (or sometimes indiscrete) location and then photographing their reflection in a mirror. Today's cameras make this process a lot easier, and the prevalence of social media makes it almost a requirement to have at least one selfie you can use to mark your online territory.

So now that you know what I mean you may be thinking about all your friend's selfies on their Facebook pages and realizing what a challenging little sub-genre this actually is. Because you've probably seen more bad selfies than good ones. And some of your friends may over-selfie to the point where you'd kind of like to just block them.

Taking a good selfie is an art. What's more, knowing how many selfies to post and which selfies to use on what social media platform is a much higher form of art. Because selfies can be annoying to others, they can paint you as an egomaniac and they can just plain put people off. In fact, a 2013 study by the University of Birmingham discovered that posting too many selfies on Facebook was strongly correlated with "lower levels of social support and intimacy". And yet, among people aged 18 to 24, selfies account for a whopping 30% of all the photos they take.

Expo by Flickr user Daniele Zedda

So it follows that the selfie should be used with caution, and never overused. And perhaps more than any other photo you plan to share on Facebook or other social media, the selfie should be something your viewer will be happy to look at. Versus, "Oh god, not another selfie of that guy."

Know your good side, and your bad angles

  • Nikon D70
  • 200
  • f/8.0
  • 0.125 sec (1/8)
  • 50 mm

The Quirky Self by Flickr user mbecher

We all have bad sides. The advantage to being your own photographer is that you can de-accentuate your less flattering qualities with a few tricks. To make your face look slimmer, shoot your selfie from slightly above. If you're including your torso in the shot, turn one shoulder slightly towards the camera. Stick your neck out just a little, which will help eliminate that little bulge under your chin.

Use Good Light

There's nothing worse than a photograph taken with a built-in flash, except perhaps for a selfie taken with a built-in flash. Instead, use natural light. Standing next to a window will give your selfie a soft, natural look. It will also help eliminate dark shadows, especially the ones under your eyes that will tell all your Facebook friends that you are a girl who likes to stay out way too late.

Filter It

If you're using your smart phone to snap those selfies, you can do them a lot of good by applying a filter, either in Instagram or another photo editing tool such as Lo-Mob or Photo FX. Those artistic filters can help soften angular features and less-than-perfect complexions. They can also give your photo that element of cool that you can't give it by deliberately attempting to look cool when that shutter fires. Because you know there's nothing quite so uncool as trying to look cool. Which brings me to my next point:

  • Sony DSC-P92
  • 200
  • f/2.8
  • 0.008 sec (1/125)
  • 8 mm

42/365 - Helga and CB (short for Crybaby) by Flickr user Helga Weber

Don't be so Serious

Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with taking life seriously. But you should never, ever take your selfie too seriously. You know who you are. You gaze demurely into the camera, doe-eyed and pouty. Maybe even slightly angry. Your selfie radiates coolness, which has the possibly unexpected effect of making you look decidedly uncool. Your selfie should never make it look like you're trying too hard. It should look like you snapped that photo casually, like you were just out and about and it suddenly occurred to you to turn the camera around and grab an impromptu photo of yourself, which of course turned out to be awesome.

  • Sony NEX-C3
  • 200
  • f/4.0
  • 0.001 sec (1/2000)
  • 18 mm

This photographer may be in an interesting location, but the background itself is distracting and doesn't add much to his selfie.Fortme by Flickr user AndiH

Stage it

Not every location is a good one for a selfie. Your kitchen, in front of a pile of last night's dishes? Not a good place for a selfie. Parking lot? No, probably not. Unless it's a particularly interesting parking lot. Your bathroom? Oh no, please don't. You should think of a selfie like you think of the other 70 percent of photos you take (though I do hope you do devote somewhat less than 30 percent of your memory cards to images of yourself). Your selfie should be taken with the background in mind. So wait to take your latest Facebook profile pic when you are in a stunning location, say a field of spring wildflowers, or a stone archway or a waterfall. This will not only make for a better portrait, it will also paint you as a person who is interesting, and who does things besides just take pictures of herself on her iPhone.

    A for Alive. by Flickr user martinak15

    Do Something Interesting

    So many selfies feature the photographer/subject just, well, standing there. Or sitting. Or lying down. Yawn. Before you snap that selfie think about all the other selfies that you've seen and make the decision that you're not going to look like any of them. Sure, a straight head shot of yourself has its place, but it isn't going to stand out. For a truly interesting and postable selfie, paint yourself with flowers. Put a cat on your head. Something to make your image stand out from all those other millions of selfies out there.

    Don't Overdo It

    You should take a lot of selfies, because that's the best way to ensure you end up with a good one. But you should only post a very small percentage of the selfies you take. There's nothing like a Facebooker who posts a new selfie every couple of hours. Keep your selfie posting to a minimum, because otherwise your friends will start to think you're a bit of a sociopath.

    Beyond that, selfie photography can be a lot of fun and there's no reason why you shouldn't indulge in it as much as you like. Just remember that old expression, "everything in moderation." It's really easy to overdo those selfies. You know who you are.

    [Also see 22 Outstanding Self Portraits]

    Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?


    1. Joan nabawesi says:

      Ts very vital and I appreciate your work David thanks alot

    2. Vickie says:

      my eyes look like I'm looking at my chin or at my over my head instead of head on. My daughter is always saying what are you looking at? She won't tell me because she thinks it's funny...not! It's so frustrating!!!!

    3. Jayson says:

      I still don't get it counsedering I don't have a phone.

    4. JOe says:

      I use an app called SelfieMatic It takes the photo automatically so you can concentrate on posing.It works great I have never been able to push a button and look natural at the same time.

    5. bailey says:

      i like this edvice i thnk i might take it

    6. Joe Kelly says:

      Hi David,
      I know that I should have sent quite a few notes to let you know how much I appreciate all the tips you've sent to me over the years.
      I've saved every tip. All in my email account and I have well over
      100 + tips that you've sent.(I knew enough about my gadgets to be
      able to put all the valuable information you've given me on a mem-
      ory card).
      Back to the point of this message: I am truly ashamed of myself
      for not sending you more thank you notes, considering all you've
      done for me.
      Joe Kelly

    7. melike says:

      instagram: melikemi

    8. ig: keniapolancox says:

      follow me on instagram: keniapolancox

    9. Terri says:

      How can I take a good selfie of me holding my cat? Every time I pick her up she gets too wiggly.

      • ig: keniapolancox says:

        I have the exact same problem. I hold my cat with one arm and hold my phone with the other. Take various selfies as you hold him without changing your face or position even if your cat wriggles. There should be atleast 1 good selfie there. If not, I also take a front video of me and my cat. Just smile without moving as you record yourself with your wriggling cat. Then, look at the video and choose a part of it where both you and your cat look good and screenshot it.

    10. J says:

      This is a fantastic page for creating an aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately I can't even master the mechanics. :(

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    10 minutes
    About David Peterson
    David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.