Anyone who’s explored Instagram for more than three minutes knows there’s something to be said for a well-shot selfie.
Whether it’s your style-savvy niece catching the latest craze – belted scarves, anyone? – or your co-worker’s most recent vacay pics, you have to wonder how long it takes them to nail those seemingly effortless smartphone self-portraits. (Seriously, does anyone ever get a good one on the first try?)
Todd Sumlin has been an Observer photographer for more than 17 years and has nearly three decades of expertise with a camera. He shared a few expert tips on how to snap a better selfie.
Go to the light
Good lighting is key with any photo. Overhead lights can create harsh and unflattering shadows under the eyes and nose, which may not be the look you’re going for. Whether it’s midafternoon in the office or 2 a.m. on the dance floor, Sumlin recommends moving toward a light source. Even walking to a window can help create a more even light scheme on your face. In this example, the photo at right is a better use of light.
Strike a nice pose
OK, so every selfie need not be as dramatic as Vogue, but even turning your head slightly will create longer lines and thinner angles than head-on. This is particularly practical when snapping a full-body pic to showcase an entire look or outfit, Sumlin said. “Be yourself. Relax. Smile. No duckface!” he said. “Turning sideways automatically slims you down.”
Work your angles
Straight-on selfies can look reminiscent of police mug shots. But holding the camera even slightly above eye level? “Everything is lengthened, slimmed. Your eyes are up, you’re turning your face toward a light source,” Sumlin said. Added bonus: You can capture more of your neckline/jewelry/accessories/outfit.
Turn off the flash
But didn’t you just say to amp up the lighting? Yes, but not in a way that will make you look washed-out, overexposed or potentially give you red-eye, Sumlin said. Flashes can make the skin look shiny or create “hot spots” of light in unflattering places, such as your forehead.
See your surroundings
Sure, the point of a selfie is to capture some part of yourself, but be mindful of what’s around you. At the beach? Get that lighthouse in the background. Walking around Charlotte? The Panthers statues or the city skyline are perfect. “Show people your environment,” Sumlin encouraged.
What you don’t want is for people to be distracted by a mirror picture you took in your bathroom while your delicates were drying on the shower rod. Along those same lines, remember that mirrors can be great for seeing the full effect of an outfit, but their purpose is to reflect what’s around you (unmade beds or stacks of junk mail included). Sumlin recalled the Robin Thicke post-VMA photo from 2013 that showed him grabbing a fan’s backside. “Mirrors will betray you.”
Friends are fun
“A selfie doesn’t have to mean you’re by yourself,” Sumlin said. “Group shots are fun.” Grab a pet, friend, family member, whoever, and get them in the picture.
It’s a great feeling to be able to use #nofilter when you’ve captured vivid colors, but don’t feel like you have to avoid filters all the time, Sumlin said. “Most of the time they improve pictures dramatically,” he said, noting filters can change the light, soften the focus and tone the images. While there are hundreds of apps out there, “even just Instagram’s filters” can do the trick, he said. He has favorites that he uses for his own social media accounts. “They kind of create ‘your look.’ ”
The phone, that is. “The camera lens on the front of your phone isn’t good,” Sumlin said. “It’s a pinhole, versus a real lens.” Not being able to see the screen can be tricky, especially for group shots. “But it’s worth it” for the picture quality, Sumlin said. Most phones feature a button on the side, like the volume buttons on iPhones, that let you click when you can’t see the screen. Added bonus: Not touching the screen may help keep things from getting blurry.
Use common sense
Don’t be like that girl from Alabama who became chum for frenzied Internet debate over the summer after taking an overly cheerful selfie at Auschwitz. “Be sensitive to your surroundings,” Sumlin said.
Shoefies for all
For a photo of your shoes, don’t feel like you need to hold your arm out and angle the camera in, because the pose and resulting pics are rarely flattering, Sumlin said. Get a high angle by holding the phone close to your body. “You want to elongate the leg.” Increase the interest factor of your pic by literally putting your feet up – on a footstool, desk, chair – if you’re able. Take it up another notch and lie down, putting your feet in the air, Sumlin said.
Think outside the box of faces and shoes and opt for a close up of an accessory, your manicure, your glasses, Sumlin said. “Come in closer than normal, and keep it stylish.”