Although the term “selfie” was named Oxford’s Dictionary Word of The Year in 2013, the idea of the self portrait is not a new concept. Artists have been rendering self portraits for centuries before the modern smartphone came onto the scene, but today’s modern selfie is meant to serve as more of a quick shout out than a lasting piece of art. But what makes a great selfie? Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook users have their own opinions, but even the scientific community has weighed in on what makes a selfie successful. I asked photographer Amber Wallace for her professional tips for the modern self portrait. So here are a few hacks for upping your selfie game.
Chin Down, Camera Up
Love her or hate her, Kim Kardashian is arguably the selfie-queen. There’s even a wax figure of Kardashian mid-selfie at Madame Tussauds. In an interview with Marie Claire, Kardashian said her favorite selfie angle is chin down, camera up. Holding the camera too low highlights a nice double chin, and pointing the chin up shows the world the inner-workings of your nasal passage. If that’s not the look you’re going for remember Kardashian’s selfie mantra: chin down, camera up.
Wallace said that angle works for Kardashian because her face is relatively thin, but your perfect angle depends on what your face structure is. Play around with angles and heights of your camera to find your own sweet spot.
Move Beyond Your Mug
Remember that your face doesn’t define you. The point of a selfie is to share a part of yourself with the world, so branch out. New pair of shoes? Shoot your feet. Ran over 20,000 steps? Show us the fitness tracker on your wrist. A selfie can tell a story about you without your face even in it. While having a relaxing moment at the beach I realized that my sand-covered toes and a hammock told a better story than my duck face near the water.
“When you’re looking at your camera you’re not really in the moment,” Wallace said. “So your face isn’t always the best way to capture what’s going on.” A selfie isn’t just your face. A selfie is about you. Even when photographing her clients, Wallace tries to capture candid moments and smaller details.
Frame it Out
If you are trying to convey your feelings through facial expressions, bring the shot in tight around your face, Wallace said. Minimize distracting backgrounds by bringing the focus to your eyes. But don’t hold the camera too close, since that will bring the focus to whatever is closest to the camera, and in this case it’s your nose. Instead zoom in just enough to frame the shot, but not so much that you reduce the quality of the photo.
“Because cell phones don’t allow you to capture the depth of field like a good camera, zooming in slightly and framing the shot will give you a similar effect,” Wallace said. It also allows people who are self-conscious about their body to concentrate more on their face and pose in a more flattering fashion that might look weird zoomed out. But framing it in tight gives that flattering facial selfie.
Divide and Conquer
Centering your face in the middle of the frame can give a bit of a mug-shot vibe to your selfie. Wallace said if that’s not your goal, try using the basic photography rule of thirds. This trick essentially divides the frame into a grid with three equal parts vertically and three equal parts horizontally. Position your face on the right or left of the frame in the top corner with your eyes a third of the way down from the top and off center just a bit. This composition allows for the focus to simultaneously capture you and your surroundings.
“The rule of thirds is generally more appealing to the viewers eye because it allows your eye to circulate around the photograph and back to the subject,” she said.
Sometimes the act of taking a selfie can tell its own story. Try having someone else take a photo of you taking a photo of you. A selfie of a selfie. Celebrities are experts at the selfie-inception, although Wallace said she finds the idea of taking a photo of a selfie kind of awkward if the subject isn’t someone with notoriety.
Crop ’til You Drop
One way to go viral is to snap a selfie with an interesting background. Just make sure it’s interesting for the right reasons. One girl’s selfie was shared around the internet because she forgot to crop out some of the dirty details around her. Keep it simple, and be aware of your surroundings. No one’s going to be interested in your face if they can spot a rat feasting on garbage over your shoulder.
Some documentary photographers would say not to crop, Wallace said. But for a run-of-the-mill selfie a little creative cropping is fine. Some people even crop in tight around one eye in order to illustrate something in the background, even if it is something a little crazy. Again though, know the intent of your selfie when snapping that shot.
Do the Duck Face?
Instead of trying to awkwardly contort your fingers to both hold your phone and hit the shutter button on the screen, try using the volume buttons on the side of the phone. If that doesn’t do it, try a device called the PopSocket. It’s a phone accessory that doubles as a grip and a stand.
Wallace said sometimes she uses her selfie-taking arm in the photo to frame out the shot and use “leading lines” in order to draw attention to the face.