Selfies: A Master Class

No more boring, unflattering selfies for you! Here's how to get creative--and show your cutest self--with your spontaneous self-portraits.
Publish date:
March 18, 2013
posing, selfies, mirrors, lighting, photogenic

Ever since the camera has been shrunken to fit comfortably in the palm of the human hand, people have been using it to take pictures of themselves. Is it self-absorption? Vanity? Or merely the lack of someone being around to take a picture of us?

I'm going to go with it's a mixture of all three, plus a fascination with how freakishly long some of our arms are.

This self-portraiture has become so prevalent that it's gained a nickname: THE SELFIE.

Most selfies consist of someone mugging for the camera, often pursing their lips, winking or engaging in some form of obnoxious facial expression indicative of their inner-most self. (I believe you can tell a lot about a person by what silly expression they do in their selfies.)

I'm not even on Instagram, and I looove selfies. When I was first seduced to the selfie side, my go-to obnoxious expression was to look off camera, and put my pinky fingernail to my teeth, as if to suggest I was caught picking them.

Then, I moved on to the sticking-my-tongue-out-while-winking-and-throwing-up-devil-horns-with-my-hands default selfie pose. Nauseating douchebaggery, right? I don't even want to share one of those here.

One day I noticed if you look in a mirror at an angle, and focus your eyes on the camera, when the picture comes out, it looks pretty damn cool. I've taken mirror-refracted selfies all over the world, at this point!

Finally, I plateaued at an artful level of selfie-taking, incorporating my lighting background into my photos. I did intelligent lighting--moving lights, the kind you see in nightclubs and concerts--for 17 years. Needless to say, lighting has been a huge part of my life and affects everything I do, whether I'm doing lights or not.

I began experimenting with various lighting effects years ago for my selfies, but not the way I traditionally played with lighting. I stumbled upon on the "effects" settings of my digital camera.

There was a setting for "fireworks" that I could never really get quite right when shooting on the Fourth of July, but I noticed it created playful rays of light (because it had a slow shutter speed) in response to movement.

I selected this setting while at Cielo Nightclub in New York City one night. I aimed the camera up at the moving lights, clicked the "take picture" button and allowed the camera to point up for a few seconds. Then, I waved my hand slowly down to focus on my face, and held the camera pointing at me (in classic selfie stance) until the shutter closed, indicating the picture had finished being taken.

As I brought it back up on the display, this is what emerged:

Delighted beyond belief at the results, I tried it again. This time, I let the camera rest on the mirror ball in the center of the room for a few seconds, and brought it back to rest in outstretched selfie stance. The picture that ensued was my face IN THE MIRROR BALL! (This was not Photoshopped!)

Now, I'm addicted. I'm trying out all different kinds of fun settings with my camera, and taking thousands of wacky and original selfies. No more picking teeth ones, or tongue wagging out. I'm now a self-proclaimed selfie artist.

Unfortunately, no one at Art Basel seems interested in curating a show of my selfies. Whatever.

So, here's a quick list of tips to help you take your selfies to the next--and most flattering--level.

  • Fully extend your arm at a 45-degree angle from your shoulder, avoiding getting your arm in the photo. The best selfies look like someone else took them.
  • Drop your chin. There are actually studies that have proven women are perceived as prettier with their chin down. (I realize there are some questionable gender implications at play, but if you're just trying to get a flattering selfie, don't think too hard about that.)
  • Test your angles. Some people really do have a best side! Facial expressions, too. (Duck lips are usually not anyone's best facial expression. Also, it's not even really an expression.)
  • Whenever possible, take your selfies in natural light. (I look straight-up orange in some indoor light.) And whether indoors or out, avoid backlighting if you don't want to be in shadow.
  • Get creative! Let's say you don't have a digital camera with fancypants settings and instead you're working with an iPhone. There are lots of free and cheap apps that add some pizzazz to your photos, like Camera+.

Are there any specific selfie tips you need but didn't see here? Ask in the comments!