How To Take a Selfie: Pro Photographers Give Us All Their Best Self-Portrait Secrets

Painful confession time: I was a total selfie-hater until I got an iPhone... and Instagram... and linked Instagram to my Twitter account. Then — as though it had been boiling within me all these years — my latent narcissism sprung to the surface, fully formed, like Athena emerging from Zeus' head. 

You guys, it's just so easy to take selfies now! My iPhone camera has that little flip-the-camera-around button and I can see see exactly what I look like, meaning the ratio of beautiful art gems to terrible mistakes is higher than ever. Plus, have you seen those complexion-flattering Instagram filters? Don't get me wrong, I still hate and judge selfies, and yet they flow from me like a self-indulgent river.

I only have three selfies on my Instagram right now. Wait, four, because I just posted the below pic. (SEE?) They're okay. But they're not amazing. I want them to be better. I want them to be perfect. After all, 2013 is all about social media, social media is all about image-crafting, and image-crafting is all about pretending you look like a supermodel 24/7, right? So I called in the big guns: professional photographers. 

If anyone knows their way around a portrait, it's these guys. And I'm not trying to boast, but I even got us some insider pro tips from the guy who actually coined the term "selfie"...

 

BUSTLE: How can I take a super-flattering selfie? What are the tricks of the trade?

JIM KRAUSE, Jim Krause Design, and the originator of the term "selfie": Selfies should be decisive: They should either declare "I am a selfie" by clearly giving away that the person in the shot is also the person holding the camera, or they should be sly and completely hide the fact that the photographer is also the subject. Think backdrop(!) when shooting selfies. What's behind you? How does it affect the scene? Can you frame yourself beneath a arc of neon or within the frame of doorway? What about stepping in front of an ornate sheet of wallpaper or a blurred cityscape? Great portraits — and great selfies—are often a matter of a great backdrop.

HEATHER GILDROY, Heather Gildroy Pictures: Gurrlllz and boyzz, know your angles. Lighting is everything. I have a very European nose and, to quote "Arrested Development," I "look like a falcon when wearing a swim cap." Knowing this, I work with my strong features and choose mostly frontal poses.

RYAN HEBERT, Ryan Hebert Photography: 1) Use natural light. Window light is best and will save you from the ghastly looking bags that harsh overhead artificial lights create. 2) Take your pic from above as to avoid any unflattering angels and subsequent frustration. A mirror is also a helpful tool. 3) Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep it cutesy and fun so as to convey the message that your selfie was taken on a whim…no big deal…just an afterthought, a quick snapshot before heading outside to live your super-interesting and thoroughly catalogued (via Instagram and Facebook, etc.) life. 4) Take copious amounts of photos. It is surprisingly hard to get a great shot. Be sure that you have  a lot of memory on your cell phone. Nothing is more annoying than capturing a pretty decent selfie, and then erasing it with the ambition of taking a better one, only to fail.

DAVID MCDONALD, David McDonald Photo: Models are trained to always find their light. They don't hide from it, but they head straight into it. You want to prevent as little shadow on the face as possible. Depending on your features, a nose might cast a pretty big and not so flattering shadow over a sizable part of your face.

 

Grand Duchess Anastasia, Myspace-in' it up with a ghostly sibling in the background.

What about filters? Can I fake it till I make it?

RYAN: Smack a filter on it. This is always more flattering. Period. (Unless you are a Brooklyn hipster, than just post as is, God forbid you create an artificial and inauthentic photograph!) Or, if you look so good that #nofilter is needed, than you can also post this, as this really secures your standing in the world of attractiveness and #naturalbeauty.

DAVID: Look into retouching apps for your mobile device, since that is the primary selfie tool. The photo editing technology for smartphones is getting out of this world, so make an investment of a few dollars to prevent that whitehead on your nose... or add a Cindy Crawford mole.

How can I post selfies without causing my friends to unfollow me, block my number, and come after me with pitchforks?

JIM: The best selfies offer something to viewers — viewers other than the person who shot the selfie. That "something" could be as simple as an aesthetic treat (a beautiful photo, in other words) or a laugh.

HEATHER: Selfies are a bit like crying wolf.  It's important to post them sparingly and only when they can make the biggest impact. You don't want your friends sighing and rolling their eyes while viewing your posts. I recently posted a picture of my old ID from when I was 20. I had chola thin eyebrows, was really into wearing scarves, and spent a lot of time applying makeup at the time. The picture is equal parts ridiculous and surprisingly one of the more glamorous pictures I have to date. I felt this was a good selfie option and the post received a lot of love.

RYAN: One word to remember when partaking in selfie exploration: moderation.

DAVID: I personally don't get into the selfie that much. When I do, it's usually a self-portrait where I've really thought of the composition. On my Instagram account, I try and steer clear of including myself in the photo as much as possible, but rather capture what's happening from my perspective.

 

Ryan Hebert, reassuring us that photogs take phone selfies, too.

What do you think of the selfie phenomenon? They're a sign of the end times, right?

JIM: Narcissists have always looked for — and found — ways of showing off to the world. That's what makes them narcissists. And since digital cameras and social media have made showing off easier and more convenient than ever, it makes it seem like narcissism is on the rise. I don't necessarily agree: It's just that we see more evidence of it. Selfies can be a great form of personal expression. If you're into personal expression.

RYAN: Selfies are definitely a reflection of an increasingly narcissistic, beauty-obsessed, self-indulgent culture, but they have existed since the advent of photography. A quick Google search reveals that the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna at the age of 13 was one of the first teens to take her own picture using a mirror, and her expression is not far off from the wide, doe-eyed gaze that so many young teens today have so perfectly mastered. And before that, artists partook in the exercise of the self-portrait; one can only imagine the smoke and mirrors that the paintbrush allowed.

DAVID: I think the selfie is pretty telling of the generation that is taking over as far as trends and marketing. Social media is designed, in essence, to be narcissistic, and what better way to show off your narcissism through digital media than to take a picture of yourself? I think it's so funny that people will take the most unflattering photos of themselves just waking up, hair a mess, and then it's broadcast onto the internet. The only thing for sure is the selfie is here to stay.

RYAN: Let’s admit it, selfies are not going anywhere, and I’m happy they’re not. They are so much fun to look at when engaging in a long session of internet stalking, and can also be a fun form of self-expression. And who doesn’t want to immortalize certain special nights when they felt beautiful?

JIM: Remember: Just because you shoot a ton of selfies, it doesn't mean you have to share each and every one with the world. Selfies, like many personal indulgences, can be abused. It's all a matter of when, how, and how often you shoot and share them.

Well, I'm off to take a hundred selfies, edit them down to one, and post it to Instagram next week (I figured I've probably out-selfied all 64 of my followers with that "Help Me" sign). If you long for the days when photography was an art form for professionals only and not something that a bunch of indulgent millennials did with their iPhones, check out these artists' amazing work, no selfies included. Probably. 

Jim Krause Design

Heather Gildroy Pictures

Ryan Hebert Photography

David McDonald Photo

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