Tips for Great Selfies

Because I can’t follow you around 24/7 (and who would really want that?), I figure some tips for great selfies could be helpful for those of you who aren’t actual celebrities.

So what’s a professional photographer doing writing about freaking selfies? I mean, don’t I kinda hate them because I want to see people with better photography in their lives for memories’ sake? Sure. Most definitely. But I also live in the same world you do, and selfies are part of our culture. They have been for far longer than most people think.

I mean, even if you’re a cranky Gen X’er like myself, don’t you remember trying to take a photo of yourself with those crappy disposable cameras (which are weirdly making a comeback) only to get your developed film back and it’s filled with photos of the insides of our nose, the top of your head, your thumb, and random shots of the place you were standing? Was I the only one who imagined the person at the photo place laughing their butt off at my ineptitude?

At least now with our phone cameras, we have some privacy and can get rid of the bad shots instantly. Or we can share them for everyone’s amusement, which we certainly need more of these days.

Back to my original point: beyond the Gen X’er struggling with plastic cameras, selfies have a long history in art.

A photo of old cameras collected by the photographer. Not easy to use for selfies!

Selfie History

One of the very first self portraits dates back to 1365 BC in ancient Egypt. Self portraits gained popularity and momentum during the early Renaissance (mid 15th C) once better mirrors were more easily accessible and cheaper. Artists could practice on themselves rather than paying models. Or sometimes, they had stories to tell about themselves and used the self portrait to do that. Think Van Gogh.

Women artists, in particular, often have used self portraiture to portray their lives more honestly than the male artists around them who tended to see them as idealized subjects or who simply objectified them with no real sense of their actual stories. Think about Frida Kahlo, for one prolific example. (If you want to read more about women artists and self portraits, go here.)

Why Selfies

See? We really shouldn’t feel badly about taking selfies nor should we make fun of others doing it… unless, well, they’re just being dorks (again, excuse my Gen X self for seeing most things through a lens of sarcasm and eye rolling).

In all seriousness, as someone who notices more through a camera lens, who catalogues my own life and others’ lives this way, and who believes in the power of photography to reveal truth and tell story, I do, when I’m not feeling grumpy (that’s a small window), actually like how much photography, including the selfie, has become so prevalent in our current culture. And during this moment of feeling rather magnanimous about this topic, I figured I could do no harm by sharing some ways to make your selfies even better.

What better way to do this than sharing some lists?!

Common Selfie Mistakes

  • Your selfie includes your arm or your selfie stick. Um, no… angle that camera so neither show.
  • You’re taking your self straight on… from right in front of you, staring directly at the camera.
  • You’re positioning your camera so we’re looking up your nose. Gross. This should have died with the plastic camera era.
  • You’re taking your selfie via a mirror and it’s filthy! CLEAN IT. Dust motes really are not an aesthetic.
  • Your light source is behind you. Um…stop that.
  • You’re standing in shadow. Stop that too.
  • Please stop with the duck lips, the tongue sticking out (unless you’re an actual rock star), or whatever wacky face you think is hysterical.
  • Stop trying so hard.
  • Also please stop taking selfies in bathrooms with the toilet behind you… and close your toilets! (Here’s why.)
  • Please, please, please, stop taking selfies during moments that are meant to be paid attention to… like, for example, during the wedding you’re attending where I’m the photographer. Just pay attention to the main thing. Reserve selfies for before or after.
  • Be aware of your surroundings in general (and if you want to see a bunch of really bad selfies, check this out).
  • Watch out for unwanted photo-bombers.

Now onto more positive advice.

A photo of old cameras collected by the photographer. Not easy to use for selfies!

Things you can do for better selfies

  • Be natural.
  • Tilt your camera and/or your head. If you’re a bit older ((cough)), you might already know that taking the selfie from above your face a bit will, um, make things look…smoother.
  • With that said, know your good side. No human is symmetrical, especially your face. Run this experiment: Take a bunch of selfies from a bunch of angles and especially from each side of your face. Which side is your “better side” will be (painfully) obvious.
  • Also run this experiment: take photos of yourself looking directly at the phone and then directly at the camera.
  • For a good smile, LAUGH. Then your whole face will light up. You don’t have to laugh openmouthed.
  • Use your timer so you can set your phone a bit further from you.
  • Use a timer and a tripod.
  • If you’re taking selfies outside, you’ll get the nicest lighting when the sun is lower in the sky. So take photos soon after sunrise or right around sunset. You’ll get that beautiful soft light of the golden hour.
  • Again, consider your background. Life is full of interesting backdrops that don’t include your car or a blank wall.
  • If your phone has portrait mode, play with it. It focuses on the person and blurs the background. Play with all the options.
  • If you want to look taller and have your timer working, place the camera below you, looking up.
  • Keep your lens clean (basic but who among us remembers this?).
  • If you’re feeling extra self conscious, grab a friend or a pet to be in the photo with you.
  • Props are also great, like in any photography.
  • Be confident. Don’t slouch. (I know… I sound like your mother.)
  • Play with black and white selfies (says the black and white photographer extraordinaire). Do it! You’ll stand out and your selfies will have an automatic feel of classic and “art.”
  • If you’re inside, maybe tidy up just a bit? Not too much… you don’t have to LIE. ((ha))
  • Don’t overuse filters.
  • Play with editing using all the individual attributes instead of just throwing a filter on it and calling it done.
  • Follow photographers and (I’m gonna gag when I write this) “influencers” for ideas.


A photo of old cameras collected by the photographer. Not easy to use for selfies!

Selfie Etiquette

Be kind. If you’re commenting on selfies, say things that you yourself would like to hear or appreciate hearing. Most people feel pretty vulnerable when they share photos of themselves.

Never comment on people’s bodies. Though a general, “you look extra beautiful here” or “beauty, inside and out” is never not appreciated.

Instead of commenting on what people look like, focus on the technique they’ve used (knowingly or unknowingly), the background, something that they’re wearing, the general feel of what they’re trying to present, or the words they’ve written to go along with the photo.

And of course, there are times when selfies just don’t cover it, so that’s what we’re here for. You can read more about us and what we do right here.