So you’re launching a new blog and don’t have it in the budget to pay a professional photographer for high-quality photos just yet. Understood. Check out this post from professional photographer Rodnesha Green for tips to help you take the ultimate, professional selfie, even if you’re just using your smart phone.
Hi everyone! I’m glad to be a guest on this blog and hopefully I can help unveil some of the mystery surrounding self-portraiture—or as the kids today say, “SELFIES!” As a professional photographer even I have had trouble getting on board with the selfie movement—camera phones can be tricky! After some successes + even more failures, I have compiled a list of DOs + DO NOTs that will hopefully make someone else’s “selfie journey” a smoother ride.
P.S. That's me in a selfie I took with my tripod.
1. Know Thy Device!
Before you hit that shutter button, make sure you know what you are working with.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have “self-potrait mode” (more than likely the answer will be yes, but never assume)?
- Do I have more than one shutter release?
- Can I adjust the tone/white balance? (Have no fear if you don’t know what I’m talking about; I’ll explain it more later.)
- Can I adjust my exposure (the amount of light in my shot)?
These things vary from camera to camera so peruse your settings and play with these features so that you are comfortable with your device and you have a better understanding of what you can do in your given environment.
2. Consider Your Surroundings
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE assess your background environment. Given that you want these photos to be presentable, polished, and professional, I will take the time right now to X the following options:
- Do Not Take The “Bathroom Selfie”
We don’t need to see your laundry in the background, but it’s quite interesting that you have that many pairs or purple underwear. #BadForBusiness
- Do Not Do the “Mirror Selfie”
Unless you’re 18 years old and showing off your toned abs.
- Do Not Take The “Car Selfie”
The whole “gray leather interior, seat-belt buckled, half-blocked by a steering wheel” look leaves a lot to be desired.
- Do Not Do the “Bottoms Up Selfie”
Phone in one hand, champagne bottle in the other, random photo-bomber in the distance. Yeah, just… don’t.
For the purposes of creating the ideal “Professional Selfie” let’s just throw these out the window. Here are some options you should consider when assessing your surroundings:
- Find an Open Space.
Your backyard, a park, a well-lit unoccupied room in your home, an empty conference room, etc. The key here is having room to move around, test options for backdrops, and to find the ideal colors, furniture, and landscaping that complement you.
- Sitting or Standing?
There’s really no right answer for this one, it’s more about what you are comfortable with. Be aware of your body posture if you opt for a sitting picture. Great photos are about angles so sit up straight & don’t lean too far forward or backward.
…and my major tips is: Use Natural Light!
Why You Shouldn’t Use Your Flash
With most phones you can’t adjust the intensity of your flash, so when you use it, especially in self-portrait mode, a large amount of harsh light is aimed right at your face causing overexposure.
“Flash bulbs” are meant to be aimed at objects over the span of some distance (a little term we photogs call “diffusion”). Phone flashes are so intense because they are built to be able to function in a variety of unspecified low-lit environments. But when it comes to close-ups, this option is not ideal.
Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Indoor Lighting
If you happen to find a great space with big windows that let in lots of natural light, USE IT! Certain fluorescent lights and older yellow lights can add an undesirable tint to your skin and the overall color tone of the photo. Rather than go through a bunch of post-production editing to masque those tones, get your shooting environment right and you’ll make it easier to quickly edit and share your shots later.
Why Natural Light is The Tops
Sometimes, nature knows best. In many settings, you can’t beat what the sky can provide. Some things to keep in mind to maximize photos in natural light:
Early morning and early evening are best times of the day to shoot. Even when I shoot my clients on a professional camera I tend to schedule around those time frames. They just work! The sun is fairly unforgiving in the afternoon. Issues like harsh shadows, overexposure, and sweat become more apparent at this time. Remember, make it easier to get the job done!
Really cool tip: Don’t be afraid of a cloudy day. A lot of people don’t realize this, but clouds in the sky can provide the best natural lighting. The clouds act as a natural diffuser–dispersing the light evenly and offering a softer tone.
4. Filters & White Balance
Put simply: these are features built in to your device that can adjust the overall tone of your photograph. The selection you make will be a matter of preference. Find the filter/white balance mode that best compliments your skin tone, hair color, and clothing. You don’t want a mode that is too saturated (meaning the tone is too rich, which tends to result in a warm, yellowish color). I would ramble more about nerdy photography stuff, but to save space and time you can peruse this great blog post to gain more insights.
When in doubt, there’s no shame in selecting the “Auto” mode and making small adjustments in post-production editing (there are simple apps for editing, shared at the end of this post).
A mini tripod will work wonders for a steady shot: From $5 to $25
5. Find the Right Angle
Don’t Hold Your Camera Directly in Front of You
Looking directly into your device’s camera isn’t like looking in the mirror. There’s an odd magnification that happens due to the shape of the lens. So you have to be smarter than your smart phone! If you hold your device stretched away from your body and angle it up slightly (about 45 degrees) you’ll notice that the proportions of your body are more aligned. You can sometimes even rid yourself of a double-chin (or at least decrease its visibility). You won’t have, what I like to call “Bobble-Head Syndrome” #StayAwayBHS
Tilt Your head at an Angle
This is simply another way to combat BHS and a way to make your photo less static and more dynamic. Play with the angles of your head tilt. Play to your best side (everybody has one). Don’t be afraid to move your head around to find that one great shot! Just make sure you stop moving it once you’re ready to take your photo. P.S. CHIN DOWN! I can’t tell you what a difference it makes.
Another fun tip that a friend of mine once told me: Right before you hit the shutter release, take a deep breath in, smile and snap. He swears by this method because doing so automatically straightens you up and relaxes your face. I’ve tried it and it works.
Framing is essentially where you place yourself within the borders of your photo. The best method is using “The Rule of Thirds.” You can see via the link that photos can instantly become more engaging and professional looking when the subject isn’t centered evenly in the middle of the shot. Don’t be afraid to place yourself off-center. Play with the angles of your camera. Try slightly tilting it to the left or the right and check out those results compared to one that’s straight-on.
Also important, especially if you might be a busty female, or have a rounder mid section, cropping is key. You can do some of this cropping when you take your shot. Just stretch out your arm further and then bring it in closer until the undesirable areas are reduced or out of frame. Option A is a shot of me without cropping—it falls along my bust line and isn’t quite as polished looking—and honestly it’s a bit distracting. With the right cropping I now have Option B–polished, professional, no one is the wiser.
6. Focus Your Lens Before Hitting the Trigger.
Some devices offer the ability to “focus” your lens, and I highly suggest you familiarize yourself with this feature. It will change your life and your outlook on self-photography.
When you hold your shutter-release button down, don’t be too quick to lift your finger. In other words, don’t go rapid-fire with taking your photos. Take your time, make sure the photo is focused, hold the release button down and you’ll notice the lens sharpening and fixing itself on the target–you! Once it is locked in place (usually you will see a green box flash letting you know the camera is ready) THEN release the trigger. Doing it this way will save you time in the long run of having to thumb through and delete blurry photos that are out of focus.
7. Post-Production Apps To Have
So… as you can see when performing the “selfie” our devices can provide limitations. The above tips can help optimize your ability to work with what you’ve got. But, when all else fails there are kind people in the world (nerdy & awesome app programmers) who have found another way to “cheat the system.”
Here are some GREAT/FREE photo apps that you can use to do quality editing and sharing from your device. Some of these you may want to download and shoot from as they have the ability not just to edit your photos, but capture them as well:
Rodnesha Green is a photographer currently working in the Los Angeles area where she is also pursuing acting and writing. Rodnesha has had a long love affair with photography and is grateful to have been able to turn a personal passion into a career. She has worked alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his production company hitRECord.com where both her video and photo contributions are being featured in his first season of HitRECord on TV! She cannot wait to see what the future has in store. Catch up with her via her photography website and blog or Twitter.
Photo of woman taking a selfie: © bevangoldswain
All other photos: © INspired Photos