Even a couple of years ago, the term 'selfie' wasn't in common usage. The rise of the selfie has mirrored the rise of the smartphone; not only has their picture quality got better and better, they are always with you (think how uncomfortable most people feel these days when they don't have their phones handy).
Selfies are a fact of modern life, and even the President of the USA has appeared in some, along with other leading politicians. While selfies may seem very trashy and disposable, there is a long tradition of self portraiture in photography, and the best will stand the test of time. Here are some tips to help you better self shots...
1) Focus is all
It doesn't matter whether you are using a smartphone or a tripod-mounted SLR on timer mode, sharp focus is essential to avoid your selfies looking like mistakes. The best place to focus on is the eyes, as this is where the viewer is naturally drawn. On many smartphones you can obviously tap the area you want to be in focus, or lock focus.
Fiddling around with an SLR's focus points as the timer mode counts down is going to be tricky, so try turning on all the autofocus points. Face recognition is another useful tool if your camera supports it. If you are feeling brave, pre-focus on the general area via manual focus on timer mode, then stand in the right place.
2) Watch the background
Just because you are taking a smartphone selfie doesn’t mean you can get away with ugly and distracting backgrounds. If you want to take a selfie that is more than a snap, try and stand against a clean and uncluttered background. This is particularly important with smartphones as you automatically tend to get a 'deep' depth of field, so clutter in the background will be painfully obvious.
With sisters like that who need enemies?
Watch out for trees and lamp posts growing out of heads too – again it's distracting and amateurish. If you want to blur out the background, try a third-party app such as AfterFocus or FocusTwist. The latter enables you get some cool focus-plane effects.
3) Check the expressions
Again, goofy expressions can spoil a selfie so make sure you all agree how to pose if there is a group of you. Try to get everybody looking in the same direction too, with their eyes open.
Counting down from three can often work better than saying 'cheese.' Be realistic about how many people you can squeeze into a group shot, to avoid the embarrassment of cutting Uncle Bob in half. Investing in an accessory such as a selfie stick can be a big help.
4) Smart editing
Taking a selfie is only part of the process, you can also greatly embellish the portrait with your photo-editing software. Try converting to black and white or split toning – something that is a lot easier if you are shooting in raw from a camera. Even if you are working on a JPEG from a smartphone there is a lot you can do.
The Selfie Stick as used in the photo above
Try darkening the corners (vignetting) to focus attention on the main subject, for instance, or creatively boosting or muting the colours. Don't over-sharpen JPEGs however, and be aware that each time you save out from the original JPEG there will be a bit more image degradation.
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