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How To Take Better Self Portraits

by Samantha Lee (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     
Image by Paško Tomić

“Selfies” may seem new, but they've been around since the beginning of time. In the 1500’s, Italian painter Parmigiano used a convex mirror so that he could paint a portrait of himself on a wooden bowl. Now we take self-portraits for lots of different reasons – to show how we feel, what we're doing, and to present ourselves a certain way for personal and business reasons.

Self-portraits also don't have to include just you – they can be a way of capturing everyone who is present at an event, without having to ask one person to step out of the frame to be the photographer. They're also a great way of practising portrait photography when you don't have someone to pose for you.

It’s natural for us as human beings to feel the need to to take control of how we’re represented. So here are some tips to help you look your very best in self-portraits, regardless of whether you're using the reverse camera on your smartphone, or the self-timer or a remote on an SLR.


1. The general rule of thumb when taking selfies is to take it from a higher angle to get a more flattering result. Turning your head a few degrees to the right or left will help you find your “side”. Everyone has a favourite side and it will take a couple of tries to help you find yours.

People usually take selfies to show off something, such as a new haircut, makeup or their body. Find an angle that best shows off the feature that you want to show off. A new haircut is best shown from a side angle that shows off both the front and a bit of the sides. A selfie showing off your new makeup should be shot with your arm closer to your body, to show off the details.

2. Try to have your light source directly in front of you to get the best results. However, it is still important to make sure that the light source casts a softer glow on your face, rather than a harsh one. I would strongly advise against using flash, because this tends to make your skin appear oilier than it actually is. Flash can also give red eye, which you will have to edit out later.

3. Selfies don’t have to be limited to your face. There are a lot of other selfies out there, like shoe selfies and arm selfies, that help people show off their favourite fashion finds. The best way to take these kinds of selfies is by making sure that your phone is pointing straight down to the body part that you want to highlight. You can also take obscured-face selfies, like in the photo below.

Image by Meyle Escalante

Image by Emily Cline

4. When it comes time to share your selfie on social media, try to avoid too much retouching. People will be able to instantly recognise if you’ve used a filter with too much contrast and colour saturation, because your skin will look fake and overly soft. Make sure to use filters that have a lower contrast and a more natural feel.

5. While it’s okay to use your reverse smartphone camera for practice, using your phone’s back camera will provide you with a higher resolution selfie. This is especially useful when you’re planning to use your selfie as your display photo for different social media sites.

Most phone cameras also have a self-timer feature now which will allow you to take a selfie that doesn’t quite look like a selfie. Prop your phone against a bookshelf or a table, or use blue tac to stick your phone against a wall, turn on the timer mode, and voila!


1. Taking a selfie using a DSLR is more challenging than with a smartphone, and you will need a tripod and a camera with a self-timer or a remote to do it, but it is worth doing when you need a more professional looking portrait for your LinkedIn profile, blog or business website, and can't afford to pay a professional photographer.

I think the hardest part of taking selfies using a DSLR is the focusing. It's always hard to estimate the focus range without a stand-in, and sometimes the autofocus function doesn't work out so well either. What I like to do is to mark the spot I will be standing in, then I adjust my camera settings around a higher aperture number (f5.0 or above). This gives me a bigger amount of space that is in focus around where I will be sitting. Alternatively, you could use a stand-in object (such as a floor lamp) and choose the settings before stepping into the frame, and you're all set to go. When using a tripod, keep the lens on the same visual “plane” (level) as the part of your body you want to be seen in the portrait (not pointing up or down), otherwise the photo will be less sharp.

Image by Kaja Kozłowska

You can also use manual focus – you just need to switch off auto focus and adjust your lens ring, before setting up your shot.

2. Use your SLR on a tripod to make sure everyone can be in the photo. Take a group shot on Christmas day, shoot your own impromptu family portraits, or just set your camera on a interval timer for an hour while everyone is together and see what type of candid and honest moments you can capture, like in the photo below. Not all the photos may be in focus when using an interval timer, but everyone will be included, and no one will be distracted by playing with the camera settings.

3. You can go off-tripod and include your SLR in the photo by holding it while you shoot in front of a mirror. I prefer taking selfies in front of a mirror. The reason for this is that it shows off my environment and provides a context for where I am. Using mirrors are also helpful for taking full body selfies that allow you to show off your outfit or figure. Make sure that the mirror is clean and the space is free of clutter that will distract from you. Mirrors don't have to be restricted to your bedroom mirror – you could use reflections in buildings, windows and lifts, or you could take a mirror at home and place it on the floor or above you, and take a selfie looking up or down.

Image by Missy S.

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