How to Take Good Pictures of Yourself

Contributor: Kate Miller-Wilson
taking a selfie

There are times when you need a picture of yourself, but there isn't anyone else around to take it. Even though it is challenging to take a decent photo of someone you can't actually see, there are some tricks that will help you come up with an image you'll be happy to present to the world.

Setting Up the Background and Camera

Preparing the background and camera before taking the picture can help enhance the overall appearance of the photograph and make your job easier. Taking your own picture is challenging enough. The setup should already be in place.

Choosing a Background

The background should be a reflection of your personality and interests. Another option is to hang a solid-colored sheet for a neutral background. Keep in mind what color clothing you'll be wearing, too. You don't want a black background if you plan to wear black clothing. Instead, try to contrast the background and your outfit so you'll stand out to the camera without clashing against your backdrop.

Portrait photographers typically blur the background slightly and have a sharp focus on the subject of the photograph. Most cameras have a portrait setting that will automate this process for you, and it is best to use that setting if you will be using a timer or remote.

Camera Stability and Focus

If you have a tripod, it's best to use it for this shot. You can use a timer, remote, or with some DSLRs, your phone, to trigger the shutter.

  1. Set the tripod up on a level surface about five to ten feet away from the area you wish to photograph.
  2. Securely place your camera on the tripod. It's always a good idea to set the tripod up first and avoid moving it with your camera attached.
  3. Look through the lens and try to gauge the distance. The distance and zoom will depend on whether you want a close-up or full body shot.
  4. Use a broom or stuffed animal to represent where you will sit. Focus on the object you've chosen and lock the focus on your camera. Do not move the camera without refocusing.

If you don't have a tripod, you can use a level, secure piece of furniture or a few large books to place your camera where you'd like it.

Composing Your Shot

A self portrait is about more than just a good background and a properly set-up tripod. To make your selfie shine, you need to compose the shot just like you would a portrait of someone else. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use the rule of thirds. Imagine the portrait as a grid, with your facial features aligned within. Ideally, place your eyes near the top third of the frame.
  • Leave some space above your head so the shot doesn't feel crowded.
  • Avoid chopping off arms, hands, legs, or feet. You can crop the image at the waist or shoulders if you need to.
  • Take a few test shots and see if the positioning is correct for the type of photograph you want. Since you can't see yourself in the frame, it can be a challenge to get everything to reflect what you have in mind. Practice shots help a lot.

The Right Light

outdoor self portrait

The right light is as important as any other element in your self portrait. Avoid harsh lights as they can wash out your skin, create deep shadows, or make you appear haggard. Professional photographers try to take photographs in soft light. There are a few ways to achieve this.

  • Indoors, you can use natural sunlight near a window. Ideally, the sun shouldn't be shining directly into the window to keep the light nice and soft. Position your camera so it is in front of and to one side of a window and position yourself so the window light falls on your face.
  • Outdoors on a sunny day, you'll want to take the photograph in the morning or late afternoon. You want the sun lower in the sky to keep it from being too bright and harsh. The softer light of early morning and the gentle glow of the hour before sunset offer the most flattering illumination. You can also take your photo in the shade to avoid shadows and bright spots.
  • On a cloudy day, you can take the photo at almost any time and get a flattering result. Look around and notice which part of the sky is brightest and then make sure you're facing that way. This will help light your face and separate you from the background.

Your camera should already be set up, so take some more sample photographs to test the lighting. Is the object that represents you illuminated enough or too much? Do you need to soften the light or add additional illumination?

Your Best Angle

Great portraits happen at all different angles, but when you're taking a photo of yourself, you need a camera position you can trust. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Know that with many cameras and lenses, the part of your body closest to the camera will appear the largest. Remember this as you choose a camera angle and pose.
  • Avoid shooting from below. This accentuates the chin and nose and can actually provide a less-than-flattering nostril shot.
  • Shoot from slightly above. This emphasizes the eyes and face and flatters almost every body type.

Take a Great Phone Selfie

Anyone can take a photo of herself with a phone, but it takes a little thought to make a selfie good. Many of the same rules apply, such as finding a good background, keeping composition and light in mind, and choosing a good angle. However there are some phone-specific considerations to think about.

Phone Selfie Angles

selfie

Although models differ, most cell phone cameras have a moderate wide angle lens, usually with a focal length of 24 to 30mm. This means the camera produces some distortion of features for portraits. If you want to see this in action, hold the phone right in front of your nose and snap a shot. It's not a look you'll love, but you'll see that the feature closes to the phone camera shows up as much larger than any of the others. This makes the angle of your selfie really important.

  • Hold the phone a bit above your head, but don't angle it down too much. Instead, look up at it. That helps your eyes become the focus of the image, rather than your forehead, nose, or chin.
  • If you'll be taking the shot from one side, make sure you hold it as far away from your face as you can without including your arm in the shot. A very close shot, taken from one side, can make one of your eyes appear much larger than the other. More distance helps minimize this effect.
  • If you'll be lying down for the photo, hold the phone above your face. Angle it slightly so the photo is coming from a bit above your forehead. Then lift your chip up a little to make the angle natural and reduce any chance of a double chin.

Composition Tips With a Phone

The composition rules are the same for a great self portrait whether you take it with a phone or a traditional camera. However, phone cameras require a few additional considerations when it comes to composing your shot:

  • Fill the frame of the image with your face or your body. The placement of the camera and the shape of the phone can make positioning the photo awkward. Don't leave too much space above your head. Instead, move the focus point on the phone so your eyes or face are near the top of the frame.
  • If you're going for a casual self portrait, angle the phone to create an interesting shot. There's no rule that says your phone has to be straight up and down. Give it an intentional shift to make it appealing.
  • Try to keep your arm out of the shot if at all possible. Even though everyone probably knows this is a selfie, the arm can be distracting.
  • If you need to include your arm because of the angle or situation, try to have it lead in from one of the corners of the photo. That way, instead of distracting from your face, it will lead the eye right to it.

Holding the Phone

When you're doing a phone selfie, there are a few ways you can hold the phone. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

  • The easiest way to hold the phone is with your hand. Lightly grip it by the edges and place your thumb over the camera button. When you like the shot, simply click the button. The advantages here are that it's easy, always handy, and low profile. The disadvantage is you can't always get enough distance.
  • Use a selfie stick. These devices, such as the Mpow Selfie Stick, which retails for about $10 on Amazon, allow you to hold the phone farther away from yourself and use Bluetooth to take the shot. They're portable, but they draw attention when you're out in public.
  • Use a phone holder with a clip, such as the $20 Macally Gooseneck Clip from Amazon. This style of holder clips to any surface and then holds the phone for you. You can step away from the phone to take a full-body shot with both your hands in the frame. The disadvantage here is you'll need to use the timer to take the photo, and this isn't exactly a portable device.

Best Poses for Self Portraits

Whether you use a phone or a traditional camera, your pose should be natural for you. Practice different poses in front of the mirror and decide what look you like best. Don't forget to try different facial expressions as well, including a variety of smiles. Keep these tips in mind for posing:

  • Staring straight ahead into the camera is not typically a flattering look. Instead, angle your head ever so slightly to the right or left.
  • For the most slimming position, angle your body slightly to one side, one foot in front of the other, shoulders back, pelvis thrust out, and stomach sucked in.
  • Don't position your head and shoulders the same way. Instead, turn your shoulders away from the camera slightly while turning your head toward it. This helps avoid a double chin and is slimming.
  • For a full-body shot, place a hand on your hip and bend one knee. This gives your body a flattering S-curve.
  • Try an over-the-shoulder shot. Turn most of the way away from the camera and then look back. This is a very attractive pose for almost all body types.

If possible, avoid the mirror selfie. This look isn't flattering to most people and with today's technology, it isn't necessary.

The Payoff

The payoff to all your preparation for this photo is that by the time you hit the timer or shutter button and move into position, you will know exactly how to angle your body, what expression you want on your face, and how the finished photo should look. Taking a fabulous photo of yourself involves some work, but the resulting picture will be worth it.

How to Take Good Pictures of Yourself