Creaticity: The ultimate guide to better selfies

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Thanks to smartphones and social media, snapping self portraits has become a global obsession. While it’s easier than ever to take good pictures of yourself, it’s all too easy to send the wrong (or a ridiculous) message. To ensure you’re a responsible and respectable member of the selfie generation, absorb the following advice.

Backgrounds matter

Evaluate the setting of your selfie and ensure it’s appropriate; happily, your iOS device has a front-facing camera so you can compose with confidence. For example, the background shouldn’t reveal anything horrific (say, a turkey grinder) or inappropriate (such as recently deceased people or pets). As a general rule, hospitals, funerals, and taxidermies are out.

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Messy bedrooms reveal your inner slob and seal-belted snaps are silly. Be sure to include recognizable landmarks when you’re on vacation.

Be careful also of surroundings that reflect negatively upon your work or hygienic habits, or lack thereof. Don’t post beach selfies on sick days and don’t subject anyone to your messy bedroom, filthy bathroom, crumb-riddled couch, or cluttered car. If you do succumb to the siren call of a car selfie, put the car in park and ditch the seatbelt (and consider shooting your reflection in the side view mirror instead).

You are what you’re (not) wearing

For better or worse, it’s human nature to judge others at first sight, and the pictures you post online live forever and are viewable by anyone. So while that, “I got high in Colorado,” shirt or bubble bath shot seemed like a great idea at the time, your mate/mom/employer/teacher may disagree (and besides, you could drop your phone in the tub).

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Beware of the embarrassing selfie! If it’s too hot for Grandma’s eyes, you’re better off not posting it.

It goes without saying that nude shots always come back to haunt you (same for evocative groping), but chest-up captures with bare shoulders are also risky—they make people wonder if you’re naked, which can come off as creepy.

Let there be light

Take a moment to assess lighting before firing off a shot. Ideally, you want available light to be in front of you or beside you. If you’re desperate for more light, try using the flashlight feature of a friend’s iOS device (swipe up from the bottom of the screen to find it in the Control Center) or position your monitor or laptop in front of you to create more light.

Regarding the latter, your Mac came with Photo Booth, an excellent picture-taking program that lets you create selfies with interesting backgrounds and effects (and you don’t have to stretch out your arms). Lastly, if possible, turn off your camera’s flash to avoid shiny foreheads and snouts.

Shoot targeted close-ups, shadows, and reflections

Chances are good that, by now, your friends and family know what you look like. To avoid the appearance of seriously low self-esteem, treat them to something more creative than your whole face. For example, take a picture of one eye, fill the frame with your hair, bicep or six-pack, or capture your feet in interesting places (shoot from the waist down to elongate legs).

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Instead of mirror selfies, experiment with close-ups, shadows, and reflections.

Try shooting your shadow or your reflection in something other than a big mirror (say, a puddle of water or a rainy window). The problem with mirror selfies, besides making you look like you’re trying too hard, is that the camera is visible in the shot and, if the flash fires, you get a nasty glare.

Strike a (pleasing) pose

The dreaded duckface pose—big eyes and puckered lips—should be avoided; it’s the opposite of sexy and makes you look like you’re trying too hard. Instead, smile! Alternate between closed and open-mouthed smiles for selfie variety. Or try funny expressions, or even a signature hand gesture, like hang ten, heavy metal, or peace.

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A smile always trumps a duckface, as do funny expressions—especially when appropriate to your location, like the Grand Prismatic Spring.

For an extra slimming effect, shoot slightly downward, turn to the side, place your hands on your hips, and shift your weight to your back leg. Tilt your chin slightly downward—nobody wants to see up your nose—and keep your tongue in your mouth where it belongs (please).

Stabilize your camera

To avoid blurry selfies, stabilize your camera by setting it atop a surface before firing or by holding it with two hands. If there’s more than one person in the shot, employ the person on either end to hold one side of the camera or iOS device. Remember also that most picture-taking devices have a self-timer, which allows you to set the device on a surface and pose yourself in front of or above it. (You’ll find more stabilization tips in my last column.)

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Stabilizing your camera helps keep the blurries at bay.

Shoot at different angles and positions

For extra creativity, try shooting a selfie panorama or hanging off a surface for an upside-down effect. If there’s more than one person in your shot, try getting behind them or lying on the ground next to them, sitting in their lap, soliciting a kiss, or peering into each other’s eyes. If you’re going for an “into the lens” look, be sure to tell everyone where the lens actually is on your device.

Add people, props, and pets

Selfies are generally more interesting, and less obnoxious, when there’s more than just you in them. When possible, include other people, pets, or well-paced props. For example, if you’ve got a colorful hat, umbrella, yoga mat, beverage, or funky sunglasses, put them in the shot.

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Empty picture frames and a fake mustache make for interesting props, too, and aligning your cohorts diagonally helps get more people in the shot.

You can also add a theme to your selfies, say, by always taking them in front of a same-colored background in different locations (say, white or red).

Edit your images

Of course, once you’ve captured the perfect selfie, you can improve it further by using image editing software. For example, your iOS device’s Photos app, the free photo-sharing app Instagram, and iPhoto on your Mac, all include correction tools and fun filters that can turn the ordinary into artistic.

Armed with these tips, you’ll be practicing safe selfies in no time flat. May the creative force be with you all! founder Lesa Snider teaches the world to create better graphics. She’s the author of the best-selling Photoshop: The Missing Manual books, coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, author of The Skinny Book ebook series, a founding creativeLIVE instructor, and regular columnist for Photoshop User and Photo Elements Techniques magazines.

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