How to Take a Better Selfie

Ah, the “selfie.”   Good for so many things, yet so easy to go horribly wrong.  I’m not talking about the walking over the edge of a cliff or into moving traffic horribly wrong AKA Darwin Award wrong. I am talking about the missed opportunity to let every one of your followers see that cool thing you just did.  How can you make your selfies better? Read on.

Group of people taking a selfie

I am going to assume that you are not trying to become the next social medial influencer. Also, that you are just a normal person who likes to fire off the occasional selfie without a whole lot of post-production editing. Basically, you just want to let your family and friends know what has been happening in your life. Of course if you need to send your mother a “proof of life” pic, a decent selfie matters. Otherwise, she will assume that you survived an alien abduction or have not been eating enough vegetables because the proof is in the picture.

Why Do I Look Weird?

Why is it so darn hard to take a great selfie that actually looks like you?   The short answers are your arms are too short and your face does not look like you think it does.  Let’s take that second one first. 

Have you ever noticed that when you look at a photograph of yourself it just seems off?  Most of us use that image in the mirror as the reference for how we look. After all, it is an image we see at least once a day while we are doing bathroom things.  So how come you do not look like that image in photos?  Simple, our faces are not symmetrical.


When you look in the mirror, you are seeing your image in reverse. For example, if you raise your right hand, it looks like you are raising your left. If our faces were perfectly symmetrical, that is each side was an exact mirror image of the other, there would not be a problem. However, because there are small differences between each side of the face, your face in a picture will look just a bit off from the image you see in a mirror.  

So, if you think your selfie face does not look like you, some of this is caused by good old-fashioned asymmetry. One selfie tick is to give yourself more images of how you look. One way to do this is to mix up how you wear your hair, which gives your brain an opportunity to focus on the big changes in hairstyle rather an small symmetrical features.

Graphic of Carolyn's asymmetrical face.

The Wide-Angle Lens

Before you go overboard with the plastic surgery, the bigger problem in a selfie picture is not related to an asymmetrical face but to short arms. Huh?  Look at the camera on your phone. It is tiny. Despite being small, phone cameras can take great pictures because they use wide angle lenses. Once you understand how your phone’s camera distorts close-up images, you will be well on your way to taking a better selfie.

Think of a triangle. One point is in the middle of your phone’s camera. How much of what you see captured in a picture depends on how wide the base is of the triangle. The wider the base, the more you can capture. Without a wide-angle lens, all your pictures would look like you were taking them from the other end of a paper towel roll. 

Graphic demonstrating what a smart phone image would like with and without a wide angle lens.

Distance Matters

While the wide angle works great when you are just taking regular pictures, it is not the best for flattering your face. Why?  With wide-angle lenses, images that are closer to the camera appear larger than those further out. This is why your nose looks so big in your selfies. The average arm is around 25 inches and a camera a mere two feet from your face makes your face look huge compared to what is in the background.

Making matters worse, these lenses make the parts that sick out on your face like your nose or your chin look even bigger relative to your eyes. Even more distorting is how we frame our faces against whatever is behind us. When we tilt our head up in the frame to capture the right angle for the background, we wind up bringing our chins even closer to the lens. Although, this is a good way to get rid of your double chin if you have one. The good news is that you can avoid most of these issues by doing just a few simple tricks.

How to Make Your Selfies Look Better

Example of a bad selfie.
A bad selfie

You can dramatically improve the quality of your selfie by raising your eyebrows a tad, extending your head away from your neck, and dropping your shoulders. Raising your eyebrows makes your eyes a little bigger so they appear to be more proportionate to your nose. Extending your head a bit back and dropping your shoulders lengthens the neck. This in turn makes your head appear smaller.  

Put Your Best Face Forward

If you want to improve further on the quality of your selfie, spend some time figuring out the best angle for your face. I cannot tell you what that will be but by spending some time in the mirror and then shooting pictures of yourself at different angles, you should be able to find the angle that looks best to you. Once you have this angle, use it in all your selfies. After all, it is your best face so why not put it forward?

Why Does My Selfie Smile Look Fake?

Another trick is to make your emotions look real. Focus on the feeling you are trying to project. If it is happiness, think of something that genuinely makes you smile. Loneliness in a barren field? Dig up those feelings.  When you feel the emotion, it looks real on your face and you don’t accidently show some micro-tells screaming, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”   

What is the Best Light for a Selfie?

Example of a better selfie.
A better selfie

Finally, before you take your selfie, do a slow rotation to find the best available light. Natural light is preferable to florescent but even shooting inside near a window can give your face a healthy glow.  The most flattering light hits you at a slight angle. Light from the back, makes your face too dark while light hitting you straight on can give your face a washed-out appearance.  Side light gives your face unflattering shadows.

There you have it. A few small tricks and I guarantee you will be posting some excellent selfies in no time!  Mom Voice: “Stay aware of your surroundings!”  That said, if you are looking for some bougie places around town for those selfies, check out the articles tagged “Bougie.” 

Resources to Improve Your Photography

Taking good pictures requires not only a decent camera, but also an understanding of what makes a good picture in the first place. Unlike a regular camera, your phone camera is point and shoot. While you may have trouble shooting close-ups or action, there are still many great photographs you can take. Understanding how to “see” a great shot and what makes that shot awesome gets over three quarters of the way to shooting an award winning photo.

Here are three good books to help you learn how to be a better photographer. The first book is focused on taking pictures with your smart phone. While not specific to the smart phone, the next two books are great introductions to photography techniques and how to develop a photographers “eye.”

  • Smart Phone Photography by Jo Bradford provides a host of simple techniques you can use to take very good pictures on either an iPhone or Android.
  • Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson covers design, composition, light, and how to see creatively. For you camera nerds, each shot includes all of the technical details that went in to creating each picture in the book.
  • Extraordinary Everyday Photography by Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwarning is a great read on how to change your perceptions of the world around you to spot unique and interesting things to photograph.

I love to learn new photography techniques so if you have some cool ones, please share in the comments.

Need new locations for fun selfie shots? I can help.

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By Carolyn

Carolyn is a seasoned traveler who finds amazing things to explore wherever she goes. Carolyn has explored all 50 states in the U.S. and has traveled widely throughout Canada and Europe, including Iceland. For over 15 years, Carolyn has been helping people make the most of their get-a-ways by personalizing their travel adventures. She believes "tailored to you" is the only way to make the most of your next adventure.

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