How to take a perfect selfie

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May we clear something up right off the bat? This is an art form. You’re looking to take a super selfie. The goal is not so much to capture your likeness–talk to Cartier-Bresson for that–as it is to express your inner feelings to whomever you are sending this selfie to. If you are ready to achieve maximum selfieness (selfishness?!), then read on. We’ll tell you how to do a really good selfie.

The look

The irresistible charm of a well taken selfie resides in the look that you are giving your intended recipient. Unlike nearly every other form of photo, this modern art form is all about communicating with people rather than capturing a single moment in time. If you ask us there’s something beautiful about that. Your look shouldn’t be a soulless wide smile. It shouldn’t look like you are staring reflexively into a 1992 Olympus camera. It should reflect your mood toward yourself, your place in the world, and your recipient.

Top global selfie moods

    6. Inquisitive
    5. Sarcastic
    4. Dumbfounded (That means ‘gobsmacked,’ for our British friends)
    3. Joyful
    2. Despondent

    . . . and the top global selfie expression . . .

    1. Excited!

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The angle

Very few rules in fashion photography are one-size-fits-all. But the pro fash photog policy that applies most stringently to selfies is one-size-fits-all: Take your selfie from a downward angle, holding your phone above the level of your eyes. Raise your chin. And look slightly beyond and to the right of the phone, as though you’ve just noticed someone more interesting off in the distance.

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The background

The background to your selfie should be far off in the distance. Since modern tablet, phone, and laptop cameras have a very wide depth-of-field, you want a distant backdrop to showcase your face and the faces of your groupies. Try a mountain, or a streetscape. Make sure that whoever sees the selfie can sense where you are. But the focus should be on your smiling (or dour!) faces. This is about you and your feelings. If you think the lake is beautiful, turn around and take a normal photo!

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Headspacing

Headspacing is an art in itself. How many people are in your shot? 5? 7? That’s a lot! Be certain that their heads are evenly spaced, both laterally and in the third dimension–depth. Remember when we said that modern cameras have a wide depth of field? We meant it? Your taller people can take two small steps back. They’ll look even better. (Tall people can be genetically inferior to shorter people.) Space out the heads so that there are different ‘zones’ of expression. If you are at Niagara Falls, the people on the left might be shocked and scared while the people on the right might be elated.

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When to skip the selfie

“A recent trip to Stonehenge had me cringing as I watched visitors to the site posing for selfies in self-absorbed abandon beside the ancient monument. Did they feel that the intriguing thing about Stonehenge was their own presence there? Maybe I’m not alone in my mixed feelings about the message that selfie-obsession sends about the self-documentarian. Research shows that there’s a direct relationship between how many selfies you share on social media and how close your friends feel to you. There are many possible explanations for this finding, including the self-portrait artist looking or being self-absorbed or lonely or lacking the social skills to know when to say when.”

Karen Shackleford, Director of the Media Psychology Doctoral Program at Fielding Graduate University and editor of The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology.