Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ten tips to taking selfies at any age

 Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel September 12, 2014
self·ie noun \ˈsel-fē\

  1. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. (

  1. Shy and selfie just don’t go together. After all, since you wanted to be your camera’s center of attention in the first place, there has to be at least a part of you that’s narcissistic. (
Here’s a collage of selfies I created during my own one-week self-portrait challenge. 

Selfie experts abound and the proof is in the hundreds of websites ready to coach you on taking better selfies. The advice ranges from standard photography rules about good lighting, framing, and backgrounds, to, “Abs look best taken from the side. For males, leave the shirt off, it’s better than pulling it up, which looks sloppy and half-hearted.”

In 2013, when “selfie” was Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, there was a flurry of reactions running the gamut from selfies being the hallmark of Western decline and image-conscious narcissism, to a few brave souls defending the practice of casual self-promotion as maybe being not so bad, especially for girls. Self-promotion, pointed out Rachel Simmons in Slate Magazine, is a skill which will serve girls well later on when they interview for jobs, and negotiate for raises and advancement.

The photo my husband posted on Facebook to mark my
 birthday last month was taken 20+ years ago of the two
 us on a hiking trip. As many women my age might do,
 I asked him to not post a recent photo. 
If you can see the selfie as empowering—a chance to create and interpret the way you want to be seen by others—then you begin to understand how selfies present an opportunity. One savvy student, Elizabeth Alvarado, writing under the headline “Selfie-esteem” in her college newspaper, defended selfies by young women, saying that, “They challenge the idea that we should always remain modest, and instead they say, ‘This is me, and I deserve to be seen,’ because in the end, no one deserves to be invisible. This is an entirely different experience than when someone takes a picture of you because in the latter case, you have no control . . .”

My husband recently posted a photograph on Facebook to mark my birthday, and I asked him to please not use a recent photo. So he found a selfie we took on vacation 20+ years ago—looking so much younger and bohemian than we do now. It seems many women like me reach an age at which they no longer want to be photographed—which is sad. Perhaps it’s time to take control of our image-making and turn around that impulse to hide from the camera.

A new photo idea book named after a DIY website, “A Beautiful Mess,” created by two young women, Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman, got me thinking about how women of my age—or any age—can begin to feel good about themselves in photographs through selfies. In the process we can not only use photography to our advantage, but also become better photographers in general.

So, extrapolating on the photo-taking ideas in Larson and Chapmen’s book, here are my ten tips to taking terrific selfies at any age.

     Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman’s 2014 photo idea
     book, “A Beautiful Mess,” is named after their
     popular DIY website,
    Their newest book, “Happy Handmade Home”
     was just released last month. 
  1. Selfies don’t have to be distorted arm’s length close-ups. You can use a camera with a timer or shoot into a mirror, so that the photo includes more of you, your friends and your surroundings. To use your cell phone for better selfies, download a free timer app, and use a selfie stick, which extends your camera out three feet beyond your reach.

  1. Make the picture say something about you. Surround yourself with you things you love: your garden, your home, your hobbies, your collections, your daily routine, your favorite gathering place or hiking trail.

  1. Use beautiful light. Shoot in open shade or window light, rather than direct sun. Shoot your silhouette or shadow. Use backlighting to highlight your hair. Consider dim or diffused light such as candles, string lights, or city lights at night.

  1. Highlight your best features. Let your gorgeous black hair, your ice-blue eyes, your shapely calves take center stage.

  1. Experiment with styling. Wear a fun hat, sunglasses, a scarf, a bandana. Add jewelry, a new hairstyle or dramatic make-up. Get dressed up. Wear a costume. Use props.

    “A Beautiful Mess Photo Idea Book” has lots
    of tips and examples for capturing yourself. 
  1. Don’t just stand there. Sit, kneel, squat, lie down. Look over your shoulder or through your legs. Bend. Twist. Cover your eyes and laugh. Hold the camera over your head, upside-down, at an angle. 

  1. Crop to your advantage. Use a photo-editing program or two L-shaped pieces of cardboard to find the essential, defining elements of you in a photograph.

  1. Add motion to your images. Let your hair blow. Jump, run, spin. Speed by on your bike. Slow the shutter speed down to accentuate the motion. Be a photojournalist: shoot a lot and serendipitous moments will happen.

  1. Consider smartphone apps or photo editing programs. Try black and white, tinting, filters, and other enhancements.

  1. Take the 30-Day Self-Portrait Challenge. Each day, the portraits have to be of you and shared with a close friend, your spouse, or online via Facebook. At the end of the month you will end up with some photos you will actually want to share. You’ll also experiment with photography techniques that can help you take better photos of your friends and family, or whatever else you decide to capture.
In Korea recently, I witnessed hundreds of young tourists using
 selfie sticks (also called handheld monopods) to their advantage.
 Lightweight and retractable, a selfie stick holds your cell phone
 further away, allowing your photos to include much more of your
 surroundings or a whole gang of friends. Free timer apps are easy
to download and use. 
Quiet that anxious little voice of discomfort in your head. Are people going to think that you think that you look good, and that you want others to know it? Absolutely. This is your chance to shine—outwardly and inwardly. And you may be making a more lasting contribution to ageless self-confidence than you realize. Selfies of people like you and me may have the potential to reset the air-brushed, Botoxed, movie star standard of beauty to something more realistic.

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