Updated: Mar 6, 2020
Photography is a hobby anyone with a cell phone can get into, and by FAR the most common use for the cameras embedded in a cell phone is the casual selfie. While there are countless articles about who takes selfies and the psychological implications of the selfie craze (Instagram alone accounted for 95 MILLION images in 2018, approximately 75% of which were selfies), here we will only discuss the ways to make your selfie game a little better. Or a lot better, considering how many awful ones get posted every day.
While cell phones have been in common use for over 25 years, the usage of the cell phone has changed radically over the last five - morphing from a handy reason to not have to feed a pay phone to a mobile portal to the electronic world.
Most people appreciate them, but the younger generations LOVE the things, they take a stunning number of pictures of themselves, and they have a whompload of buying power.
It is no wonder that phone manufacturers now focus on the camera more than any other technical aspect.
Clearly, the selfie craze is not slowing down. Thus, it's time to consider the things you can do to make that selfie look MUCH better, because (in spite of what the cell-phone manufacturers say) the front camera can't match mirrorless or DSLR cameras for a portrait. Here are the 4 biggest ways to make the images pop!
I wish to thank my good friend Angela, who allowed the use of some of her selfies as examples, and my other good friends also pictured. Y'all are awesome!
1.) Avoid taking a selfie into a light source.
Clearly this is most observable outside and in the sun, but can also affect images taken inside. The problems occur since the camera is estimating the overall light based on an average of all the light hitting the sensor. The subjects are now in their own shadows and the light source blows out the rest of the image. Also, note the lens flare that distorts the face of the young lady in the middle as well as the purple curve on the bottom of the image. These "artifacts" come from bright light refracting around the inside of any lens, but the small size of the cell-phone lens is VERY susceptible to this. Finally, never aim your cell phone into the sun, even with smokey haze acting a bit like fog behind the ladies. Most know not to aim their camera-phone at the sun - but the sensor is VERY sensitive to all light, including UV light which you cannot see, and UV is NOT filtered by smoke or haze. Doing this can damage the sensor, and result in a permanent defect spot on all future images.
2.) If the background is part of the story, change your placement so that the story can be told.
If the purpose of the selfie is to establish the "I was here" moment, then the background is at least half of what you are trying to photograph. In this example, all ranges of objects in the background are sharp and clear and the ladies are thoroughly enjoying themselves. However, unless you happen to familiar with where they were or what they were doing at the time, this image is limited to a pair of happy faces with a lot of unidentifiable clutter in the background. Stepping forward a few yards and dropping the arm a few inches would have told the where and what portions of the story. Alternatively, if the background is NOT part of the story you want to tell, eliminate or minimize it. The story here could be sisters having a wonderful vacation, and if the location isn't important, drop the angle and focus on the people.
3.) Learn how to ask your camera-phone to do multiple things at once. Many (but not all) modern cell cameras have an HDR (High Dynamic Range) function that is totally un-used. In this example, the camera's artificial intelligence is struggling with how to assemble this image. The camera doesn't know whether to focus on the large group in the background or Angela in the corner and it doesn't know how to balance the light. As a side note, often a landscape mode (holding the phone sideways) would allow a great balance in the subjects of this family gathering. HDR mode allows the camera to take multiple images and combine the best of all of them. In this case, it would have allowed the camera to take one shot focusing on the group, another on Angela, and a third focusing on (and toning down) the over-bright window in the background. HDR mode can seem complex, but it can elevate your selfie game a TON. Grab that manual and learn!
4). Turn off the filter mode once in a while.
Sure, they are fun once in a while, but the whole idea of a selfie is to highlight your shining face and/or highlight an aspect of your life. The goofy filter is good for a laugh, but they are IMMENSELY distracting.
To her credit, Angela doesn't use it much. However, we all have friends that we hardly recognize in a regular picture and assume they were born with comic dog-ears and whiskers on their face. You are beautiful as it is - don't hide behind a filter 99% of the time!