Snapping that perfect self-portrait on your phone is a skill. Here’s how to do it, according to the experts.
WE’VE SEEN A lot of creative photography trends in the past year or so: taking pictures through windows.
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Tell an Authentic Story
At its most basic level, a good professional portrait for your website, LinkedIn page, or social media profile should be well lit and welcoming, and it should accurately portray what you look like. Just like on a blind date, if you show up for a job interview looking nothing like your headshot, you’re not coming off as authentic and honest.
Do a Self-Study
Aundre Larrow is a Brooklyn-based portrait photographer whose clients include The New York Times, but he’s also a fan of the selfie-portrait, particularly as a tool for self-care. Before taking a professional self-portrait, he recommends doing a self-study—basically taking a lot of photos of yourself and figuring out what angles work for you. Being well rested, hydrated, and relaxed are key. Do that, he says, and “your body will really reveal how you feel.”
Find the Right Background
You don’t need a fancy photography studio. A little creativity can go a long way. “I shoot 99 percent of my self-portraits in my bedroom, just setting up my $19 backdrop stand that I got on Amazon, hanging a white sheet over it, and having fun,” says Silva.
He also likes to stock up on color, going to fabric stores every few months to pick up pieces that inspire him. He recommends buying pieces that are about 1 yard wide and 2 or 3 yards long. They’re not only cheaper than a 9-foot seamless paper backdrop roll, they take up less storage space.
Wear Something Classic and Know Your Colors
Does your skin have warm, cool, or neutral undertones? If you don’t know the answer, learn what colors (whether for background, clothing, or makeup) look good on you. One shortcut: Look at your veins. If they look greenish, you may have warm undertones. If they appear blue or purplish, you probably have cooler undertones. If it’s hard to tell, your undertone could be neutral. Warm undertones look good in reds, yellows, golds, and warm earth tones like brown and sand. Cool undertones look good in blues, purples, silver, and cool earth tones like grey. Neutral tones can wear almost anything, but photographers generally advise people to avoid black, white, patterns, or super-bright colors in head shots, because they can be difficult to expose and distracting to the eye. (Bright red is famously one of the most difficult colors to photograph, often appearing too vivid and oversaturated.) If you want to play it safe, go for lighter, muted colors and earth tones.
Check Your Camera Settings
Before you start shooting, choose the highest possible image quality, one that will give you more detail and flexibility when you have to crop and edit. Some smartphones include a RAW format setting, which results in massive uncompressed files. Photographers prefer that, because it allows them more control over the final image. The downside is that RAW images require more editing. If you’re comfortable with post-processing, including how to export images to JPEGs, RAW files are your best bet.
Use a Tripod
Holding your phone, selfie-style, is OK for a snapshot, but for a self-portrait you’ll get better results without your arm in the way. A monopod (aka a selfie stick) lets you get the camera farther away, while keeping your arms closer to your body. Your best bet is a tripod or photo mount.
Set a Timer and Take Photo “Bursts”
Take advantage of the countdown timers and continuous shot “bursts” on your phone, so you don’t have to go back and forth to the camera for multiple takes. If you have an iPhone and an Apple watch, you can use the watch to remotely trigger your camera. With many Android phones, you can use hand signals or voice commands to activate the timer.
Strike a Pose
As a general rule, mug-shot photos aren’t cute. Try this: Standing or sitting on a stool, instead of taking a photo straight on, line up your shoulder with the camera and tilt your face toward it . And don’t crop in too close. If you cut off your shoulders it looks as if you don’t fit into the frame. Figure out which side you like better. If your hair is parted, go for the side where you can see more of your face.
Edit Your Portrait but Don’t Overdo It
Two of the most popular photo-editing apps are Google’s Snapseed (which is free) and Adobe Lightroom Mobile (a free but limited mobile version of the desktop application). It’s never a good idea to overedit your photos, but there are some helpful tricks that even beginners can try. Instead of adjusting the “exposure,” which will lighten or darken your entire image, you can experiment with the “shadows” slider, which takes only the darkest points of the image and makes them lighter or darker. Ditto for “highlights,” which adjusts only the brightest parts.
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