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In Defense of Selfies: A Model’s Guide to Self-Portraits

by Jen Brook
photo & video

An Edwardian lady using a mirror in her home to take a selfie using an old Kodak Brownie box camera in the early 1900’s.What do you think when you hear the word “selfie”? It’s been linked to narcissism, body dysmorphia and addiction as well as mental health problems. But are these aptly named modern self portraits really all that bad?

They’ve been around for centuries indeed since the first camera was invented, so this new found fad is not the twenty first century revolution we might think. In fact the first selfies date right back to the 1800’s, nearly two hundred years ago.

Selfies can demonstrate the passing of time — be it through the healing of a wound (as shown by Fstoppers or the loss of hair shown here), the aging of a person, or simply the transitional changes we all make; from huge life altering-choices to the simpler things like a haircut. Selfies, like any other photograph, are a frame caught in a second and in essence a memory captured in a moment. If it’s good enough for celebrities giving us a window into their lifestyle, then why not for us as the everyday man?

With the term ‘selfie’ announced as ‘Word of the Year 2013,’ it is now even formally recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. Our various social media platforms are full of them; our timelines and newsfeeds are flooded with cheeky faces taken at arms length. In fact a #selfie is probably more likely to gain you more ‘likes’ than a photo of your dinner or cat. Even the most professional photographers like to use their phones for behind the scenes selfies during their shoots, giving their brand followers a sneak peek into their exciting day.

So love them or hate them, they’re here to stay, so you might as well brush up on some selfie best practices:

1. First and foremost, avoid the trout pout like the plague! Duck faces are so 2008 — it’s time to smile again. Showing teeth when you smile generally suggest a more genuine happiness and will probably be considered less egotistical by the masses.

2. Don’t look directly down the camera lens if it’s only held at arms length — it’s too close and you can make yourself look cross eyed. Instead, try looking just beyond the camera or through the lens itself.

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3. Remember that the closest thing to the camera is the largest. I’ve noticed that some girls like to hold the camera high above them to catch a bit of cleavage in the shot, giving them big wide eyes and to hide any unwanted chins…however in doing this, they sometimes fail to remember that their forehead is now closest to the lens and therefore is manipulated much larger than it’s true size. Avoid the lightbulb head look by simply by lowering the angle slightly making your face a lot less triangular and alien shaped.

Notice the pupils of my eyes are too close together with my head tipped too far forward forming a lightbulb shape and triangle chin (right).

4. Find the light and look for the shadows. Intrusive dark patches on your face are certainly not flattering. When you understand the fall of light you’ll be much more happy with your picture as the model. I find that looking up towards the light is the most flattering for me creating a shadow under my nose called ‘butterfly lighting’, it gives definition in my cheekbones for a slimmer facial appearance and hides any additional shadows from raised areas in my skin caused by blemishes, moles, or eye bags.

iPhones are usually great at dealing with backlight, turning away from the light so it falls directly behind you or finding equal light in top shade can give a much more even skin tone across the face. The less contrast usually means the more flawless it’ll appear. However if you want a quick and easy way for a clear and wrinkle-less face with a selfie, then bleach it out with direct sunlight and turn your filter to mono and raise the exposure ever so slightly – just make sure your head is tilted high enough to hide any bumps in your skin! Catchlights give your eyes that extra sparkle.

Shot 100% natural light on my iphone without editing (mono conversion only), with a tilt of my head towards the window to hide eye bags and blemishes:

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5. Dress appropriately — and that doesn’t mean necessarily for church. It’s important to remember that what you’re wearing will instantly be judged in a selfie, so if you’re wearing nothing but your undies then don’t be surprised if you attract unwanted attention. “Hey there gorgeous” is all very well for the ego inflation right? Think again, there are trolls out there too and it’s not so funny nor flattering when it’s your Dad’s mates at the pub making the suggestive comments. A truly enticing self portrait is created in the eyes, not the mouth nor the clothes. Master the ‘smise’ – smile with your eyes, and you’ll have it nailed.

6. Beware of what’s in the background – your unmentionables, hanging up to dry by your bed is not what the world needs to see. We all remember the girl on Ebay selling a yellow dress without her knickers on right? Right.

I cannot stress this point enough, take your shot and check every single pixel….twice!

Notice the ugly nude strapless bra strewn on the laptop:

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7. Post it online for a reason. Maybe say where you are or what you’re doing to give it a more interesting quirk. Especially if you’re on holiday or in front of a beautiful landscape. Show the world why you want to cherish that moment.

Airport selfie on my way to Finland, celebrating twelve months of confidently traveling alone as a model on tour:

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8. Don’t get cocky – selfie-ing too often can be considered arrogant whilst also attracting the wrong sort of attention and even inducing anxiety in some (if the next is not as good as the last). Tactical and irregular posting is much more appreciated and less likely to see you removed from your friends timelines. It’s nice to include other people in your selfie’s to show you and your friends having a good time rather than just indulging in your own appearance.

9. Don’t use selfies to seek attention. Begging for likes, shares and comments or complaining about your appearance when posting a selfie is generally not cool. If you need the approval of others to get you through the day then you probably need more than selfie-help.

10. Enjoy it. After all is said and done, who cares if not everyone likes selfies? If you can take a picture of yourself and be happy with the way that you look, then good on you! Share it with the world and always be proud of who you are.

Shot on my iphone in natural light: head tilted to cover bags, eyes looking through the lens not at it, catchlights in the eyes from the light, top showing so I don’t look naked, head not too high avoiding an alien forehead, a slight smile instead of a pout….and a mono conversion filter for instant selfie awesomeness!

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Jen Brook

Jen Brook is a fine art and fashion model, as well as a freelance photography writer. Follow her work on her Tumblr and her Facebook Page.