Monday, November 24, 2014

Control the Message: Take Flattering Self-Portraits

If you hate the way you look in photos, your problem is that you're not controlling the message. Take the photo yourself.

I frequently change my Facebook profile picture, and I take every photo myself. I control what's created and I decide to post it, so I'm guaranteed to like it.

Admittedly, I vainly take a new photograph when I return home from the hair salon, because I will never style my hair well. But I also take self-portraits when I have some free time, want to practice portraiture, and am the only available subject. I also might take a self-portrait when I see interesting light and wonder how it would look in a photograph. The last is what happened when I took my most recent self-portrait.

I deem my latest profile pic a success. Of course I liked it, or I wouldn't have posted it. But many people liked it, including more than one boy I had a crush on in high school. If that's not the ultimate test of a flattering photo, I don't know what is. A couple people asked questions about this one, so I'm going to use it as a tutorial on how to take a flattering self-portrait.

Here's the photo in question. I took this with my iPhone, which I held in my hand.

For comparison, this is my previous profile pic. I took it with my iPhone late one night, while wearing glasses and no makeup, illuminated by my computer screen. This is what I look like most of the time.

I didn't become more striking in the week that passed. It's all photography. Makeup and editing had very little to do with the difference in my facial appearance.


The most important feature of this or any photo is the light. I took the newest photo in very soft light. I stood close to and facing my south-facing windows just as the sun was setting. The late afternoon sunlight filtered through my sheer window blinds, creating a beautiful soft light. Studio photographers would use a soft box for the effect, but it happened naturally in my living room.


I held the iPhone slightly above me, with my head tilted a bit forward. This angle elongates my face, helping to hide any bags under my eyes or loose skin on my jawline.


The focus is on my eyes, and the focus is very crisp.

I often get blurry photos when I try to take self-portraits with my iPhone, because pushing the button to take the photo makes the whole unit move. The latest iOS added a self-timer, which I used here. I set it for a 3-second delay even though I continued to hold the camera phone. That way, I pushed the button but was holding the camera steady by the time the photo was snapped.

Facial Expression

I'm not smiling. When I smile, my cheeks get round and my eyes scrunch up. When I'm laughing in photos, my eyes often look closed because they are so small. No smile means my eyes are as wide as they are going to get.


After soft light, the exposure is the real "trick" to the new profile pic. This photo is very overexposed, meaning there is too much light on my face. Here's the original straight-out-of-camera version.

It's so overexposed that you can barely see I have a nose. While I'd look weird without a nose, I rather liked eliminating the chicken pox scar on my forehead and the dark circles under my eyes. I even eliminated all my freckles, which are plentiful. I have no problem with my freckles, but overexposing them away creates a different-than-usual effect.


I used Snapseed for my first edit. I cropped the photo to square (1:1), decreased the Warmth under Tune Image to make it less orange, and converted the photo to black and white. I likely increased the Contrast.

The eyes stand out much more so than they did in the original image because of the rule of thirds. The eyes fall right on the line of the grid, and the eye on the left of the image falls almost exactly on the intersection of the lines. 

My next edits were made in PicTapGo. I can't remember which filters I used, but I added a slight vignette (a darkening of the edges) using EZ-Burn to draw the focus to the face, lightened the shadows (my nose became less defined again), and added a slight tint to the image.

I was pleased with the way the faced looked but remained distracted by the background. A portrait should be about the person, not what's going on behind her.

Using a DSLR, you create background blur with a short depth of field using a wide (low-numbered) aperture, but that doesn't work on an iPhone. I had to create the background blur using yet another iPhone app, AfterFocus. Using that app, I made the face in focus, the background blurred, and the hair in between the two.

The dramatic difference between the in-focus face and blurred background makes the eyes (and the reflection of the iPhone in them) stand out even more.

Do you hate how you look in photos? Are you tired of the version of yourself staring back at you from your computer? Use these simple tips (and iPhone editing apps) to show the world the you that you want them to see.

For more of my photography, please follow my Sea Green Photography Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. That was a really helpful explanation. I hate selfies. Now I can fix them!