Say what you will about selfies—some people love them, some hate them, and some think they're an important part of self-care. People have been taking pictures of themselves long before the word "selfie" was added to the dictionary in 2013, and I'm not just talking about the dark days of grainy, over-contrasted, poorly angled Myspace selfies. From the time the camera was invented, people have taken self-portraits, and before that, they were commissioning painted portraits of themselves.
With camera phones constantly evolving and photo-editing and sharing apps like Instagram taking over, one thing is clear: The selfie is an easily accessible art form that's here to stay, so you may as well learn how to take them right. And whether you're going for silly or serious, one of the biggest factors contributing to snapping the perfect selfie is lighting, which you can achieve easily at home with these tips from professional photographers.
The Bigger, the Better
When it comes to photo lighting, bigger is actually better. A big, diffused surface—as opposed to a small, exposed bulb—is ideal for selfie-taking, according to portrait photographer Sarah Sloboda. Sloboda, who literally wrote the book on selfies (her book "How to Take the Best Selfies" is available on Amazon), also suggested getting a collapsible reflector from a camera store if you really want to up your selfie game—since it's collapsible, it can be put away when not in use so as to not affect your decor. For lighting that both photographs well and looks good in your home, try using long, cylindrical lamp shades.
Keep Lights at Eye-Level
To put your best face forward, your lighting needs to be on your level. According to Sloboda, you want the light source to be coming from eye-level, because it's the most flattering for faces. "Lighting from even slightly above can create circles under the eyes, and from below makes you look like you're in a horror movie," Sloboda said. Her advice? Think of your face as a vertical line, and make sure the surface of your light source is parallel to it.
Face Your Light Source
Along with keeping your lighting at eye level, you want to make sure you're facing the right direction when you take selfies, to make the most of the light. Wedding photographer Merinda Edmonds suggested facing the light and making sure the light is going towards your nose. Then, angle your camera to be faced down slightly, and snap.
Consider Your Background
Your background can also have an impact on your photos. If you have white walls or white tile, for example, the light coming in will reflect back into your face, but if you have strong colors around you like blue, red or green, those colors will leave a color on your face that you might not like, according to Edmonds. Keep that in mind before you selfie—if you have a room with softer colors that you can take photos in instead, that's probably the better choice.
Take Advantage of Natural Light
Both photographers agree: Natural light that's soft and diffused is always best. If you have a window that lets in indirect light (direct light won't work as well for photos), face the window when taking selfies—it'll create that parallel line that Sloboda suggested, and it's flattering for all complexions. Edmonds also suggested standing in an overhang if you're outside so that the natural light can reflect directly on your face.
If you want to get a little more creative with your selfie lighting, Sloboda suggested trying partial side lighting, which is a classic portrait lighting setup. You can create "Rembrandt" lighting (like the painter) by angling your face to one side or another—you'll know you have it right when you see a distinct triangle of light on your cheek on the shadow side of your face.
Camera Quality Matters
You've probably noticed a quality difference in photos taken with an actual camera, your phone's default rear-facing camera, and your phone's front-facing camera. You can make up for the poorer quality of your front camera with good lighting because it will reduce graininess, according to Edmonds. She also said you should make sure to wipe your front camera clean before taking selfies—sweat and makeup can get in the way and reduce the crispness and clarity of your images.
If you're up for a challenge, with a little trial and error you can take selfies and portraits with an actual camera or your rear-facing camera instead, as Sloboda suggested, since it'll produce a clearer image. On the other hand, if you want a softer selfie, your front-facing camera will do just fine—according to Sloboda, the lower quality in your front-facing camera can mask flaws and imperfections like lines and blemishes.