Take better selfies.
Also, take more of them. But better.
Do you ever hate how you look in photos taken by other people? That’s because other people have no clue how to make you look good. But you can very easily learn how.
Selfies have been a positive force in my life ever since I came across the wonderful #dudetime and its gently radical flipping of the default male gaze. If you think selfies are bad for any reason, I don’t want to know. I suggest getting in a bin and sharing your bad opinions with the other trash.
I’m explicitly making this a guide for cisgender men, because I feel drastically unqualified to give selfie advice to people who aren’t cis men — and besides, they tend to take fantastic selfies already. No, we’re the ones who need to do both more and better. Observe:
Let’s step up our game.
You probably aren’t taking enough. Take lots and lots of selfies. Experiment with lighting, angle, pose, expression. Most of them will be bad, but that’s okay — you don’t have to do anything with them. The more you take, the better you’ll get.
You might feel embarrassed and vulnerable to begin with. I certainly did. Here are the oldest 3 selfies on my phone, from long before it was made clear to me that Selfies Are OK and I started doing them all the time:
Each of these betrays a peculiar and (I would posit) rather masculine insecurity around showing my face to the world. In the first one I’m hiding behind a goofy 1-bit image dithering app. In the second I’m pulling some kind of ridiculous half-seductive-half-baffled face. In the third I was so self-conscious I had to post it with a suite of ironic hashtags.
You might well feel a similar urge to wrap your selfie in a protective layer of irony. Don’t. You wouldn’t dream of loving someone else ironically — it’s patently absurd and disrespectful. Don’t do it to yourself either.
You should generally put some work into any selfie you intend to show to anyone else. It’ll almost always show if you haven’t.
Treat other people’s selfies with sensitivity and positivity. Look after each other.
Good selfie lighting is the most fundamental requirement. Many of the best selfie-takers I know talk about it a lot. It’s hugely important, and yet you might never have thought about it in your life! Get it together.
Your best bet is usually indoors, near a window with indirect daylight. Start with that.
Electric light means longer exposure and therefore blurry photos unless your hand is steady. It can often make everything too yellow or red. Still, with some post-production (more on that later), it can feel really nice and intimate.
Direct sunlight is not your friend. In general, avoid hard shadows and making your face look shiny.
Lighting only half of your face is usually to be avoided, but it can work. I like the second picture much better than the first, because the contrast isn’t too harsh and the background is light, so the dark half of my face doesn’t disappear into it.
Backlighting is actually fine, because you can just increase the exposure — there’s nothing wrong with blowing out the background as long as you look OK.
The glow of your computer screen is not flattering. Neither are Venetian blind tiger-stripes.
Don’t look down at the camera. Don’t hold it too close either — your face will start to look bulbous.
Facing the camera straight on can look a bit “passport photo”. You usually want one or both of your face and body at a slight angle (though this might vary with your hairstyle). The exception is with mirror selfies — symmetry can look quite nice from further away.
There’s no golden rule here though — you’re going to have to figure out what angles you look best from. This one’s my go-to: body more or less straight, head slightly tilted and turned to show my hair parting.
Looking away from the camera is fine. Bathroom mirror selfies are fine. Bathroom mirror selfies where you’ve got one foot on the edge of the sink are excellent.
Experiment. Here’s a couple of angles I stole from other people while playing around. They came out OK!
If your arm’s in an uncomfortable position it might shake when you tap to take the photo — using a timer can help.
I find the expression the hardest thing to be consistent about, and the main reason every selfie I post has between 1 and 20 attempts behind it.
There’s no such thing as a neutral expression. Above, we have “smouldering”, “intense guy at party”, and “took a photo by accident while trying to unlock his phone”. Only the first one made the cut.
You don’t have to look happy, and you don’t have to look sexy. But you should consider yourself fully allowed to do either, or both. Love yourself.
You can pull a goofy face if you want to, but if you’re doing it every time, ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable looking at one of the normal expressions you actually show to people every day.
Background and composition
Make sure there’s nothing poking out from behind your head.
The colour of the background will affect the camera’s auto white balance. Above, the first background is actually a blue shower curtain, which has turned my face red. White, grey or black walls are best for getting the hue right. A dark wall will make you look light unless you adjust the exposure for it, and vice versa. Find what works for your skin tone.
In landscape mode, it usually looks best if your face is slightly off-centre.
Filters are good because phone cameras are bad — they’re getting better, of course, but they still make weird choices about colour sometimes. Filters can fix murky flatness and over-pink skin tones. The right filter on the right photo can fix brightness, contrast and colour all at once.
That said, the majority of filters are awful, because they stray too far from the colour palette of real life, or they make your skin look weird and unhealthy. Sometimes that can actually work, but the majority of the time it makes your selfie look hasty and throwaway, rather than something you actually put some effort into.
Also, vignetting looks shite. Don’t do it.
If you can’t make your skin look right in a particular photo, make it monochrome. VSCO’s got lots of filters for that, or you can use the iOS photo editor — there’s a “B&W” slider that should help you find a good colour mix. Monochrome is also a good trick if your eyes are red for any reason.
B612 has a few good filters. You can save them as favourites, which is nice. It doesn’t give you much control beyond filtering, so it’s quick but pretty scattershot in quality.
There’s an option to remove the watermark, if you swipe up.
B612’s soft focus thing is a gamble. It can make for a really nice dreamy-yet-hyperreal effect when used well (often combined with backlighting), but can just as easily look cheap, especially if there’s background detail around your face.
VSCO Cam has some really good, subtle filters — there’s a mega-pack in the store which costs very little. I particularly like C1 and F1.
It also has lots of tools for tweaking the brightness, contrast, temperature, saturation, etc. You should make use of them.
What’s the point of it? All this putting your face on the Internet. No end of people will tell you it’s vain, narcissistic. Fortunately they’re all in bins now, so we can’t hear them.
Maybe you haven’t seen it, but something extraordinary is growing on social media: a culture of unconditional self-acceptance and mutual reinforcement. It was never planned by the people who made Twitter or Instagram, never designed as a product feature, but it’s happening, and it’s empowering and healing people every day. Selfies are a huge part of the process, each one a focal point for loving ourselves or others.
Men can’t show vulnerability, can barely even show love, except in a small number of culturally-mandated forms. And so we can’t call ourselves beautiful, or celebrate our beauty and one another’s — that would mean admitting to vulnerability, admitting to love.
We ignore the effects of unchecked masculinity on us at huge cost. It’s poisoning us quietly, from youth through adulthood, stifling us, making us both harmed and harmful. It’s on us to end this, and it starts with radical self-love. Let’s be beautiful and vulnerable together.