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Ask Veronica: Selfie Best Practices

Veronica Belmont offers advice on how to take a proper selfie, and not just a picture of yourself.

Mar 6, 2014

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The concept of a "selfie"—that is, a photograph of a subject taken by the subject—is nothing new. However, with the somewhat recent introduction of the forward-facing camera, and a multitude of social networks at our disposal, the selfie has risen to new heights of popularity and derision. And in the fact that Ellen Degeneres broke the record for most retweeted tweet of all time with a selfie at this past Sunday’s Academy Awards—albeit with help from a throng of insanely famous actors—and we have a full blown Thing on our hands.

A recent three-year study by the University of Birmingham, University of the West of England, and the University of Edinburgh examined the way friends and acquaintances viewed the over-sharing of self-photographs, which the Daily Dot summarized nicely:

"... if a picture speaks a thousand words, then just like in real life, people who won't stop talking about themselves have a harder time getting people to like them."

Most of us have surely experienced this at one time or another: A friend constantly taking photos on their mobile phone, posting to Facebook or Instagram, and often exhibiting the now infamous "duck face." It annoys us. So why do we ourselves persist in this activity?

Quite simply, it's because we enjoy the immediate response. And receiving a Like or a "heart" on these platforms reinforces the drive to take the next selfie. What's more, few friends would go so far as to say "Hey Veronica, knock it off with the selfies. We know what you look like." And so the cycle continues.

As long as we're mindful of frequency, there are some selfie best practices that we can follow to get the most out of our photos. (And yes, I realize that "selfie best practices" may be the worst line I've ever written.)

1. The forward-facing camera sucks

A friend of mine recently pondered why Jessica Alba was taking selfies using the rear camera on her cellphone. Immediately, I responded that it wasn't an accident (as the Daily Mail suggests) but rather a very savvy move. The 8MP camera is far superior to the forward-facing camera in terms of image quality. Where the former delivers clean, well-lit images, the latter delivers dark and grainy ones. Also, not being able to see what you're doing creates an element of surprise—stay with me here. Snapping a more spur-of-the-moment shot actually tends to look better than something that is meticulously staged. It's a more candid, honest portrait of you.

2. Have a sense of humor about the photo

One thing that can take the cynical bite out of a selfie is having some fun with it. Personally, I enjoy posting photos of myself in various states of disrepair. This can be anything from snapping a photo in a ridiculous mask to standing in a rainstorm on top of a volcano in Costa Rica (the "drowned rat" look is really hot with the kids these days). The key here is not taking the selfie, or yourself, too seriously.

But you don’t always have to look funny (or awful) in a selfie to ease the mood. Perhaps there is something hilarious or particularly beautiful going on behind you, and you’ve framed yourself up to highlight the “I am at this cool place seeing this amazing thing” effect. However, this could cause some serious FOMO among your followers, thus ruining all the goodwill you seek to engender.

3. Fake it to make it

This is hard to pull off, but it's possible: Pretend that someone else is taking the photo. "But Veronica!" you gasp. "Does it still count as a selfie then?" No! It doesn't! You get all the benefits of a selfie without feeling like you're fishing for compliments. It's just a good picture of you. This can be accomplished with a little bit of practice, but the key is to not look directly into the camera. You've just been caught in a moment! You didn't stage this photo at all (that would be ridiculous!) You can also use your camera's timer to get the job done without all the yoga moves to position the camera at the perfect angle.

The selfie is a hot topic these days, even warranting a story in the New York Times just this past month. It's doubtful that selfie self-awareness will become widespread, but it's still good to be armed with the knowledge that snapping constant photos of yourself can actually have a negative effect on your relationships in a very real way. But hey, sometimes the light during magic hour is too good to pass up, and baby needs a new Twitter profile pic.

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Veronica Belmont