26 Aug 2019

The art of taking selfies

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 2:20 pm on 26 August 2019

Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan received this email:

Hi Jesse. Men on dating sites have no idea on how to take a good selfie. A photograph of your double chins is not attractive! Or you scowling into the phone dressed in lycra. Nor names like Brusa, Chuckles and Cuddly. Ugh!

So Jesse asked Megan Whelan, our resident selfie expert, to give some tips.

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Megan Whelan making selfie Photo: RNZ

Megan's selfie tips:

OK, first of all, let’s not be overly mean about double chins and lycra. Plenty of people find those attractive, and from the number of men I see on Tinder saying things like “#nofakefilters,” “a good selfie” is entirely subjective.

However, there are some basic rules that you can follow if you want to put your best face forward.

Find your light

Like any good photo, light is key. Fluorescent lights shining down at the bald spot on top of your head isn’t going to be flattering for anyone.

If you can, get outside into natural light – I like it when it’s slightly cloudy – and look at your face. When you’re starting out, hold your phone up and literally turn slowly in a circle. You’ll see how the way the light hits your face changes.

The idea is to highlight the bits you like, and hide the bits you don’t. (Not your best bit and your worst bits. Take it from me – your face is great.)

Never use flash, especially if you’re selfie-ing in a mirror. Even in front of a window will be better than the glare from your monitor.

Know your angles

I love this study: Your instincts may be to look straight-on at the camera, but if you do so, you might not be doing your profile any favours.

In the study, the faces rated most attractive appeared tilted to the subject’s right by 15 degrees, showing the left side of their face. Faces tilted 30 degrees to the left—showing the right side of the face—were deemed more sympathetic and intelligent.

My rule is to hold my hand up higher than my head, tilt down my chin and look slightly to the side.

A photographer once told me to imagine there  was a string coming out of the top of my head pulling me up – it makes for good posture at least.

Turning slightly means the light creates shadows and depth on your face.

You’re not just a 2D circle.  It’s not a literal profile shot, though – so don’t turn too far.


This is where it gets fun. What are you trying to tell people with your selfie? Are you a larrikin? Big grin? Shy and demure? Look down with a small smile. Fringes help here. The life of the party? Throw your head back and laugh. Just be sure you’re not shooting straight up your nostrils.

Open your eyes – especially if you’re in sunlight – and look into the camera, not the screen.

I have no expertise in this area, but you might need to think about your facial hair – at the very least frame the selfie so your beard isn’t cut off. (And light is going to be important here too.)

My go-to selfie face is to smile like someone just whispered something naughty to me. But you do you.

Give it some background

Where are you? What are you standing in front of. Believe me, people look at these details. Are there old socks lying on the floor behind you?

Are you in the bush? In front of some cool landmark or terrifying animal in the zoo?

If you’re in your office late at night and all around you is dark – most selfie apps (and there are many) will help you to blur that out.

You probably don’t want a prospective date thinking you’re a workaholic. Or, just make your face fill more of the frame.

It’s only a selfie

You aren’t saving the world here. Have fun. Selfies are awesome for showing the world – and your dating profile – who you are. You get to look how you look in your head, not how a photographer sees you through a lens. (I showed someone professionally- taken photos of me recently, and they said “it’s weird. It’s you, but it’s not you.”)

We’re bombarded from all sides with what we ‘should’ look like. Chiselled abs and strong jaws and perfect skin and sculpted cheekbones. It’s pretty fun that the devices we carry around in our pockets all the time mean we can reject some of that.

Take a bunch, throw some filters on them (team Valencia), and see what you think. Learn to like your face.

And if the double chins and lycra work for you? Carry on.

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