Remember the meme of that kid that looked like a thumb that caused viral hilarity on the interwebs several years ago?
This was a person whose plight I FULLY empathised with. I’ve always looked like a thumb when I’ve switched that selfie mode on my phone. No amount of angling down or up or tilting my head seems to do anything for my face, and I boiled it down to the conclusion that I just thought I was better looking in my head that I actually was IRL, and that I was horrendously unphotogenic.
I was destined to be the person who looked awful in photos – hey, you saw the photos I sent you last week, right? Not even my husband could make me look nice.
Honestly, for YEARS I hated photos of myself, and it is actually much more stressful than you realise, because over the last couple of decades, having your photo taken has been more and more common.
Everyone has a powerful camera at their fingertips, ready to document the fuck out of shit, from their meals to their bowel movements (true story: I once had an ex who used to swap photos of his morning shits with his housemate, and on nights out, they would bluetooth it to random people in the pub – before the days that you had to accept a bluetooth connection request. How we lasted 11 months is frightening. I would also like to state that I was not his housemate.)
Facebook became a “thing” when I was in my mid-20s, so I escaped lightly, but there were still some photos of me that just looked… awful. But, when I’d checked myself out in the mirror before I’d left? I mean, I felt pretty good, the mirror-version of me was looking decent, what gives?
So, I started doing several things
a) avoiding the camera where possible, b) using other people as my shield, c) only allowing my photo to be taken when HIDEOUSLY DRUNK and thus not caring until the next day, and d) immediately gurning, because if the picture was going to look shit anyway, I might as well go all-in on that vibe.
The next day, I’d wake to a few tags in photos, none of them wildly appealing if I’m honest, like this one taken on my hen do (yes, I’m even gurning in the photo of me ON THE TOP I’M WEARING. META AF).
Sure, I couldn’t totally escape the odd marauding friends’ phone, or when my dad bought a proper camera about 10 years ago. But there’s one type of photo you will RARELY see me in, and that’s a selfie.
I refused to believe I was the only one that felt like that selfie mode was some kind of personal attack on my self-esteem, and I set to figure out WHY.
It’s science that makes you look cack in selfies
Damn and blast that pesky science *shakes fist*, BUT I’ve broken it all down here, with three quick fixes to go from gurn to grin, so you don’t need to be scared of your phone camera anymore.
1. Your phone camera is a wide-angle lens.
That might not mean a lot to you, but essentially, your phone lens is designed to grab as MUCH of the environment as possible.
However, in order to see the entire frame captured on your phone screen, the image creates a kind of fish-eye effect, even if ever so slightly.
So, let’s say you’re in the middle of the photo, your nose will look bigger and more pronounced, but the extremities of your face curve back into the background.
As soon as you start using a camera with a specific portrait lens, a lens with a narrow focal length, this starts to change significantly.
The best way to explain this effect is to see it, and this gif by Dan Vojtech (via Peta Pixel) shows just how drastic that change is. Dan photographed his subject using a selection different lens focal lengths. The photos taken on a lens with a focal length of 20 – 24mm? That’s about where your phone is. The sweet spot? Somewhere around 100mm.
There’s a couple of ways to solve this in a selfie: first, hold your phone *just* above your eyeline, frame your face in the top two-thirds of the screen, and tilt the phone angle down ever so slightly. Next, once you’ve taken your photo, you can check out my IGTV all about how to correct lens distortion. Works on everything from flatlays to portraits, and I use it on all of my professional work.
2. You’re too used to what you see in the mirror.
You know when you leave post in one place all the time to sort through later, and that later becomes weeks or months later, and it’s gets to the point you know it’s there, but you can just easily ignore it?
That’s what happens with us when we look in the mirror.
You and I both know that our faces aren’t symmetrical, but it’s easy to get used to seeing our faces when the only way we see them is in the mirror.
As soon as we see ourselves in a photo, as everyone else sees us, it’s a bit of a shock; “My nose tilts to one side! my face is about a foot wider on the left! How hasn’t anyone pointed this out to me?!” You forget that everyone is used to seeing your face this way round, and unless it’s a deeply unflattering grimace, you probably look totally fine.
To counteract the unbalanced face, you need to figure out your best side – and it’s normally your left.
Once you’ve figured that out, you can always remember to move your face to take photos from that side, instead of front-on, which is flattering for only the lucky few, especially when you’re working with a wide-angle selfie lens.
4. You’re not smiling properly
There’s a special kind of name for a genuine smile; It’s called a “Duchenne Smile” (Yeah, I didn’t realise it either until I found it on Wikipedia ).
Whenever I work with clients, my main focus is on making them feel relaxed, so that they stop doing this 😬 and start doing this 😄 (or this 😁. Or even this 😂).
Basically, if you rock up to your selfie camera (or professional photoshoot) with The Fear, you’re going to grimace. To smile naturally, you need to imagine that feeling when you see a really good chum, and all you talk about is That Holiday, and knob gags.
A natural smile is one that also uses the muscles around your eyes as well as around your mouth, but it’s much easier to feel a natural smile before you try to force it. So imagine something or someone that makes you feel happy, and imagine you’re smiling at that (or at them).
I promise you, these little tips will up your selfie game.
And if all else fails? There’s always a Snapchat filter.