Selfies are Everywhere!
It is time to un-selfie the holiday season. I went to a Christmas party on the weekend and if I heard the word “selfie” once, I heard it fifty times. This fascination with “taking pictures of oneself” can easily be linked to various unflattering character traits (hello, Narcissus!), but the photographer in me is starting to wonder if it’s about something else. Is it possible that selfies are about wanting to have control over how we are portrayed in pictures? Duck-face or not, are legions of people finding it safer to take a picture of themselves rather than trusting the eye and photographic skills of another? Do we think that we can do a better job than our friends and family members? Have we become our own PR managers?
Several years ago I attended a workshop on taking portraits given by a passionate photographer. I learned some useful tips and lighting skills that I use to this day, but one thing he said is emblazoned in my memory. “As a photographer, it is not your job, it is your mandate, to help people enjoy having pictures taken of themselves. You are paid to take flattering pictures. Under no circumstance are you to show someone an unflattering picture of themself and give them another reason to run from the camera.” I don’t care what anyone says, the most flattering portrait is not taken from arm’s length or in front of a mirror.
Un-Selfie the Holidays
Now is the time of year that many of us get together with friends and loved ones to celebrate the holidays and bring in the New Year. We record these events for posterity by taking pictures. Here are some tips to encourage selfographers to swing the camera around and celebrate the season by taking fabulous, flattering pictures of other people, and maybe even hand the camera over to let them photograph you.
How to Flatter Others in a Photograph
It is often said that the camera adds 10 pounds. I think many of us know that feeling when we look at pictures of ourselves. It’s not actually the camera, it’s a combination of elements in the relationship between the camera and a human face. Without getting too technical, here are some ways to improve your people pictures.
1. Raise the Camera
The most flattering portraits are taken from eye-level or slightly higher. If you, the photographer, are shorter than your subject, you need to do one of two things. Either have them sit down or you stand on something other than your tippy-toes to keep yourself stable. Most women are best photographed from slightly higher than eye level.
2. Step Back and Zoom In
Puppies, kittens and babies are cuter than their grown up selves. Why? Their faces are slightly compressed or “smooshed”. Professional photographers do not use the same lens to shoot a sweeping landscape as they do to photograph people. They use a portrait lens to take flattering portraits. Your smartphone or camera is the opposite of a portrait lens. Why is this? Your camera likely defaults to a slightly wide focal length or wide angle so you can sit at the table and see most of the room in your shot. You can imitate a portrait lens by stepping back and zooming in. The contours of the human face combined with our usual view of ourselves leaning forward into a mirror does not prepare us for how we look when photographed by a wide angle lens. Save the wide angle for the mountains and beaches. Get up off your duff, step back and zoom in slightly to compress everyone nicely into their two dimensional best.
3. Learn how to control the automatic flash
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of daylight to work with at this time of year. Many of our pictures are taken indoors as a result. Window light is beautiful and you should use it whenever possible. Most of the time you will need to use your flash. If you know how to adjust the ISO on your camera, you might be able to get around it. Flash is unflattering, but blurry pictures are no better than out of focus pictures.
If you are outdoors on a sunny day, override the automatic flash and turn it ON. This will create fill light to light up the eyes of your subject instead of leaving them to look like dark sockets.
4. 3-2-1 Open! For blinkers and large groups
I used this strategy when I used to photograph weddings. The pressure was on to capture groups of people looking their best, smiling and all with their eyes open at the same time. Inevitably there was at least one person who was a blinker. Whether it was due to nervousness or the brightness of the sun, have you ever asked a blinker to stop blinking? Trust me, it doesn’t work! If it was the bride or groom, it was enough to make me break out into a sweat. I don’t remember if I was taught this one or came up with it myself, but it is physically impossible for a person to blink while they are opening their eyes. So, I devised (or remembered) this little trick. It went something like this: “OK, everyone, get your smiles ready and close your eyes. I’m going to count backwards from 3 and say “open”. When you hear the word open, open your eyes and flash me your pearly whites.” Usually everyone would feel pretty silly, but it made their smiles more natural and on “one, open!” I would fire away to tremendous results.
5. Shoot Lots, Edit More and Show Less!
In the good old days, film was expensive and so was memory. Now, film is all but extinct and high capacity memory cards for your camera are inexpensive. In other words, you can afford to increase the odds of gorgeousness by taking lots of pictures. That way you won’t end up with pictures with everyone’s eyes closed or mouth open. By the way, when I write “edit”, I don’t mean in Photoshop. A good photographer has tons of images that no one but them get to see. If it doesn’t flatter, get rid of it. Enough said.
If you follow these simple steps, you are bound to surprise yourself and flatter others.
Deck the halls with awesome photos! Fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la!