Tips for taking a good self-portrait

Many words have been written on the subject. However, most people still seem unable to take a good self-portrait. The following are some concrete tips to alleviate the most common mistakes found in selfies. Whether you need a new photo for a your Facebook/Twitter profile, online dating site, or your résumé; these hints should help you look your best.

All these tips are based on my own personal exposure to bad self-portraits over the years. I’ve wanted to write these for some time. In the hope that it may help improve at least some of the millions of self-portrait taken every day. They all apply to smartphone photography as much as anything else.


Take as much care with the background as your appearance. Do not show off the mess around you. Tidy off and clean surfaces, especially glass and reflective ones as they will be especially visible. Untidiness leaves a bad first impression.

A plain and simple background is often the best choice. Try to align objects or wallpaper into straight angles behind you.

Be the only person in the photograph! Other people are distracting and could be mistaken for you out of context. You are showing off yourself so make sure you’re the focal point.

Some examples of poor choices for backgrounds to get you thinking: A cluttered bookshelf or a grocery-store (anywhere with shelves, really), a graveyard, a pet bed, or a loaded drying rack.


More light is better. Put a flashlight in a corner. Even a phone’s lit up screen can help. Try bringing an extra lamp into the room.

Do not shine strong light sources directly upon your person. Avoid light sources directly behind you. Ideally, lights should be facing the surrounding walls or other neutral surfaces and be reflected back on you.

Review your images and make sure your face has an okay color. Red, yellow, blue, or green light/reflections make you look sick.


Do not photograph your reflection in a mirror! Turn the camera around and use the reflection of the seeker (your phone’s display) to align the shoot.

If you absolutely must take a photo of your reflection in a mirror, make sure to CLEAN the mirror. Toothpaste spots all over your clothing and face is unattractive. Take the photo at a 90° angle into the mirror to avoid distorting the reflection. Distorted reflections can make you look … wide. This is especially common when holding the camera at a low angle and tilting it upwards.

As the photo is likely taken in a bathroom or in a locker-room, try to hide that fact. Crop out any object looking like it belongs in a bathroom. You don’t want to be associated with things belonging near a toilet.


Stand up or sit straight. Avoid leaning backwards. Lower your shoulders. Relax.

Experiment with angles to find your face’s best side. Keep in mind that the lighting and background can affect what is normally your best angle, so always experiment.

Never lie down. It takes some serious planning and experience to not look like a mess when laying down for a photo.

Unless you are at the beach, playing volleyball, or in a similar setting: keep all your clothes on. Ask your friends to play volleyball if you need to show off.


Look happy. Smile. Do not overdo it (the infamous “duck face”) and avoid a vacant look. There isn’t much else too it. Review your photo afterward and make absolutely sure you look alive and awake. Failing that, get some sleep and try again the day after earlier in the day.

Fixing it up

Try avoiding the temptation to apply any filters or touch-up effects. Assuming the lighting is done right, there should not be any need for it. A poorly applied filter will look bad on any photo.

Crop it down to the essentials. The essentials being you! Here, experience is key. Luckily, it’s easy to come by. Look at other photos online, see what cuts you like and see how they work on your portrait.

Lastly, the most important tip: Do not settle for the first photograph! You can literally take hundreds within an hour. Take a few different photos and find the one you like the best.