A good portrait picture can be used on social media profiles and websites as well as for CVs so it’s a good idea to try and make yours as appealing as possible. Here are our tips for taking a selfie portrait or profile photo.

Start with a good camera

If you don’t start with a decent camera, you can’t really expect a brilliant photograph. If you have access to an SLR, try and use wide aperture lenses and small focal lengths (about 50mm equiv) but if you only have a multi-purpose zoom lens, try positioning the camera further away from you and zoom in as this will reduce lens distortion and barelling.

Not everyone has an SLR though, so we have to use what’s available. If you just have a compact camera or even a decent phone camera, that will have to do! Many compact cameras and phone cameras have a portrait mode that will set things up for better results when taking close range photos of people.

If you can get a friend who knows how to handle a camera to help you, that’s great. But not everyone is a natural photographer and it can be frustrating working with someone who isn’t experienced, so if you have to do it yourself, you’ll have all the time you need to get it right.

Buy or borrow the right tools

Get a tripod – getting the camera in the right position is crucial. If you’re doing it yourself this will allow you to take repeated attempts without taking anyone else’s time up or relying on their abilities with a camera. You can use a short timer and perhaps use bracketing or burst shots to capture several images at once.

If you’re using a phone, try and get hold of a selfie stick or some kind of phone tripod.

Holding a phone with your hand can work but you’ll need to position yourself so it’s not obvious you’re taking a selfie. You’ll also need to keep the camera as far away as possible to avoid barrelling – the distortion effect that a lens can create on your face if it’s too close. If there’s not lots of light, you may find that the shot suffers from motion blur.

Certain cameras such as Samsung phones, have face enhancing modes to flatter your selfies, but go sparingly on the effects or it can look artificial.

Indoors or Outdoors – Choose good lighting and background

Flashes rarely flatter people unless it’s a professional bouncing flash, so avoid if you can. Instead, choose an indoor location where there’s plenty of natural light. Interiors tend to soften daylight as it bounces off the various surfaces of a room, sometimes casting a coloured light from painted walls.

Outdoor locations can be perfectly fine, of course, but try to avoid very bright sunlight as it can make you squint or cast weird shadows. It also makes it harder for the camera if there are areas of bright light and darker shade.

Position the subject so that light is not behind them or the camera will struggle. A cloudy day can be best for portrait pictures outside as it provides uniform lighting.

Backgrounds for portrait shots are usually plain and devoid of distractions. An attractive texture, colour or pattern is good, like a hedge, brick wall, etc. Or use depth of field to blur out the background – some phones have this feature, or use a zoomed-in lens with a wide aperture on an SLR or compact. Portraits don’t have to have plain backgrounds though – use a motion blurred background or take a picture somewhere something interesting is happening related to what you do.

Use rule of thirds – sometimes you can create interest in a picture by positioning the subject off-centre. This is easiest when using a thirds grid overlay, if your camera has that feature. Line the subject up with any of the corners of the centre square. This technique is more appropriate if there’s something in the background you want to make visible.

How to pose

With a portrait for the web, you’re most likely going for the headshot or head and shoulders. Occasionally you might include the upper body. Posing for a natural and flattering portrait is a skill in itself. Here are a few tips that will help you look your best.

  • Take the photo from slightly above the subject (you) as this is often more flattering.
  • Poke your chin out a little as this will flatten out the underside of your jaw and emphasise the jawline. Be careful not to lift the face up – we don’t want a view up your nose!
  • If you have long hair, bring hair off the shoulders and pay attention to what it’s doing. Experiment with hair on one side or the other, behind the shoulders or tied up.
  • If arms are in the shot, lift them from the body a little. This will avoid the flattening and widening effect that pressing it to the body has.
  • Experiment with front on, or turning head to the left or right. You may have a ‘good side’ – most people do!
  • Definitely smile, even if it doesn’t come naturally. We have much warmer feelings for people who smile!
  • Try shots with an open smile (teeth apart), teeth closed, and a smile with mouth closed (lips together).
  • Try and let that smile make it to your eyes – that’s what makes a smile look genuine.
  • Position your weight on your back foot if standing
  • Turn your shoulders a little to slim yourself, or towards the camera to widen.
  • Leaning forward a little can be more flattering – make sure you keep good posture.

Black and white?

Black and white is frequently thought of as moody and arty. It’s often used to emphasise the form of an object or the shapes created by the contrast of light and shade. There’s nothing wrong with using black and white if it suits your shot or if you feel it’s more flattering, but colour is a bit cheerier if you’re going for a friendly face!

Post production

Crop out unwanted elements of the picture. You know: thumbs, things in the room. Get rid of distractions. If the picture wasn’t taken totally level with the horizon, you can also use most cropping tools to correct this.

Use filters sparingly – Some filters are a bit over the top. It’s better to go for as natural-looking as possible. If you want to use a filter to improve the shot, look for filters that increase contrast a little, make the most of the captured light, and balance out the colours rather than applying overt colour casts.

There are retouching apps available on phones now that work as well as Photoshop for removing blemishes, smoothing skin, correcting red-eye and all sorts of other tricks. Some of the best ones are:

On iOS: Photoshop FixFacetune, Mira, CreamCam, Visage, PhotoWonder.

On Android: Photoshop Fix, Facetune, Mira, CreamCam, Visage.

Another great app can help with depth-of-field blur / bokeh effects, if you’re not using an SLR. Check out iOS: AfterFocus. Android: Afterfocus.

For removing unwanted elements from a photo, try iOS: TouchRetouch. Android: TouchRetouch

iOS: VSCO Android: VSCO offers great after effects like film emulation as well as providing tips tricks and a slew of other great photo and video editing features to get your photos looking top-notch.

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