We're living in the age of the selfie. This year, the word was officially added to the dictionary (we even got variations, like "belfie"—we'll let you Google that one); the entire Obama family got in on the act; and a major TV network added a show called Selfieto its fall lineup. Oh, and you didn't even have to watch this year's Oscars to know that the biggest winner of all was not a film, but in fact the selfie. So it's about time you learn how to take a really, really good one.
• Find the best lighting.
"There is nothing worse than having a huge shadow cast over your face," says photographer and style blogger Candice Lake. "When in doubt, face directly into or away from the sun. If it's the middle of the day and the sun is high, the shadows can look like bags under your eyes. The golden hour to shoot a photo is during sunrise or sunset, when the light is low and the most beautiful." If you're inside, beauty blogger (and frequent selfie-taker) Michelle Phan advises that you find a window. "Having nice, natural sunlight streaming in will make for a good selfie. Another thing I do is take a piece of white paper and hold it underneath my chin, which creates a natural bounce of light, illuminates the face, and also reduces the double-chin effect."
• Be yourself.
"Flash a real smile and no image will look bad," says Lake. Or if you're going for something slightly more serious, pull a Tyra and "try smiling with your eyes." Lake's advice for perfecting the smize? Practice in front of the mirror.
• Avoid all selfie clichés.
Rule of thumb: If it looks like something a teenager on MySpace circa 2004 would have done, you shouldn't be doing it. "No one needs to do that Kim Kardashian duck-lips face," says makeup artist Nick Barose, who has a popular Instagram account full of what he calls "silly, tongue-in-cheek" selfies. Should you find yourself overwhelmed by the urge to throw up some sort of faux gang sign…put down your iPhone and do not let yourself near any other camera until the urge subsides. Most of the time, people rely on those poses because they feel uncomfortable. But Lake has a trick for loosening up: "If you feel a little stiff, walk away and then step into the frame again and snap quickly. You'll have less time to be self-conscious." And mirror selfies are only for when you really really need to show your whole body. The bathroom mirror is no place to show off.
• Strike a pose. Or six.
"Not everyone knows what angle works best for them," says Barose, who recommends taking multiple photos with different poses and angles. "I normally take five or six and then I pick one. You just have to try it out and see what works," he says. For most people, the best angle for a selfie is one that's slightly higher than their line of vision. And you probably shouldn't stare directly into the camera, either. "Most people don't look their best straight-on. Turn to the side a little bit—not to the point where it's a full-on profile, but just slightly," says Barose.
• Use the right apps and filters.
"I have a soft spot for the Valencia [Instagram] filter. It's the dreamiest of all filters and it makes everyone look gorgeous," says Lake, who also recommends the Afterlight app for editing camera-phone photos. If you're really serious about selfies, Phan recommends the Samsung Galaxy S5 phone, which has a selfie mode. "It makes everything easy. I take a picture and it automatically airbrushes my face and it brightens it," she says.
• Consider your background.
The best selfies have either interesting backgrounds (Oh, you're just casually selfie-ing while skydiving? Great.) or really, really simple ones. The middle ground is what's deadly. And beware of photo-bombers.
• Don't overthink it.
Arm yourself with this knowledge, and then just relax. A trying-too-hard selfie is never going to be a good one. "The thing about selfies is that you don't want them to be too serious. If your makeup looks like it took you an hour to do and you look too posed, you're not doing it right," says Barose.