Why does it seem like everyone you follow on Instagram knows exactly how to pose and find their light to get the best selfie or photo? Realistically, you know they probably took dozens—or hundreds—of snaps to get the one they posted, but it feels like they all know some cheat codes you don’t.
Well, the cheat codes are right here, babe. This is how you get the perfect shot.
D.I.Y. selfies are the way to go
We’ve all been there. The outfit is fire. The makeup is on point. The venue is achingly cool. Your followers, you reason, simply must know you were there and looking hot to boot. You hand your phone to your friend, expecting them to work a little magic, and after they take a bunch of photos and hand the phone back to you… the shots all suck. You look awful! Now what?
You know yourself and your angles better than anyone, so if you really want a killer pic that’ll rack up the likes, you can always just do it yourself. Phones have had front-facing cameras for a decade now. It’s time to embrace selfies if you haven’t yet, the opinions and secondhand embarrassment of other people in the room be damned.
“Selfies are my favorite!” said Nivine Jay, a Los Angeles woman who has nearly 54,000 followers on the app, many of whom quickly double tap whatever she posts. And “whatever she posts” tends to be selfies.
She went on, “You want to find a well-lit window, stand in front of it, slightly part your lips, and click away. Try to look directly at sunlight if you can. Your eyes will get a little watery, but trust me: the photo will be worth it!”
Practice makes perfect
Here’s a hot tip: You don’t have to post every picture you take. Some of them can just be for practice! Some may be destined for the deleted folder! That’s fine.
“Don’t be afraid to try different poses out and slightly turn your face in different ways to find out which looks best,” said Jay. “You want to feel confident and comfortable.”
Tatiana Katkova, a photographer based in New York, said, “If you feel insecure taking photos, you can just practice doing some poses at home in front of the mirror so you can feel more confident and know your angles.”
Pose, baby! Pose! (But watch the hands.)
Midwest-based photographer Bryan Hempstead tells Lifehacker that body language is the key to a solid shot, “so just try to relax as best as you can.
“As far as the shot goes, try and keep the camera straight and not at a harsh angle. Don’t cut off appendages like ankles or knees. Turn on the grid setting on your camera or phone to practice framing your shot and try not to have anything—like a horizon or tree—intersect heads.”
He also mentioned that “most people don’t know what to do with their hands in the moment.” That’s definitely true, whether you’re selfie-ing or someone is taking your picture.
“Just to keep it basic, you can throw them in your pocket, put a hand on your hip, or cross your arms and grab your waist or grab onto your jacket. Have fun and play around with it,” he said. Remember you can take as many photos as you want; no one has to know how many you rejected in your quest to find The One.
Katkova added, “I’d recommend a pose in motion. Walk away from the person who’s taking a photo, look back at the camera and smile. It’s easy and always looks cute.”
Get a second opinion (or more)
Before you hit “post,” consider hitting “send”—to a few friends you trust to be brutally honest and/or hype you up appropriately.
Jay said she has “an ongoing group chat” with her best friends where they all send their most recent selfies for judgement and support. They “make sure it gets approval by everyone” before they post, and that’s not a bad idea. If you just spent 15 minutes snapping pics of yourself, analyzing those intently, and messing with filters—not to mention standing in bright light that’s probably giving you a few spots in your vision—your perception of the pics can be warped. A fresh set of eyes or two can be really helpful here.
Call for backup
You can’t do everything yourself. Sometimes, it really is helpful to have a friend take your photos, hype you up, direct your poses, and generally make you feel less awkward.
“I work a lot with people [who] aren’t used to being in front of the camera and aren’t super confident,” explained Hempstead. “The best advice I can give is if you don’t feel confident or cool, have the photographer put on some music you like to help create a safe, fun space. Have someone tell jokes or do something funny behind the camera to help alleviate the pressure off of you. Candid laughter beats a forced smile any day.”
He suggested taking your pics in an outfit you like or while listening a song you love for an added confidence boost.
Yes, you’re on a mission to get likes, comments, and the sweet, sweet seratonin rush that comes with strangers’ approval of your face, but take a step back here. Remember, you’re lovely just how you are. Even if your makeup isn’t perfect or you don’t look like your idealized version of yourself, you’re still a cutie who deserves to document that outfit, that face, that day—whatever!
Jay reminds you to have fun with it. “We are all our own harshest critics. Any photo you take is going to turn out beautiful as long as the lighting is good!”
Katkova pointed out that it’s not just important to have fun for your own benefit; enjoying yourself enhances the shot, too. “When you’re taking a photo for Instagram, you should always keep in mind that people like to see the energy and emotions,” she said. “So if you’re having fun and smiling, it always catches people’s attention.”
“Try not to be so hard on yourself,” added Hempstead. “Don’t wait until you have lost weight, fixed your teeth, or put on makeup. Just take photos, create memories, and have a good time. I promise you will enjoy looking back on these in the future.”