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How to Look Fabulous in Smartphone Photos

Photograph by Phillippe Diederich

I take a lot of selfies. As a social media junkie, and as someone whose friends are constantly on Facebook and Instagram and other social media platforms, I see a lot of headshots. And I see a lot of beautiful women who make their photos awful by overdoing the "beauty" filters on their phone cameras and other editing software. While this can work for many women, I am constantly surprised at how many pretty, young women ruin their looks by over-correcting their images. This photo above is the best light in my home: the backyard. The photo was taken with an iPhone 6 Plus, no filters. The soft focus or "face filters" on phones and point-and-shoot cameras can make you look flat or give you an unnatural look. Think of over-correcting your photos as bad plastic surgery.

This is the same photo, through a beautifying app. See what I mean about flat and unnatural?

Photograph by Phillippe Diederich

Trust me. I'm 51 — certainly no spring chicken. Still, I want to look good in my photos. No, scratch that. I want to look awesome. I'm as vain as the next person. Heck, who doesn't want to look great all the time. But I don't want to look blurry or flat, like a cut-out. And I certainly don´t want people to think "what the heck happened to her" when they meet me in person.

So, I'm sharing some tips for taking natural-looking but great portraits with a phone camera. You can make yourself look as good as possible without using beautifying apps.

1. It's ALL about the light.

The right light will make anyone and anything look great. I can be wearing the same makeup hair and clothes and resemble a zombie if I take the photo in my bathroom, or look like I stepped out of a commercial if I take it in the backyard.

But what's great light?

Photograph by Phillippe Diederich

This is absolutely the worst light at home to take pictures: my bathroom. I asked my husband and business partner about this one. He not only makes me look great in pictures, but has been a photojournalist for most of his life. According to him, "great light" depends on what you're photographing.

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Since we're talking about selfies or headshots, consider soft light. This is the most flattering. This means you should stay as far away from lightbulbs, direct sun or flashes and strobes. The rule is: the larger the light source, the softer the light. So think of the sun. When you look at it, it's a tiny little light source. An overcast day is a huge light source. I get great results for beauty or fashion portraits when I stand in the shade (no direct sunlight) but there is a nearby opening. Example: I stand in the shade of our back patio or a tree with a canopy that is dense enough that bits of light are not filtering through the branches.

Most phone cameras have a slightly wide angle lens. This distorts the image. A good idea is to zoom in just a bit to eliminate that distortion or use an external lens like the Sony lens style camera.

This is the same picture taken in my bathroom, filtered through a beautifying app. I´d rather step outside and find better lighting.

Photograph by Phillippe Diederich

Phone cameras have auto-everything. But my photographer husband says light meters are calibrated to measure what is called "middle gray." What this means is that if the image is all white, it will come out gray. If the scene is all black, it will come out gray. So, watch your backgrounds. When my husband photographs me with the yard foliage in the background, I pop out really nicely because the autoexposure in the camera is considering all that darkness around me. If the background is too bright, I will be darker and competing with the background.

These fine little cameras also have automatic white balance, so the camera will constantly try to correct for too much yellow, green or any other color that becomes too dominant. When I am wearing a blue blouse, my skin tone is a bit more on the warm or yellow side than when I wear a white or tan blouse. Yes, what you wear (if it is in the frame) will affect the color of your photo.

Avoid harsh tungsten light bulb light or fluorescent lighting. Window light is good.

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2. The angle of the shot matters.

Don't shoot down or up at yourself or someone you are trying to photograph. Try and shoot at eye level or just below eye level, this will prevent any unflattering looks.

3. Take a lot of pictures.

And I mean a lot! Take 30-50 if you need one good shot. Then edit and pick the one you like best. Most professional photographers will shoot hundreds if not thousands of photos on a shoot. You don't have to shoot as much, but it's not as if you're spending a fortune on film or anything like that. The more you have to choose from, the better photo you will choose.

4. Watch out for camera movement.

Digital cameras can blur easily so if you're shooting in low light, be careful of your hand movements.

5. Practice makes perfect.

Take note of which scenes and what lighting conditions make you look better and stick to what works. Watch those backgrounds and smile!

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