How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps (Without Facetune)

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog

A couple of weeks ago I published a selfie on Instagram after thinking about how we (bloggers, influencers, celebrities, women in general) present themselves on social media – especially Instagram. The word “selfie” wasn’t even in use 10 years ago, but it’s such a common word these days… Have you ever thought about how many you see on a daily basis?

The selfie in question was one I was really happy with, because everything seemed to work for that photo: I was happy with my outfit, my hair, my makeup, the lighting, my expression (click here to see it)… It prompted me to leave this caption:

DO NOT BE FOOLED by photos like this on Instagram – I often have people compliment me on my “flawless” skin or tell me I look younger than I really am… so kind but it’s all smoke and mirrors! I look JUST as rough as the next person without a good foundation, the right lighting and a practised “selfie” face. However I don’t use Face apps to smooth anything out and I don’t take a gajillion selfies like a Kardashian to get just one (I take maybe 3 or 4). I just know how to make myself look the best I can. And I’m perfectly okay with not looking perfect 95% of the time! So don’t look at mine or anyone else’s selfies or blog posts and think they look like that all the time… THEY DON’T, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it as a result. Remember – smoke and mirrors…!!

It triggered a lot of really interesting comments, most of which were the answer “Yes!” to the question I left at the end of the caption: If you want to know a few clever tricks I have for taking a good selfie let me know and I’ll do a blog post.

Well whaddya know – this IS that blog post! Whilst I definitely won’t be sharing any pearls of wisdom on how to get Kylie Jenner-style plumped lips or how to pull the perfect duckface, I WILL be talking more about easy tips and tricks to do with the best lighting, makeup, angles, etc. to make you look your absolute best.

And remember… As I said in the Instagram caption – this is all smoke and mirrors. I’m not being modest when I say I do NOT wake up looking like this, if ONLY that were true! It takes me as much effort as the next woman to do my hair and makeup and wake myself up enough to look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

It’s just a snapshot in time – a mere one hundredth of a second or so from a very particular angle. The chances of you seeing me that way are almost nil, but like the next woman I like to see myself presented the best way possible (doesn’t stop me showing off the worst of the worst though)…!

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How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog

Please note: I DO NOT use Facetune or any similar apps to smooth out wrinkles or change my features. I DO believe in looking my best and using clever tricks like lighting and makeup, but I don’t believe in artificially altering my image (who agrees that the girl in this image looks way better without Facetune)?

So here’s exactly how to improve your selfies in 11 easy steps – let me know if you find them useful!

1. Get your light source right

Lighting is the MOST important thing when it comes to taking a good selfie – it can make the difference between a great shot and a terrible one. The number one rule: NO OVERHEAD LIGHT.

Use light that’s coming from the front only. Avoid overhead light at all costs as this will cast unflattering shadows, even on a dull day. I thoroughly recommend never, ever taking selfies in the open air. Light from the front makes your skin look even all over and doesn’t emphasise wrinkles or jowels (the bane of my life)!

For example…

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
1A. A selfie taken indoors, right in front of a window to make the best use of natural light that hits your face from the front, not from above. If this were taken outside I’d have a “five o’clock shadow” from all the overhead light.

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog

1B. Cars are known for being one of the best places to take a selfie, and for good reason: No overhead light (convertibles excluded). This one above was taken in the evening when the light was getting low, so the red streaks you see across my face (which I rather liked!) were the brake lights of the car in front.


2. Eliminate shadows

If you ARE only able to take selfies outside, or if you’re inside and the light is low, get some more light by using a reflector.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
2A. This is actually the selfie the above quote came from: A good hair/makeup/lighting day! What you can see is that the bottom half of my face is almost blasted out with lovely bright light – reflectors are GENIUS at making this happen. Although you can make one yourself with a piece of card covered in silver foil, the ones you can buy online are very very reasonable:

This is the reflector I use:

Neewer Portable 5 in 1 60x60cm/22"x22" Translucent, Silver, Gold, White, and Black Collapsible Round Multi Disc Light Reflector for Studio or any Photography Situation


Neewer 60cm/22″ translucent / silver / gold / white / black collapsible light reflector £9.99

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(US link, $10.99)

Do note you don’t get five separate reflectors, it’s a 5 in 1 with zippable covers, which is actually better because it makes it more portable (and it collapses into a circle roughly a third of the size so will easily fit into your handbag… unlike a piece of foil-covered card)!

Just take the reflector and play with it until you see the difference in the light – it’s an absolute lifesaver, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. You can also use it for adding in extra light to anything else you’re photographing, like flatlays or small corners of your room.

3. Makeup #1 – base

Makeup makes ALL the difference in selfies. There is difference between the sort of makeup that looks good in real life and the sort that looks good in selfies – the sort of makeup you see so often on Instagram today (all the heavy “Instagram brows”, contouring and overlined lips) doesn’t look so good in real life, especially if you’re a little older like me and not exactly wrinkle-free. However, a good foundation and a touch of highlighter will go a long way.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
3A. In this selfie I’d tested the Charlotte Tilbury range of makeup – all natural, soft colours. Don’t forget people can zoom into your photos on Instagram now so any mistakes/badly applied makeup will show.


4. Makeup #2 – colour

As well as getting the base right, selfies do tend to wash your face out so don’t skimp on blush and lipstick for adding colour to your face.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
4A. Here (above) I’m wearing base, blush and lipstick only – no eye makeup (I was showing off my eyelash extensions). But the red lip adds balance to the big lashes and colour in my cheeks was essential, especially as I’d put my hair in a towel.

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
4B. A different kind of bold lip – I wanted all the emphasis on this deep plum colour so I kept my hair simple and the colour of my top contrasting.


5. Hide your bad hair days

Left your hair unwashed for just one day too many (like me)? Run out of dry shampoo (again, like me)? Don’t let a bad hair day or even lack of time for much make up stop your selfie game in its tracks – use hats or sunglasses.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
5A. A hat for a bad hair day AND sunglasses for lack of makeup. If time is of the essence then use one or the other – or both as I did here…!




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6. Add a bold accessory

This is a fantastic tip for adding interest to your selfie. One bold statement-making accessory will make your image really fun and exciting.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
6A. Those sunglasses are massive for a reason – to hide my tired eyes! Not only that but they add a graphic element to the image – it wouldn’t have been anywhere as interesting without those two big gold circles filling the frame.

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
6B. More sunglasses, but as they were so dark the bow tie balances the black out. A posed “tug on the ear” was a good way to show off the watch I was wearing – think about ways you can use your hands to show off rings, jewellery and watches.


7. Know your angles

This one is pure practice – knowing your angles is entirely an individual thing.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
7A. I know that most items I wear look better when my body is at slight angle to the camera. I know that I should hold the camera slightly higher than eye level (it makes your eyes look more awake if you have to look up rather than down). I know that my right side is my best side. All of this takes practice and a LOT of test shots. Practice when you’re not under pressure [to publish a post] and study the images to see what works best for you. Remember MOST people look better from a slight angle, not head-on.


8. Consider your background

Don’t let your background detract from your face – messy, busy backgrounds are distracting!

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
8A. This background is perfect – it’s the small cloakroom in my parents’ house. With the door shut behind me I’m both near the window for good light and in front of the wall and door for a clean, light background.

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
8B. This was taken in a hotel room – it was taken late afternoon as the light was beginning to fade outside. As the the room was so large nothing in the room was really lit up so it gave the effect of a dark background which echoed the bold frames of my glasses. I could have done a bathroom selfie, but all that unflattering overhead fluorescent lighting? No thanks. If natural light is failing use the window as a “tripod” – rest your phone or camera right against the window so you eliminate as much shake as possible.

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9. Edit the photo (but not too much)

It’s apparently a fact that brighter, lighter photos on Instagram are more popular. The more murky, dark or saturated the photo, the less likes it will get. The days of using filters to death are mostly behind us, and it IS a personal thing as to what effect you like, but unless you know exactly what look and feel you want to your feed it’s best to keep it simple. There are many apps like VSCO, Snapseed and ColorStory that will not only add preset filters but will help you adjust the finer points.

Personally, I prefer to get the photo as near to how I want it when I’m taking the photo and just do a little tweaking after. I’m happy to use the Edit function in Instagram itself – the settings I generally tweak are:

Increase Lux (the half dark/half light sun icon at the top of the screen)
Increase brightness
Increase contrast
Increase warmth.

All of these I use in VERY small amounts – it’s only brightness that I tend to use a little more than the others to get brighter, more appealing images.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
9A. Here I tweaked all of the settings as described above. It meant my eyes look brighter, the colours were a little richer (without becoming saturated) and all the focus was on the funky glasses. If everything is too dark and grey (too little contrast) you’ll end up with a very flat, lifeless image.


10. Play with composition for interest

Your selfies don’t have to look the same composition-wise every time: Play with what goes inside the frame.

For example…

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
10A. Here I used my arm to hold the sunglasses and create a more interesting, graphic shape: My head is off to the top right corner of the frame but my right arm draws your eye towards my face. Don’t be afraid to create bold shapes.

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
10B. This one goes against my rule of “head-on is less flattering”, but it’s actually the symmetry that I like here. Don’t think your whole head has to be in the shot – unless you’ve got a funky top knot or cool hair accessory the top of your head isn’t really all that interesting… Chop it off so the focus is on your face! Either across the middle of your forehead or just above your natural hairline works best (depending on your hairstyle.)

11. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous

So instead of all that posing, why not have some fun? Your followers will love to see you being a bit spontaneous every now and then.

For example…


How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
11A. This was a one-take selfie which I featured in this post where I talked about my teeth whitening and filing. It was taken in the restaurant toilets straight after my dental appointment – it went against my “no unflattering overhead light” rule, but as it captured the joy I felt at seeing my new teeth it didn’t really matter. The fun factor overruled sensible lighting in this instance!

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
11B. Another playful shot – it was posed to some extent, but I took several shots to get that fun “I know something you don’t” look. Note how you don’t have to be looking at the camera every time – set up the shot and look away for a change.

How to Improve Your Selfies in 11 Easy Steps | Not Dressed As Lamb, over 40 style blog
11C. One of my favourite EVER selfies – it still makes me laugh today! Whether you’ve got a photobombing friend, a posing partner in crime or a dog that looks like Master Shifu from Kung Fu Panda(!), don’t be afraid to publish the fun ones. Your followers will love you all the more for it.


A final word about cameras…

Generally, most people take selfies with their phones – I now take mine with my Olympus Pen (US link), a camera designed with bloggers in mind. It has a flip-down screen and produces amazing quality images, plus it has WiFi so you can upload images immediately to your phone for posting to Instagram.

Unless you have an excellent camera on your phone (my phone is an iPhone 6 and the camera is useless unless there is loads of light, even then the photos are very grainy) I’d avoid taking selfies in low light with a low-quality camera phone if you can.

Or have you considered one of these?

Selfie Ring Light and Light Up Luminous Selfie Cell Phone Cover

Left: Selfie ring light £6.99 (US link, $10.99)

Right: Light up selfie cell/mobile phone cover £20.99 (US link, $24.99)

I have both of these – they are BRILLIANT. They give you that extra bit of light either outside when the light is failing, when you just don’t have enough light indoors, or if you’ve got some unflattering overhead lighting (bathroom selfies?!) where you want to blast out the shadows. Definitely a great thing to invest in, especially if you only want to carry your phone and not a separate camera (even if it does have Wifi)…



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  1. 22 May 2017 / 4:17 pm

    Great tips! Thank you <3 I saw one of the selfie rings used at BlogOn this weekend and am considering investing as I hate my selfies!

  2. 22 May 2017 / 2:06 pm

    Thanks for this Catherine. And for all the blogging and photo advice over the years. I've learned so much from you. And I agree about everyone being more photogenic than they think. I have never taken a good photo. I always stood awkwardly, or grimaced from holding my smile too long. Or the light was bad, or the angle terrible making me look like I had three chins. And the photographer always said, smile, you look so uncomfortable. Ha. After starting my blog I've learned from trial and error (mostly error) how to take my own photo. And how to make shots that aren't of me more interesting. These selfie tips will be really useful. I'm taking notes!

  3. 22 May 2017 / 9:39 am

    FAB tips! I am useless at selfies, I will definitely be trying these! #brilliantblogpost

  4. 19 May 2017 / 8:35 am

    Thanks so much Catherine for taking the time and trouble to pass on your selfie tips , they are really helpful.Your Olympus Pen sounds like a very useful camera. I use an Olympus OM 10 but not for Instagram as a technically challenged person I have not fathomed this out yet.

  5. 18 May 2017 / 7:29 pm

    I'm so glad I read this. I was forever wondering why I see so many images and videos inside people's cars. No Overhead Light! Aha!

    • 18 May 2017 / 10:00 pm

      Ahhhh now you know the secret, Kathleen!! 😉

  6. 18 May 2017 / 5:51 pm

    Thank you so much Catherine. You do share your knowledge and that is so sweet of you. My problem is always how to take proper head to toe selfies with an iPhone (7). Being troubled by a house with no light or mirrors in the right places etc etc. the ones I make in the corridor are terrible with hideous short legs and all sorts of distortion.
    PS my face isn't the feature I want to document with a selfie haha. Too many wrinkles. But a few tips I will use with videos. God knows I have a lot to learn in that field.

    • 18 May 2017 / 9:59 pm

      Greetje there's an easy way to take selfies with your iPhone: DON'T…!!!! You can't avoid the distortion, hence why I never, ever take selfies in the mirror. And you know yourself you have to stand back and zoom in with a point and shoot to avoid a big bobble head, it's the same thing! The only way to do it is to get someone else to take it, though it's still so wide-angle and unflattering.

      Glad you liked the post. But who cares about your wrinkles, I personally love seeing your face on IG, it's so smiley and makes me feel happy!!!

    • 19 May 2017 / 9:50 am

      As long as I get feedback on my face like yours… I am happy too haha.
      OK message about iPhone understood. I will have to find a solution. Once in the office a young girl took good iPhone photos of me, from a lower angle. Usually I hate that, but these turned out fine.

    • 19 May 2017 / 6:35 pm

      I just recorded a little video using your trick of light on my face through the window. So much better !!! Forgot to look up though. Babysteps…

  7. 18 May 2017 / 3:03 pm

    BOOKMARKING!!!! Don't feel bad about trying to look good and practice and tips help! Thanks!!!!!

  8. 18 May 2017 / 2:45 pm

    Nicely written! While I don't take selfies, these are good tips. I saw a meme that said "Selfie,,,because narcissist is too tough to spell" Made me laugh! Your photos are very nice indeed!


    • 18 May 2017 / 9:56 pm

      Barbara I've not seen that meme… It's so true!!!!!!!!!! Glad you liked the post, thank you x

  9. 18 May 2017 / 11:36 am

    Such great tips, lady! Now I want one of those ring lights for my phone! I don't think it is possible to have a bad photo of you. xx

    • 18 May 2017 / 9:55 pm

      And now I know you've bought one of those ring lights – let me know how you get on!! They're such a lifesaver! Thank you my darling x

  10. 18 May 2017 / 10:31 am

    My phone's camera stinks. I'm cross-eyed as all get out. Any turkey would envy my neck. I'm too lazy to find the right spot to snap the elusive selfie—so I just go with the flow.
    Goddess bless you Catherine for an in-depth post. You are very photogenic–but many if us aren't–the tips are great! And my favorite selfie is one where my dog photobombed me!!! Nice post!

    • 18 May 2017 / 9:54 pm

      Catherine when caught off-guard I'm very UNphotogenic, so please don't think I take a good photo every time!! I believe anyone can look good in photos if you get your angles and everything right… hence the tips! x

  11. 18 May 2017 / 9:32 am

    Aw look at Riley…swoon
    You really do have the best sunnies collection woman! So jelly 😉

    • 18 May 2017 / 9:52 pm

      He absolutely nailed that selfie, didn't he MT hehe 😀

  12. 18 May 2017 / 9:29 am

    I was one of the ones who asked you to write this and I'm so glad you did! I've read it and saved it to my favourites so I can come back to it again and again. And I'm sure I will!
    Thanks so much for all the wonderful advice, Catherine.
    Every single one of these selfies is GORGEOUS!
    Suzy xxx

    • 18 May 2017 / 9:52 pm

      Aww Suzy thank you – and I'm glad you liked the post!! xx

  13. 17 May 2017 / 10:46 pm

    Man, I needed to read this before I just posted a terrible selfie this afternoon!! I knew it wasn't good, but I was in too much of a hurry!
    Thanks for the tips! Lord knows I need them..ha ha

    • 18 May 2017 / 9:51 pm

      That's often the trouble with selfies, Jodie – too little time!!!! 😉 x

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