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The rise of the selfie

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The rise of the selfie

L-R, David Cameron, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama making the most of the Madiba funeral last week. AFP Photo. 

By Mustafa Ziraba

Posted  Tuesday, December 17  2013 at  00:00

In Summary

The Oxford Dictionaries recognised selfie as the word of the year. We look at the social media craze that has gripped socialites as well as politicians.


President Barack Obama attended the memorial for Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, a cherished symbol of perseverance. But when he took a selfie with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, all hell broke loose.

Naturally, Twitter had some harsh words for the president. Obviously many failed to note that this was actually a memorial service full of general joviality. So this is less of an issue of the president treating a recently deceased, beloved global leader with disrespect, and more of the media finding a picture that made it look like he was and running with it.

The Oxford dictionary recently announced “selfie” as its word of the year 2013. Each time they publish a new edition of the dictionary they review words and there are always a few surprises. So is the selfie here to stay? I think so and perhaps the action of taking an image of ourselves with our camera phones is also here to stay.

The way technology is evolving, you never know what could happen tomorrow. However, I think there will always be people happy to take an image of themselves. In December 2012, Time magazine noted that selfie was among its “top 10 buzzwords” of 2012.

The selfie had been around for years prior but most likely due to the popularity of smart- phones they hit big in 2012 along with the growing popularity of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Viber and Facebook Chat.

So what is a selfie? Simply put, it’s a picture of oneself captured at arm’s length, holding the camera. Everyone takes selfies, but the younger crowd seems to be especially involved in the trend mainly because the 18 to 34 demographic are heavier digital users than their older counterparts. Some selfies are extreme close-ups, others show part of an arm held straight outward and a few of the great ones even feature the subject standing in front of a bathroom mirror so that they can get a full body shot of their reflection.

Not all selfies are created equal. However, I must qualify that by saying there is no wrong way to take a selfie. The intent has grown into its own form of self-expression, and the artistic choices people make are as varied as the faces themselves. But here are a few things you could do to have better selfies.

1. Be camera ready
Do not think glamour shots. Aim for put together, yet casual. If you look like you are trying too hard, people will notice. To get the best possible shot out of a smartphone, use the higher resolution back-facing camera.

If you are using the front camera, handy for getting the exact framing you want, make sure you tear your eyes off yourself long enough to look into the lens for the photo. Make yourself look your best by producing a selfie while you are actually having fun, whatever that means for you.
2. Beware of your surroundings
Nothing kills a selfie like an unpleasant background. This is especially common while taking mirror selfies.

Sometimes we forget about the pile of dirty clothes, or the toilet that can be seen in the reflection. If there is something in the background that you can’t get rid of, you may use the crop feature on your phone or camera or simply edit it out later on a computer.

3. Lighting
As you might know, light can make or break a picture. Where you would be horrible looking while taking a selfie in one spot, you probably would look gorgeous in another. Natural lighting is the best way to go. Extremely bright backgrounds shall make your face appear dark.

4. Get the angle right
Many people do not consider the angle of the picture when they are taking their own selfies. Some people look great when they hold the phone up and angle their face upward. Switch it up and find your best side and your best angle.

Do not be scared to try something different. But make sure your head is tilted down enough that you are not getting a selfie of the inside of your nose. Again remember focusing too much on looking attractive can get in the way. Do not be afraid to put aside vanity and mix up your expressions to show different emotions.

If you find yourself sitting next to someone famous, ask if they are cool to take a group selfie you can show your friends. When taking group shots with strangers, always use the front-facing camera. Even though the back camera on smartphones is higher quality, it’s harder to compose an image without seeing the preview on the screen.

Be mindful of taking overly private selfies as they could be “accidentally” shared to or seen by people you would not want.

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