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24 Nov 2014

Teens take the “selfie” out of self-portraits

In my life away from my camera, I am a teacher…of high school students. {pause for effect} People often cringe when I share this, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Teenagers are such interesting people, they’re voicing their opinions and (for many) are listened to for the first time. They are finding their own styles and exploring new interesting. The fun part is, they are their own best documentarians. With smartphones and tablets, I’m constantly watching kids take pictures of themselves and what’s around them.

So, as advisor to the school photography club, we decided to focus on self-portraits as our first creative exercise of the year. The selfie. Ugh. I do cringe when I hear that. Visions of girls preening while holding a phone at arm’s length, and then the click. Absolutely no photograph could be less meaningful, convey less personality or have less emotion. So, when the gang all gathered for our first round of self-portrait shares, no discussion about ideas to make them more than a selfie was yet had. And, what did we get??? You betcha – 8 to 10 camera phone selfies, some with creative (eh hehm crazy) filters applied. But, those largely impersonal snaps were a great starting point to help the kids identify what they did and did not like.

For example, TJ originally posted this image.

No, it’s not the typical selfie, but (like a selfie) it says very little about who he is. A jock? Nope. A loner? Nope. Thoughtful? Yes. Fast-forward 2 weeks and we got this!

TJ is an artistic, thoughtful guy who expresses himself honestly. His biggest success in this image came from embracing tip #1.

Tip #1:  The self-portrait should convey something about the person’s character.

With this image, we get that he enjoys a bit of drama, that he veers towards a more artistic, independent, and thoughtful style.

Sammy showed us her first selfie with half of her head missing, the tell-tale arms outstretched to hold the camera, and one of the afore-mentioned filters applied.

She is fun, energetic, and outgoing. These things do show, but for her to transform the image from selfie to self-portrait, she had to tackle Tip #2.

Tip #2: Step away from the camera! Use a timer (or remote if available) so we can see more of you in the frame.

By using a timer/remote, the person is also free to be more creative with posing and movement. Here, Sammy gave us a little more sass with her body language.

Not to be overshadowed is our own club president, Cenaya. She is one big personality wrapped in a small package.

The smile in her first go-round is certainly adorable. But, again, because she held the camera/phone so closely, there is some obvious distortion. And, it too said very little about who she is as a person. Tip #3.

Tip #3:  Use light and shadow to add more dimension.

What’s really wonderful about this particular image is that she shows the softer/quieter side of her personality. Not many are given the chance to see it. This also brings us to Tip #4.

Tip #4:  You don’t always have to look directly at the camera.

Lack of eye contact can sometimes add an air of mystery or sense of wandering. But, lack of eye contact is also a major difference from the dreaded “selfie.”

Teaching teenagers to take the “selfie” out of self-portraits will make for more interesting and meaningful photographs. Ones that, hopefully, they’ll look back on with fondness and appreciation. And, just maybe, they’ll learn a little bit about presenting themselves to the world in the process.


Bio Pic 250pxGina Cooperman

Gina is a wife, mother of twin 4 year olds (aka The Twinkles), teacher by day, photographer by night.  Originally a California-girl, she always tries to infuse her love of the outdoors in both her personal and professional photographic work. She can often be found adventuring with her two little people….camera always in tow. And, even though she’s lived in New York for 8 years, she will ALWAYS remain a devoted Dodgers fan.

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8 Responses

  1. This is brilliant! Gina, I love the tips you shared but more importantly I love how your students embraced them. Their second round of selfies conveyed so much more about who they are!!! Well done, kids!!! And, Gina, thanks for the tips!

  2. Thanks, everyone! The kids did a great job…we’re headed into NYC next Sunday, so I’m sure there will be lots more interesting imagery coming from them 🙂

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