April 25, 2017 Technology

Taking A Good 'Selfie'

Jeffrey M. Allen and Ashley Hallene

Most of us carry a camera almost all of the time these days; although we don't use it as often as we might. Smartphones have become ubiquitous and now all of them have decent cameras. Most of them can take good pictures; some of them can take stunning shots (in the hands of someone who knows how to use them.) Before the era of smartphones, we got into the habit of asking strangers to take pictures of us and our friends and then handed them our camera to do so. Sometimes we got the camera back with the picture, but not always. As we moved to smartphones with cameras, that process continued and I have watched with dismay while many people handed their smartphones to a stranger to take a picture of them and their friends. The good news is that in the overwhelming majority of situations, they got their phone back. I did once see someone walk (run) off with the phone, to the owner's misfortune.

As lawyers, we often have confidential information on our phones. Handing a phone with confidential information to a stranger poses a risk we do not need.

For a variety of reasons, many of us now take our own pictures of ourselves, alone, with our friends, and in various locations, instead of handing our phone off to a stranger. We call those pictures "selfies." While it is harder to take a good selfie than a traditional picture, you can learn to do it and, with a little practice, you can get good at it. You will find the skill useful in many situations ranging from holidays with your family, to travel, to dinner in a restaurant with your friends (perhaps even at an ABA meeting). Accordingly, this column will give you some advice on learning to take good selfies.


1. Choose Your Camera Wisely.

This actually represents two tips. First, if you plan on using your phone as a camera, know that some phones have better cameras than others; take that into consideration in choosing a phone. Second, most smart phones have two cameras: a front-facing camera and a rear-facing one that facilitates video calls. The camera facing front often has better resolution than the one facing back toward you, but the rear-facing camera you makes it easier to see what the camera sees in the display. That makes it easier to see the picture before you snap the shutter.

2. Look Toward the Light.

Again, two tips in one: First, you want to get good lighting if you want good pictures (this rule applies almost universally in photography); second, as front-lighting generally works better, if you face the light source you maximize the likelihood of taking a well-lit picture.

3. Get a Timer and/or Remote Control.

Unfortunately, particularly when taking a selfie, pushing the shutter button on camera phones almost always causes some camera shake, which can take away from your photo's sharpness. You can reduce or eliminate camera shake by using an app that provides a timer for the camera or by using a remote control (usually operated using Bluetooth these days).

4. Your Arms Are Too Short!

Remember when you hit middle age and you found that your arms could not stretch out far enough for you to read comfortably without glasses? Well, unless you have the reach of a Kevin Durant (for those of you unfamiliar with Kevin Durant, his a 7-foot-tall basketball player for the Warriors who has unusual length in his arms) in many cases your arms will not stretch far enough to get you the perspective you want for the picture. You can solve this problem by acquiring one or two accessories. A small table-top tripod used with a timer app or a remote-control shutter can go a long way toward solving the arm length problem as well as the camera shake problem. (Note that you may need a special attachment to hold your camera and mount it to the tripod). A selfie stick can also come in handy, providing a great deal of versatility in framing your shot. A selfie stick comes with a bracket that holds your phone and connects it to the stick. The stick, effectively a monopod that you hold in your hand, operates as an arm extender. Selfie sticks come in several lengths and usually collapse for easy carrying. Many selfie sticks come with Bluetooth remote shutters. Some of the remote shutters come built into the handle of the stick and others as a separate piece. The built-in shutters have the virtue of making it harder to lose the shutter. The separate shutter has the advantage of working with the camera whether you have it set up with the selfie stick, making it a more versatile acquisition. We prefer the separate shutter for that reason.

5. Follow Normal Photo Protocol (and Take Many Pictures).

Experienced photographers will tell you that when you take pictures, you should concern yourself with lighting, composition and framing of the photo. When taking a selfie, you should do the same thing. Experienced photographers will also tell you to take multiple shots. Taking only a single picture decreases the odds that you will like what you get. Taking multiple pictures of the same thing increases the odds you will get one you like. Remember you get digital images and you can see them without having to pay for film processing and printing. You can easily throw out the ones you don't like and save those you do.


Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA book Technology Tips for Seniors.

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas Law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport.