Prepare to throw at least some of your selfie standards out of the frame. A recent study from University of Waterloo in Canada is calling into question conventional wisdoms about what makes for a perfect shot.
This isn't the first study to examine the type of photo quintessential of the Instagram era, but it does take a new approach. Prior research used selfies posted to Instagram as their test subjects, running algorithms to find commonalities, but the problem with this approach is that those photos are all different. For example, if you look at one of Kim Kardashian's selfies compared to one of Beyoncé's — the clothes, hair, and makeup are distinct, and could each have an effect on whether a fan likes one image more than another.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo stripped away these differences in order to focus on three fundamental elements of selfie composition: Where the face is in the frame, how lighting frames the face, and the size of the face in the shot (or, how far away the camera was from the face when taking the selfie). To limit external factors, such as clothing and hair, researchers used what they called synthetic selfies: fake selfies that were computer generated using 3D computer graphics.
After creating 4000 selfie variations with six different models, they asked people to select which ones they preferred. The results point to three essentials for taking the ideal selfie.
1) Selfies shouldn't be shot too close to the face.
"In order to get good distance, you need to overextend your arm a bit and hold [the camera] a bit farther away than you might normally when taking a selfie," Daniel Vogel, one of the study's authors and an associate professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, told Refinery29.
This doesn't mean you need a selfie stick — in fact, using one could mean the photo is taken too far away from your face. Vogel notes, though, that holding your arm an inch or two farther than usual may feel a bit unnatural.
2) Selfies should have even lighting.
Second, Vogel found that the face should be lit evenly, roughly from the front of the face, though not too high or low, since that could create shadows. This theory gives some validation to the effectiveness of the Kim K-promoted Lumee iPhone case, which is lit around the edges, as well as the case created by Beyoncé's stylist, Ty Hunter.
3) Selfies should be centered.
The third, and most surprising finding of the research, is that the face should be centered in the frame, closer to the upper edge. This goes against conventional wisdom, Vogel says, which argues for the rule of thirds, or the idea that the photo should be split into three parts, with the face falling on one of the dividing "power lines." Vogel says that this could change if there's another object, say the Eiffel Tower, or person in the shot. But if you're going it solo, you probably want to stick to the center.
If you doubt the validity of the study because the researchers used 3D computer generated models, consider this: When Vogel had real people use the researchers' algorithm for the perfect selfie to guide their shots, their photos were rated 26-percent higher than those taken without it.
So if Instagram likes are what you're going for, opt for a selfie for your face is centered, evenly lit, and smaller in the frame.