How to Incorporate Composition and Artistry into Selfies

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This article is a guest post series from IFB Contributor, Monica Murgia.

Maintaining a blog requires many talents. Setting up the platform, showcasing your vision, and producing original content often come with a learning curve – particularly if you are doing everything solo.  

One of the consistent challenges I face while maintaining my own site is that I don’t have another photographer on staff. This means that a majority of photos that showcase my style are self-portraits.

With the advent of smartphone cameras, “selfies” have become extremely commonplace – and most results are less than stellar. As an artist, photographer, and fellow blogger I know it can be overwhelming being a one-woman show that never seems to have an intermission! Here are some tricks I’ve developed along the way to introducing composition and artistry into self-portraits.


Have a clear theme and mood

A great editorial has a clear vision. Develop a theme to your photoshoot and post. Whether it’s a how-to article or a showcase on your personal style, select outfits, accessories, and props that support your main idea.

Some photos may be sub themes, but they should support the overarching idea. When styling and taking shots, always consider how you want the viewer to feel when they look at your photos. Do you want them to feel inspired? Carefree? Ready for an interview? Channel that feeling by asking yourself if you feel that way when looking at your photos.

Every aspect of the shoot should draw that out. This also includes the lighting, use of filters, and composition of the photograph.

Last summer, I did a shoot for Midsummer – the traditional Swedish celebration. It’s a day filled with outdoor parties, drinks, and everyone wears flower crowns. For my shoot, I wanted to capture the feeling of celebrating nature while also looking like the illustrated advertisements of the 1910s.

The women illustrated in these ads were glamorous, alluring, and adorned with flowers. To achieve this look, I created a flower crown and wore a Native American fetish necklace. I shot in natural light, but used a sepia filter to give the image an antique look. 


Swedish Midsummer


Always Consider Lighting and Weather

More often than not, you're shooting in natural light instead of a studio. Pay particular attention to the time of day you’re shooting. Think about how you feel in the morning versus twilight. Each time of day seems to have its own mood, so plan accordingly. Changes in weather can also be additive in achieving the perfect shot.  

When Oscar de la Renta passed away, Saks Fifth Avenue featured a tribute to his memory. I have been fan of his work for a long time, and was saddened by his death. The day I went to see the displays, it was raining. The quote, “There is always an emotional element to anything that you make” really moved me. The feeling of inspiration and sadness was reinforced by the rain. It’s a really powerful image.  


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Location, Location, Location

Shooting on location is a guaranteed way to get great shots. I’m always scouting out new places to take photos. Look at your own city or town like a visitor. Be adventurous and take a day trip to somewhere you’ve never been. Ask your friends if you can shoot at their house.  

A colleague of mine has a boat, where I was able to take this self-portrait. I like that it captures a fun, summer day on the Hudson River.  The best part is that you can see the boat and Manhattan skyline in the reflection of my sunglasses.




Start to Incorporate Artistry and Ambiguity  

Who says you have to be traditional? Unexpected shots are more intriguing. What makes this really interesting is that it showcases how you view the world. As this implies, it also shows how you frame and edit to get the desired result.

Having a recognizable style means you have to edit out things that don’t support the message. Sometimes, it’s what you leave out that best defines you. The photos you get excited about – your favorites – pay attention to those. Try to see if there are commonalities. You might not see them at first, but you will eventually see some the more you pay attention.  

The image doesn’t have to be full-on centered to feature the clothing and accessories. Sometimes, a less direct and recognizable approach captures the mood that will inspire your readers. My personal favorites in my own self-portrait work are reflections. Reflections capture something very specific about my mood. Other times, they showcase how the clothes I am wearing make me feel. Our clothing choice is a direct reflection of our state of mind.

Sometimes you feel really glamorous and sexy – like when you’re getting dressed up for a date or party.  I was at an art opening when I took the following shot.  The image captures how fun and flirty I was feeling that day!


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Have a Clear Focal Point

Being in the center of the frame is necessary for headshots and professional portraits, but overuse is boring for editorial photography. Vibrant, original imagery often puts the subject away from the center of the frame.

Think of the frame as consisting in three separate vertical and horizontal sections – commonly referred to as the Rule of Thirds. Many cameras even have grid lines that can assist you in better visualizing the frame this way. See how you can balance the subject with the environment when you shoot in different angles.

Partial body shots are a great way to pay specific attention to a garment or accessory. They also allow the viewer to become a part of the experience. It gives them a sense of being in your shoes or walking around in your world.

I was walking to work one day, and felt particularly anxious. I had started a new job, was having some technical problems with my website, and the combination had me questioning my whole life. I was wondering if I really had what it takes to be successful. We all have those days. Then, I saw the following quote spray painted on the sidewalk: “Your life is more important than your fear.” It was a nice reminder to dress up, show up, and do the work to create the life you want. It might not be easy, but it’s more important to try than be ruled by fear.


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About The Author

Monica D. Murgia is a New York City based artist, photographer, and writer. Monica received her Master's Degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and went on to teach fashion and art courses at several colleges in New York City and Los Angeles. During her time as a professor, her artistic process was profoundly impacted by her students and introducing new ways for them to develop their own practices.

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3 Responses

  1. kostakarakashyan

    Love this post! Opens up a lot of possibilities in my head about selfies 🙂