Profile Photos

How Lighting Changes What You Look Like

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the best selfie lighting

Are you getting Quick Notes on Photofeeler saying your photo is too dark, too bright, or too shadowy? Or maybe your photos just aren’t scoring well, and you’d be interested in a heavy-duty fix?

Enter: lighting.

Photo lighting is a HUGE deal. It can drastically alter what you look like for better or worse.

12 Lighting Examples, From Bad to Good

To illustrate the difference that lighting can make for your pictures, we’ve taken several photos of our charitable CTO. Every photo has the same clothing and pose.

Note: Most of these pictures were taken on the same day!

1. Red/yellow indoor lighting

Red yellow tones indicate bad selfie lighting

Sometimes pictures taken indoors can have a reddish/orangish cast to them. You might not notice or mind — because you’re so used to seeing your own mug that it doesn’t seem to make a difference. However, to strangers, the tint can seem dingy, be unflattering on already-pinkish skin tones, and make teeth or eye whites look dirty.

2. Gray/green indoor lighting

Green tones indicate bad selfie lighting

Sometimes indoor photos can take on a grayish/greenish tint. This color cast is even worse than red/yellow, as a green tint has a notoriously creepy, eerie vibe to it. (Cue those Psycho violin screeches.) It can also make you look a bit sickly.

3. Shadowy overhead indoor lighting

Bad selfie lighting with shadows from overhead indoor light

Got overhead lights? Count on having eyes that look like black holes, and every facial blemish getting its own shadow. Depending on the exact angle of the light, facial asymmetries can become exaggerated and significantly change the look of your features. Not to mention, a lot of shadows on the face can make you look like a movie villain.

4. Away-from-light-source dim indoor lighting

Bad selfie lighting is too dim to see

In addition to being difficult to see clearly, dim photos lack catchlights in the eyes (those little flecks of reflected light). Without them, people look much less healthy and animated. That’s not the worst thing that can happen, though. Sometimes people use photos where they are in the dark, but their friend is not. This is frequently a cause for confusion in dating profile pictures, because people assume the better-lit individual is the profile owner.

5. Camera flash

Camera flash makes the worst selfie lighting

Typical camera flash has been shown to make people appear an average of 7 years older than they are. It can also make you look sweaty or greasy when you’re not. Worst of all, most people’s eyes involuntarily widen and pupils get tiny at the sight of the flash, which research says is unattractive on a subconscious level.

6. Colored lights

For the best selfie lighting, avoid colored lights

Colored lights are loud and full of drama. Blue and red lights look a bit like police sirens (read: danger). Pink lights feel like a dance (or strip) club. The viewer can’t see your face clearly and is just left to judge you based on where they imagine the picture was taken.

7. Screen lighting

Blue screen lighting is bad for selfies

Most screen light has a subtle blue tint, which can give a sad, melancholy vibe to pics. It’s also worth noting that many people recognize blue-tinted light as an indication of screens, so your viewer may pick up on the fact that you were sitting in front of your computer (perhaps your webcam) at the time the picture was taken.

8. Background lighting

Backlit selfies make you hard to see

As a rule of thumb, you don’t want any source of light (like a lamp or a window) to be visible *in* the picture because it will make everything else look dark. Backlit photos make you look more silhouette than human.

9. In shade, outdoors

Selfies that are in shade outdoors may look blue and dark

On a sunny day, you might be standing in the shade (i.e. a shadow, like from a tree or building) and attempt to take a picture there. Unfortunately, as long as any sunny areas are still in the shot, you’ll appear very dark and take on an unflattering blue cast.

10. Direct sun

Direct sun is not the best selfie lighting

Direct sun makes you squint, which makes you look unconfident and uncomfortable. Additionally, harsh sunlight casts shadows into every crease on your face. You will also sometimes get glare in the form of “hot spots” on your forehead, nose, cheeks, or chin that look a bit like sweat. (Even if you aren’t sweaty.)

11. Indoor and natural light mix

Indoor and natural light mix is getting closer to the best selfie lighting

Sometimes you’ll have natural light coming in from a window, but you’ll also have indoor, overhead lights on. As a result, you’ll get some of the beauty of the natural light on your face but with faint discoloration and shadows. (In these cases, it’s best to turn those indoor lights off and use the window light exclusively — as you’ll see next.)

12. Diffused natural light (AKA THE BEST LIGHT EVAH!)

The best selfie lighting is diffused natural light

Natural light is – you guessed it – light from the sun. And diffused means evenly-dispersed and soft. Diffused natural light virtually erases imperfections, makes you look healthy, and emphasizes your eyes. Here’s some ways to get it:

From a window Stand facing a window straight-on. Pull out your phone and notice how amazing your face looks!

Get the best selfie lighting by facing a window

The only caveat is, you should NOT be able to see the sun from your window. (If you feel the need to squint, you are definitely looking at direct — not diffused — sunlight.) To diffuse the direct sunlight, you can try using a thin white curtain. Or you can simply come back at a different time of day when the sun is out of view.

Outside where the sun is blocked out of view If you can’t see the sun from where you are, the area you’re in has diffused sunlight. On overcast days, for example, the cloud cover results in diffused sunlight. Or in an alley where the sun is blocked by buildings, the sunlight is diffused.

Outside during sunset Google “what time is sunset today,” go outside at that time, and be observant. At some point, all the bright areas and shadows on the ground disappear. That’s your cue.

With the help of a skilled photographer Good photographers understand diffused light and have the right equipment to get it. Fewer photographers understand how to get authentic-looking shots for social and dating photos, though, so tread carefully.

You’ll also notice diffused natural light in your car — which is generally why people take so many selfies in there. (Unfortunately, because no one likes a car selfie, we suggest finding that good light elsewhere.)

Anyway, we hope these examples and tips can help you get more flattering pictures of yourself and others. Put them to use, and we’ll see you back at Photofeeler soon!

Know for certain how you’re coming across in pictures with Photofeeler. It’s free to use here. 🙌