There are selfies — and then there are selfies that make people say “Jesus Christ!”
That’s one possible reaction to one of the most epic selfies ever snapped.
Not just because it was a breathtaking shot but because of where it was taken.
Lee Thompson became an Internet sensation when he became the first person to snap a selfie from the top of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue.
The British co-founder of the Flash Pack travel company scored millions of shares across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as the breathtaking shot of him perched precipitously atop the 124-meter landmark ricocheted around the planet.
In an act of selfie selflessness, he’s offered to share his top tips for capturing those memorable mugshot moments.
It’s not about the danger
The trick is coming up with a selfie that hasn’t been done before.
In an increasingly selfied world, that’s getting increasingly tough; my Rio shot has already been copied scores of times (not with me in it, obviously).
For me, it’s not about recklessness or danger.
I had permission to climb to the top of the Christ the Redeemer statue, and I stayed safe. So don’t even think about clambering up that Russian skyscraper. Those stunts are often illegal and preposterously dangerous, and they’re no longer original.
Instead, try some lateral thinking to come up with something new.
Although you can plan for these things, the best selfies are often the most spontaneous.
It’s all about the angle
Want the world to see your double chin and those haggard-looking bags under your eyes? Of course you don’t.
Remember, you’re the star of this shot as much as what’s behind you, and few people look good when photographed from below.
Hand hold your camera and stretch your arm out as long as possible with lots of height. From that angle, you probably won’t even have to suck in your stomach.
Take multiple pictures
Spontaneity will get you only so far. It’s also good to show some ruthlessness in pursuit of the superlative selfie.
When you’re in the zone, keep that finger on the trigger, and keep firing. The more photos you take, the more likely one of them is going to be tweetworthy.
When I took the Jesus selfie, I shot the bejesus out of it, racking up more than 100 pictures. The first 10 frames were bleached white, but one was perfect.
Choose the right equipment
I shot my picture on a GoPro, and I’m convinced that this is the best selfie camera. The reason for this is that it has a fisheye lens and will get in most of your arm and everything you need in the background.
The downside to using a GoPro is that if you get too close to the lens, you’ll end up with a huge head. Try it and see!
Also, they’re power-hungry, so they need lots of spare batteries or regular recharging.
Fisheye lenses are available for smartphones, but they tend to have a nasty circular frame.
Another great selfie camera is Samsung’s NX Mini, which is small and lightweight, has a great 9mm lens and creates huge file sizes. That’s perfect for those not confident in using a GoPro, and it has a 180-degree flip screen to check your framing.
If Ellen DeGeneres had used this for her famous Oscars selfie, then Bradley Cooper could’ve gotten away with having smaller arms.
Lighting is key
It’s a basic rule of photography but easy to forget when you’re capturing a fleeting moment: Make sure the light is in front or to the side of you and not behind. The last thing you want to do is be silhouetted by the sun — unless you’re specifically going for a “sun selfie”!
Of course, that creates its own problems.
For my Jesus selfie in Rio, I had to look in the direction of the sun, so on most of the frames I shot, I had my eyes closed (another reason you need to take multiple shots).
Use a big depth of field. You need to make sure that the prospective audience of your selfie can see the background.
To achieve this on a digital camera, use a smaller aperture, which will have a larger number on the settings menu.
Create an atmosphere
If you can create an atmosphere through the composition of your selfie, then you’re onto a winner.
Creating a sense of vertigo, claustrophobia or simply wonderment will bring about a reaction and will always leave a lasting impression.
Show some discretion, though. Just because something is dramatic or interesting does not mean it’s a suitable backdrop for a selfie. Witness the wave of outrage that followed the posting of selfies taken in front of a major fire in New York or Auschwitz.
Shun the selfie stick
With tempers fraying over the increasing ubiquity of these arm extensions, it surely can’t be long before someone is actually attacked with their own selfie stick. So why add to the problem?
Selfie sticks don’t have the same effect as a hand-held camera.
Many people who copied my Christ the Redeemer selfie ruined the moment by using a stick.
The secret to my picture was that it looked much scarier than it actually was. The hole in the head that I stood out of was big and safe to stand in, but my shot made it appear like I was teetering on the edge of the statue.
In reality, I was fine.
The guys who used a selfie stick showed how big the hole was, and their picture lost some of their breathtaking impact.