Updated: March 10, 2014 at 8:05 am
"Teach me how to take a good selfie," I said to my daughter, Amber Gillmore, 19, one recent evening. So she explained the finer points of finding your light, tweaking your head into just the right angle to show your best side and making sure your background isn't something embarrassing.
Then she showed me some of the selfies she'd taken using her iPhone. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Her self-portraits were stunning. Some were cute and smiley, in some she looked sullen but beautiful, and in some she had a "come hither" look on her face.
But they all were gorgeous, and I was shocked at the glimpse into this secret life of selfie-tography she'd gotten so good at.
So, I did what many moms would do - I printed them up and framed them. To me, they're better than any school picture or professional photographer would have shot because they are so individual and personal.
Surprisingly, the high-resolution camera in the iPhone 5C that Amber uses produced good enough photos to blow up to about 11 by 13 inches.
It turns out, selfies are more than just self-portraits. They're an important part of the culture of America's youth. Gillmore calls her generation the "selfie generation."
"The selfie generation, from my experience, is really open and accepting, so within your circle of friends you're in a safe place to say 'Look how cute I look today, look how great I look,'" Gillmore said. It's about loving yourself and being OK with that.
"There are all these negatively spun ideas about appreciating yourself - liking yourself despite a society whose main model of beauty is photo-shopped images of superthin women."
Is it narcissistic to take lots of selfies?
"I really do feel like we live in a society, at least in my generation, where it's like if you're confident in your abilities and what you do and what you say, you're considered conceited and you're full of yourself," she said.
"I don't see why it's a bad thing to love yourself and be into yourself." (Of course, it's good to be smart about your selfie and who might see it, as a soldier who recently posted a selfie showing her hiding in her car during a flag salute at Fort Carson found out.)
'There's only one you'
Selfies, one day, will be a way to look back on yourself and remember when and where you took that photo, how you were feeling and what was going on in your life at that time. It's a timeline of sorts. And, for parents, kids' selfies can be a constant source of frame-worthy art.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Ezra Koenig, frontman of Vampire Weekend (ask your teen), defended selfies:
"I think that anybody who's anti-selfie is really just a hater. Because, truthfully, why shouldn't people take pictures of themselves? When I'm on Instagram and I see that somebody took a picture of themselves, I'm like, 'Thank you.' I don't need to see a picture of the sky, the trees, plants. There's only one you.
"I could Google image search 'the sky' and I would probably see beautiful images to knock my socks off. But I can't Google, you know, 'What does my friend look like today?' For you to be able to take a picture of yourself that you feel good enough about to share with the world - I think that's a great thing."
Your best selfie
For tips for shooting great selfies, we turned to several selfie aficionados: Amber Gillmore, Brendon Mathis, Amy Kinnear, Hannah Gordon and Ashley Tabb. Follow these tips and even a grown-up can take a super selfie.
Find your light. Light on your face will make your skin look more flawless and can mask things such as blemishes and dark circles under your eyes. On the other hand, light coming from behind you can soften a photo and make it look artsy and mysterious.
Find your angle. Most people are familiar enough with their own face to know which is their best side, their best smile, etc. Hold the camera at full arm's length, about 6 inches higher than your head, aiming the lens downward toward your face. The farther the camera is from you, the less fishbowl effect you'll end up with.
Learn about your phone camera. Find out how to turn the flash on and off. Find shortcut buttons to make taking photos easier. For example, on an iPhone, pressing the volume up button will snap a photo (in camera mode, that is). Also, you can adjust the brightness of a photo by touching a darker or lighter spot on the screen while prepping for a photo.
Check your posture. Hold your head up, lengthen your neck and don't hunch your back.
Check your background. It's a tragedy when a great selfie is bombed by an ugly Dumpster or toilet in the background.
Pick your filter. Instagram is an app that allows you to shoot photos and then add filters to make them look more interesting. You can then post your selfies to Instagram. Gillmore said it's better to post selfies to Instagram than Facebook, because Facebook is more of a networking platform, while Instagram is all about photos.
Other suggestions: Don't take it too seriously. You are taking a picture of yourself on your phone.
Try for unexpected elements in your selfie. Anything to make the viewer laugh will increase your selfie's worth.