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Selfie tips on how to make an Old Master Selfie

As modern selfie makers, we can learn quite a lot from the self-portraits of Dutch Masters. The artists painstakingly took into account the lighting angles, posture, facial expression and background.

Get inspired by these tips from the Dutch Masters, join our Photo Contest and share your own #OldMasterSelfie!


Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1669. Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1669. Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Tip 1: Light

Painters preferred having a studio facing North. That makes sense, since the northern light is the most constant and always soft.

What kind of light is ideal for an #Oldmasterselfie?

The best is daylight – but not sunlight. Sunlight results in frowning eyes and wild, hard shadows. A window facing north is ideal for soft lighting. Of course, on a cloudy day, the light from other windows can be used as well.

In this self-portrait, Rembrandt chose to have his face illuminated from the side. This is no coincidence: it allows the light to beautifully model his facial features. One side of the view is a bit more in the shade, but still well visible.

Light coming from the side is ideal – and easy to find. Position yourself so that your face is illuminated from the side. Then, turn your nose a bit further towards the window. This is how you will achieve exactly the same lighting as Rembrandt.

No suitable daylight available? In that case, it is important to not work with different types of light. Do not mix incandescent light with LED or fluorescent light, this will only create wild facial colours. A sheet of white paper can help when there is insufficient light. Hold it next to the face, opposite the light source. The sheet will become a reflector, bouncing some light back onto the other side of the face.

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

What kind of light do you prefer?

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

Daylight is the best, but no sunlight.

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

the northern light is the most constant and always soft.



Frans van Mieris, Self-Portrait, 1667. Polesden Lacey, The McEwan Collection - The National Trust.

Frans van Mieris, Self-Portrait, 1667. Polesden Lacey, The McEwan Collection - The National Trust.

Tip 2: Posture

Pay attention to the posture of the Dutch Masters: nobody painted themselves facing straight. This is no coincidence, since in a self-portrait or selfie, facial features are flattened, making the portrait less recognisable and sometimes even unpleasant to look at.

Which is the best posture for an #Oldmasterselfie?

Most painters chose a three-quarter perspective for their portraits, an excellent choice for a self-portrait. Start by looking straight into the lens, and then turn your nose away just a little bit, towards your light source. Make sure you can still look into the lens, a little turn is all it takes.

The same applies to the shoulders. Viewed straight on, they look square and sharp, far from the most flattering. Make sure the shoulders are turned in just a little bit. Look at this example of Van Mieris.

Think about where you will hold the camera relative to your face:

A photo from a lower perspective than the eyes makes one look larger and more impressive, but also older and heavier. A shot taken from a higher perspective makes one look smaller and nicer, as well as thinner and younger. So choose your perspective wisely.

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

Most painters chose a three-quarter perspective for their portraits.

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

Think about where you will hold the camera relative.

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

A lower perspective makes one look more impressive.

Selfietip OldMasterSelfie

A higher perspective makes one look smaller and younger



Huygh Pietersz Voskuyl, Self-Portrait, 1638. Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Huygh Pietersz Voskuyl, Self-Portrait, 1638. Mauritshuis, The Hague.

Tip 3: Facial expression

One of the nicest things about the exhibition is the feeling that we are standing face to face with the painters. How we experience that is due in part to their expression – how are they looking at us?

Which facial expression will you choose for your #Oldmasterselfie?

Think about the expression you will choose in advance. How do you want to be seen? Stern? Cute? Bored? Dreaming?

Do you want to take a spontaneous picture? In that case, you can try hopping or jumping just before taking your #Oldmasterselfie. This results in a pleasant glow and very relaxed and happy pictures.

A chair can also help for a relaxed photo. Rest an arm on the armrest. Place the other one under the chin for the ultimate intelligent look.

Holding objects can also help in relaxing in front of the camera.

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

Which facial expression will you choose?

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

Stern? Cute? Bored? Dreaming?

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

A chair can also help for a relaxed photo.



David Bailly, Self-Portrait with Allegorical Still Life, 1651. Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden.

David Bailly, Self-Portrait with Allegorical Still Life, 1651. Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden.

Tip 4: Background and attributes

What many people forget about self-portraits is the background. Not that strange – most selfie makers are busy enough taking care of how they will look themselves. That's a shame, because a background can add a lot to a picture - or distort it entirely. Pay attention to the world behind you as well.

What is the ideal background for an #Oldmasterselfie? Walls, curtains, wallpaper, sheets, paintings – it's up to you. Concrete walls can work very effectively, too. When choosing your background, keep in mind our other tips about light. A beautiful background will only look beautiful if the light is right.

A dark background makes your face stand out more and usually creates a heavy, serious image. A lighter background creates just the opposite feeling. Just compare the self-portraits of Rembrandt and Voskuyl side by side. A busy background can yield much energy to a portrait, but it can also detract from it a lot.

Have you chosen a background? Have one more look behind you to check that nothing distracting is in the way: a lamp, a fire extinguisher, or a wall socket for instance.

Nothing crazy looking in sight? Then get yourself started using accessories.

In his self-portrait, Bailly has completely filled the table with objects. Some are symbolic, others just show off how well he could paint. The objects give the self-portrait a special meaning.

Which objects will you choose for your #Oldmasterselfie? A family item? A music instrument? A reference to your hobby? They may even all feature at once on the picture. This way, your selfie will become even more meaningful.

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

Nothing crazy looking in sight?

Selfie tip OldMasterSelfie

Objects give the self-portrait a special meaning.

Photo Contest Old Master Selfie

Using our selfietips everyone can make a selfie in the style of the seventeenth century. Join the contest and share your own #OldMasterSelfie too!

Photo Contest #OldMasterSelfies

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