How to create artistic selfies from above using your smartphone

How to create artistic selfies from above using your smartphone

  • Selfies from above with your smartphone

I’ve always been drawn to documenting the simple moments and everyday routines. So, as part of my day-in-the-life project, I thought it would be fun to give my family a peek into what goes on inside our home while they are out all day. I decided to create a series of self-portraits that would illustrate my daily life at home. But, because I didn’t want these simple moments to feel mundane or repetitive, I needed a fresh angle. I decided to take selfies from above. And, I don’t mean just positioning the camera on an angle or holding my phone above me. I wanted to create true bird’s-eye view self-portraits that would show my environment and how I interact within it.

Bird’s-eye view photos are compelling to a viewer because it feels very much like you are outside looking in on a scene as it unfolds. For me, this is the perfect way to tell my story. But, logistically, creating these selfies from above is a bit of a challenge. I don’t have a drone to use inside my house and a tripod wasn’t going to create the look I was after. So, I came up with a solution: Tape my smartphone to the ceiling. Here’s how—

1. Build a cardboard shelf to hold your smartphone.

The way I take selfies from above and create that unique bird’s-eye view is to basically tape my phone to the ceiling. But, because I still need to be able to adjust my camera settings and timer, I use a cardboard shelf to hold the phone. This way, I can slide the phone in and out as needed without having to remove a bunch of tape. Here’s how to create the shelf:

  1. Start with a sturdy piece of cardboard large enough to hold your smartphone. Mine is approximately 6 x 12 inches.
  2. Fold a two-inch flap on each short side and then fold again to create a pocket, as shown in the photo.
  3. Use painters tape to attach the cardboard shelf to the ceiling.

Materials

  • Smartphone with camera
  • Painter’s tape
  • Cardboard
  • Ruler
  • Step ladder
  • Timer app
A cardboard shelf for taking birds eye view photos

2. Find the perfect spot for your bird’s-eye view photos.

Now that you have your shelf ready, you need to decide what you want to photograph and where. I love to photograph myself doing everyday activities in my home. When I’m choosing an activity and location, I’m always mindful of lines, colors and textures. These compositional elements are especially obvious and important in bird’s-eye view photos.

I will often get up on a ladder and take a test photo of my scene before I set up the shelf and insert myself into the photos. This gives me a good idea of what the image will look like and any adjustments I need to make. Moving the camera even a few inches can change the look of the scene and alter what is or isn’t included in your frame.

When I find the perfect spot, I tape my cardboard shelf to the ceiling. I always make sure I’m parallel to a wall to help keep my lines perfectly straight. This is important to do in-camera as straightening in post processing can mean losing a lot of the environment I’m trying to capture. I’m also mindful of light sources, as my iPhone 7 camera tends to blow highlights.

My favorite scenes for selfies from above:

  1. A cozy bed
  2. The morning routine
  3. Folding laundry
  4. Household chores
  5. Working or doing homework
  6. Exercising
  7. Cooking and baking
  8. Eating
  9. Sitting in the car
  10. Relaxing on the couch
  11. Bath time
  12. Wrapping presents
  13. Crafting
  14. Movie night
  15. Family game night
selfies from above with an iphone

3. Set up the camera and timer on your phone.

Photo Timer+ app for taking selfies

Download a photo timer app

If you don’t have one already, make sure to download a self-timer app. I use Photo Timer+ (free), as I find it to have the best options for shooting 10 frames at three-second intervals. It also features a voice cue when the next shot is being taken, which is very convenient for when I want to set up for my next pose. The voice cues are also helpful to let me recognize when the 10 frames have been completed.

Set the timer

Next, I set the timer to give me enough time to place my phone on the shelf, step down off the ladder, move the ladder out of the frame, and get into the scene. I find that 15 seconds works best for me. My timer can be set from a three-second delay all the way up to three minutes. Choose the delay that works best for you.

Place your phone on the ceiling

Once I’m ready to take the photo, I climb the ladder, and within the Photo Timer+ app, I press the icon that says “Take Photo.” Next, I press the camera icon to begin the countdown. Then, I place the phone on the shelf, being careful that the phone is perfectly straight within the shelf, and slip into the scene.

The first few images will often be less-than-stellar as the camera is being set up and you’re getting into place, so I usually delete the first couple frames from the series.

4. Review your photos and make adjustments as needed.

I will often continue to shoot until I create an image that shows my vision. To do this, I review the images I’ve taken after each set of ten. This allows me to make tweaks, like straightening or moving the cardboard shelf or editing my environment.

Composition for bird’s-eye view selfies

Lines and shapes

When shooting from a bird’s-eye view, lines and shapes are extremely important. Pay attention to what each element communicates in the image and how they interact to tell your story. Look for shapes and lines to frame your subject and help direct the viewer’s eye. Seek out lines that will lead the viewer into and across the fame.

Be extra mindful of strong lines, like walls, baseboards, countertops and tables. You’ll need to be careful with these strong lines and the way they cut across a photo, like a horizon in an outdoor photo. With these types of strong lines, it’s even more important to make sure your camera is parallel to a wall so that everything is nice and straight.

Symmetry

I often try to center myself in the frame for my selfies from above. Whether I’m in the top, middle or bottom, the center of the image is where the eyes will tend to go by default. Being centered gives the best balance and symmetry in my experience. Feel free to experiment and find what feels best to you.

Color and texture

Look for texture and color in your scenes. Add pops of bright colors and layers of fabric for texture. You want each item in your photo to help you tell the story, but also to add visual interest. Use light and shadows to add dimension and layers to your photos.

Exporting and editing my iPhone pictures

Once I’m finished taking photos, I go through my phone and favorite the images I want to use. I send them to my Mac using Dropbox and then use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to make my adjustments and edits. It is a phone photo, so it will have certain limitations, but in general I edit the images as I would any photo.

My gear

  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • Olloclip 4-in-1 lens for iPhone 7 Plus (wide-angle lens)
  • Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop

All photos by Dana Walton

More self portrait inspo and advice:

Hands-free selfies from above using your smartphone? Yep, that’s pretty clever! But we’ve got some great advice for taking self-portraits with your big camera, too. Here are a few articles to get you in the frame:

About the Author:

Dana is drawn to the beauty of simplicity within the frame. Creative composition and isolating subjects are just a couple of elements that play a strong role within her photographic style. Dana lives with her husband, son and two kitties in a small town outside of Toronto, Ontario. When not spending time with family, she enjoys baking, skiing, and riding through trails on her mountain bike. Visit Dana Walton online.
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39 Comments

  1. carmody baker January 5, 2019 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Dana,
    Thank you for putting this tutorial together. So brilliant! I love your photography perspective!!!

    • Dana Walton January 5, 2019 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      Thank you Carmody! It’s very fun to play with this perspective! Love your work on IG, can’t wait to see more

  2. Iris Nelson January 6, 2019 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Such an amazing tutorial, Dana. Thank you so much for sharing…

    I guess I need to think about upgrading my phone. 🙂

    • Dana Walton January 6, 2019 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      Thank you Iris! I’m happy to share this fun technique!

  3. Lori McLellan January 6, 2019 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    you.are.brilliant! Talk about thinking outside the box! I love the photos you capture using this method. Do you always use the Olloclip wide angle?
    Also…..please come declutter my home – your space is so lovely and clean!

    • Dana Walton January 6, 2019 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Lori, while I am sure I’m not an innovator of this technique, it’s definitely the approach to a Birdseye view perspective that I have found to be the best and most convenient solution. As for the clean space, lol, we don’t have a ton of things. We’ve moved many times and kept pairing down. Also, I’m strategic about which rooms I shoot in, and lastly, when all else fails, Photoshop!

    • Dana Walton January 6, 2019 at 2:51 pm - Reply

      Thank you Lori! While I surely did not innovate this technique, I find it to be the best and easiest solution for my approach at a Birdseye view perspectives. As for the clean house, lol, we don’t have a lot of clutter. We’ve moved many times, and with each move we paired down tremendously. Secondly, I’m very strategic about shuffling the mess out of the frame, and lastly, when all else fails… Photoshop!

  4. Kathy Roberts January 6, 2019 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    Genius! I would have never thought to do this. Thanks for a wonderful and unique tutorial!

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:43 am - Reply

      Thank you Kathy, I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  5. Channon January 6, 2019 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    I spent so long trying to figure out how you did these Dana – absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:44 am - Reply

      Thank you Channon, I’m happy to share this fun technique! Can’t wait to see what you create!

  6. Silvina January 7, 2019 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks a lot for this tips… Must give this a try… 🙂

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:45 am - Reply

      Yay Silvina! Please let me know how you make out! Can’t wait to see!!

  7. Silvina January 7, 2019 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    By the way, love the curiosity of your cats

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:50 am - Reply

      Lol, they are quite hilarious and entertaining on and off camera

  8. Marisa Magnusen January 7, 2019 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    How ingenious! I wondered how you did this. I’ve placed it on a shelf before but wouldn’t have come up with that cool cardboard shelf! So good! Thank you for sharing your creativity!

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:52 am - Reply

      You’ll have to give the cardboard a try!! I’ve tried the regular shelf too, and just couldn’t get the field of view I wanted. Can’t wait to see what you come up with Marisa! Feel when to tag me when you share it

  9. Katie Zamykal January 7, 2019 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    This is brilliant! Thank you!!!!

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:46 am - Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to read this Katie! Can’t wait to see your creativity with this

  10. Valerie January 8, 2019 at 9:50 am - Reply

    These are amazing! I love them. I never would have guessed that was what you were doing. I totally want to try it. Also, your home is beautiful!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:47 am - Reply

      Thank you for your lovely words Valerie! I can’t wait to see what you come up with, feel free to ask me any questions and tag me when you post, excited to see it!

  11. Amy Smith January 8, 2019 at 10:06 am - Reply

    This is SO.GOOD! I am excited to try a few of these!! So well done and inspiring! Thank you for that!!!

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:49 am - Reply

      Thank you so much Amy! I’m excited to see what you come up with, please tag me if you wish and feel free to ask any questions that might come up. xo

  12. Annick Paradis January 8, 2019 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    Can’t wait to try it!!

    • Dana Walton January 10, 2019 at 7:49 am - Reply

      I’m excited to see what you come up with! It takes a wee bit of practice, but it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it! xo

  13. Fardo January 9, 2019 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Thanks so much, this is so helpful and I love how you have the cats in so many of them haha! I do wonder what you use for sticking the cardboard shelf to the ceiling. We just had our home renovated and my husband will kill me and I will cry if I tear the ceiling or paint off removing it.

    • Dana Walton January 11, 2019 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Hi Fardo, thank you for taking the time to read the blog. My kitties definitely have quite the personalities, lol. I use painters tape, which is known to be pretty friendly on paint. However, do proceed with caution. While I have never run into any issues with it, I can’t guarantee every ceiling paint is equal. If you’re not sure, it’s probably best to test your tape out in an area that would not be extremely obvious. But it’s your discretion. I would not want to stress over damaging fresh paint after a renovation either.

  14. Amy Helmick January 9, 2019 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this simple tutorial. I’m looking forward to trying this out!

    • Dana Walton January 11, 2019 at 9:52 am - Reply

      I can’t wait to see what you come up with Amy! I’m created a hashtag #projectbirdseyeview for those wanting to share there and looking for inspiration. Keep me posted!

  15. Teri January 11, 2019 at 6:56 am - Reply

    I did this the other day to go along with a post and I love how it turned out! Thank you for sharing your technique!!

    • Dana Walton January 11, 2019 at 9:53 am - Reply

      Amazing Teri!! If you’re posting it, please feel free to tag me or share it using #projectbirdseyeview. I can’t wait to see yours!!

  16. Johanna January 17, 2019 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    No way! Mind blown right here!! This is so amazing!!! Thank you!!!!!

    • Dana January 17, 2019 at 10:42 pm - Reply

      Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Can’t wait to see what you create Johanna!!

  17. Ayesha Asim January 22, 2019 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Love it!! ❤️❤️ Thanks for sharing!

    • Dana Walton January 22, 2019 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      I thrilled you enjoyed it! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!!

  18. Meg January 22, 2019 at 10:59 am - Reply

    I’ve always wondered how people get the awesome over bed sleeping child shots!! I wish I would have known this when mine were little going to try this! I can’t see any phone lenses for a 6 I wonder if there are any apps that would give a similar effect?
    Thanks for sharing this!!!

    • Dana Walton January 22, 2019 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      I often wondered the same thing, I figured some were using a drone, or maybe had someone taking the shot for them. And yes, I wish I had figured this technique out when my son was small as well (hence why my kitties make a special appearance, lol) I don’t use any special lens, just the iPhone itself. I only use a lens if I’m in my car, per se, and need a larger field of view. Your phone is all you need! Can’t wait to see your photos when you try this! <3

  19. Erin January 22, 2019 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing!! Can’t wait to try it out!

    • Dana Walton January 22, 2019 at 6:36 pm - Reply

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Erin!! I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Feel free to tag me if you like, and if you have any questions, ask away!

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