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The rise of the selfie 0.5

Julia Herzig, a 22-year-old from Larchmont, New York, has “an obsession.” It’s about taking a new kind of selfie – one that’s not exactly consistent.

In some of these selfies, Herzig’s forehead is bulging halfway through the frame. His eyes are half-discs, peering beyond the camera. His nose is protruding. His mouth is invisible. These images are best when they have “eerie and spooky vibes,” she said.

Herzig started taking these photos — called 0.5 selfies (pronounced “point five” selfies, not “half” selfies) — when she upgraded to an iPhone 12 Pro last year and discovered that its rear camera had an ultra-wide-angle lens that could make her and her friends look “warped and crazy.”

But what seemed like a joke was bigger than Herzig, a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, thought. A few months ago, after spring break, she opened Instagram to a stream full of 0.5 selfies. “All of a sudden one day everyone was taking 0.5 selfies,” she said.

Wherever Gen Z gathers these days, a 0.5 selfie is almost inevitable, capturing the moment with random flattery — or a comical lack thereof. 0.5 selfies are popping up on Instagram, proliferating in group chats, becoming the talk of the holidays, and are often captured to chronicle the details of daily life.

Unlike a traditional selfie, for which people can prep and pose endlessly, the 0.5 selfie – so named because users tap 0.5x on a smartphone’s camera to switch to ultra -large – has become popular because it is far from organized. Since the ultra-wide-angle lens is integrated into the rear cameras of the phones, people cannot watch themselves take a 0.5 selfie, creating random images that convey the fantasy of the distortion.

“You really don’t know how it’s going to turn out, so you just have to trust the process and hope something good comes out of it,” said Callie Booth, 19, of Rustburg, Va., who has added that a good 0.5 selfie was the “antithesis” of a good frontal.

In their best 0.5 selfies, Booth said, she and her friends are blurry and emotionless.

“It’s not the traditional perfect picture,” she says. “It makes it more fun to look back.”

The problem is that taking a selfie at 0.5 is difficult. Due to the rear camera, angling and physical maneuvering are a must. If selfie takers want to fit everyone into a frame, they should stretch their arms as far and up as possible. If they want to maximize the distortion of a face, they should perch their phone perpendicular to their forehead and right at their hairline.

Adding to these stunts, because the phone is flipped over, 0.5 selfie aficionados have to press its volume button to take the shot, being careful not to confuse it with the power button. Sometimes 0.5 selfies with large groups also require the use of a self-timer. Nothing is visible until the selfie is taken, which is half the fun.

“I just take it and watch it later, so it’s more about capturing the moment than seeing what everything looks like,” said Soul Park, 21, of Starkville, Mississippi.

Wide and ultra-wide angle lenses are nothing new. First patented in 1862, lenses are often used to capture more of a scene with their wider field of view, especially in architectural, landscape and street photography.

“It goes back as far as photography has been a thing,” said Grant Willing, a photographer who reviews cameras for electronics superstore B&H Photo Video.

Selfies, popularized by celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, are a more modern innovation (although this is sometimes disputed). In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries added “selfie” to its online dictionary and named it the word of the year.

The 0.5 selfie was born from the convergence of the wide-angle lens with the selfie, made possible when ultra-wide-angle lenses were added to Apple’s iPhone 11 and Samsung’s Galaxy S10 in 2019 and models more recent.

Due to the wide angle, subjects closer to a lens appear larger, while those farther away appear smaller. This shift distorts subjects in ways that are welcome, for example, in architectural photography, but traditionally discouraged in portraiture.

“The wide angle for portraits has always been very different because it just made it more distorted,” said Alessandro Uribe-Rheinbolt, 23, a Detroit-based Colombian photographer.

Uribe-Rheinbolt said he recently brought the wide angle from his portrait work – where clients have requested the look of a 0.5 selfie – to his personal life, using it to capture his friends, outfits and his daily routine.

“It gives it a more laid back look,” he said. “There’s a lot more creativity with how you orient and how you bring it closer.”

An unedited 0.5 selfie is more organically playful than a face-on selfie. Posting the selfies to Instagram, where the members are noodly or buggy-eyed, is supposed to be silly, making it seem like photographers are taking themselves – and social media – less seriously.

“Something about it breaks the fourth wall because you recognize that you’re taking a picture to take a picture,” said Hannah Kaplon, 21, of Sacramento, Calif. “He’s trying to make Instagram casual again.”

Kaplon, a recent graduate of Duke University, said she now takes a 0.5 selfie for most occasions: a late night studying at the library, a dinner party with 11 guests, a basketball night- ball.

“Very quickly, wherever we were with my friends, I was like, ‘We have to take a 0.5 selfie,'” she said. “The trend has taken on a life of its own.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.