One of the most common questions I’m asked is “If you’re travelling alone, who takes your photos?” Sometimes it’s like there’s some big conspiracy and I’ve actually hired a photographer and they’re trying to catch me out… There is no secret, about 60% of my photos of me travelling are taken by complete strangers! The other 40% are taken by my best friend self-timer.
In my opinion, I think it’s important to get a photo of yourself at the locations you visit. You can Google a picture of the Eiffel Tower but if you’re in the picture, now that’s what you want! It’s also great to show family and friends where you are, plus there’s something so special about having a picture of yourself in the hills of Switzerland or finally making it to that lookout over a town in Cinque Terre.
So, here are my tips for how to take a great picture of yourself when you’re travelling solo.
The easiest way to have a photo taken of yourself, is to ask someone! Most people are more than happy to take a quick snap of you, especially if they are tourists themselves. I usually wait until they have taken their own photos, and politely approach and ask “Excuse me, could you please take a photo of me?” Here's a tips:
Ask a couple or group if they would like a photo of themselves together (yes, of course they would!) and majority of the time they will ask if you would like one too. Boom!
Try to ask people who have a camera similar to yours (ie if you have a DSLR, you probably won’t get a great outcome if you hand it to someone with a digital camera circa 2005) or people similar to your demographic (a 20 year old American girl will get the ‘pretending to walk away’ shot much easier than a 65 year old Spanish guy).
It helps to give direction too – something like “Could you try to fit the whole building in?” “I’m just going to face this way” or “Just snap a whole bunch if you like, I have a huge memory card!”
To get a really great shot, odds are you’ll have to ask a few people and repeat this process for a little while to get one you’re really happy with.
Try not to be embarrassed about posing the way you want. If you don’t want to smile, or want to look away from the camera, it may look silly in person but try to imagine the end result. And at the end of the day, you’ll probably never see the person who’s taking your picture again so you do you!
Always say thank you! I’ve had huge conversations with people who I asked to take my photo and even ended up having lunch with a group when I told them I was alone. It can be a great way to meet fellow travellers and I’ve never actually encountered someone who said no!
Here are a few photos which were taken by complete strangers:
Tripod & Self-Timer
Some of my most favourite spots are quite remote – hiking trails, waterfalls etc – and sometimes, other people won’t be around.
I have a tripod and remote that I use for taking low exposure pics where the camera needs to be completely still with a slow shutter speed. I also use this for self portraits if no one is around to take a picture for me. It’s not the most enjoyable thing – setting up a tripod and taking pics of yourself (I feel completely vain) but I also know I’ll love the picture of me in the wilderness so I push through the internal cringing.
If you’re using a DSLR make sure you manually set the focus. Put something where you will be standing and focus on that, otherwise the autofocus will focus on the background and you’ll be blurry.
Make sure you purchase a compact, light tripod – you don’t want to be lugging some huge bulky thing around on your journey. Remotes and tripods can be purchased on ebay, as well as any camera store.
Here are a few pics I shamelessly took after fully setting up a tripod and using self timer or a remote:
Find a Makeshift Tripod
Okay, so some of you are probably reading this thinking either “I only have an iPhone” or “I’m not that extreme that I’m going to buy a tripod…” and I get you. Instead, find a makeshift tripod. Are you near a wall? A fence? Can you prop up your bag? If you can get your camera propped up slightly, frame your picture and hit self timer. Trust me, it’s easier than you think.
Alternatively, have a look at Octopus tripods which are made specifically for phones and are a fraction of the size to fit easily in your luggage. Also, they can wrap around poles, fences, trees etc to easily give height to your pics.
Believe it or not, these pictures were taken by balancing my camera on….
A sloped hill:
Lighting, Background, Composition
Right, so you’re all set up – whether your camera is mounted on a tripod, balancing on a fence or in the hands of a stranger – now, your pictures also need a bit of thought in terms of composition. What’s in the background? Is the picture balanced? Can you fit the whole Eiffel Tower in the shot from where you are standing? Are you facing the sun or will your face be in shadows? Take a minute to imagine the picture you want, take a few practice shots with no one (or a stranger) in the spot you’re thinking and see how it works.
For more tips, take a read of my other post on all things photography: How To Take Great Travel Photos.