One difficulty during solo travel is getting pictures of yourself – especially if you’re not that much into classic selfies. Since I’m a devoted solo traveller, I’ve tried five different ways of how to take pictures of yourself even without a travel companion in tow.
However, most of these tips are helpful if you are rather looking at the big picture – literally – and only want to pose from time to time. If the main motif of your photography should be you, you won’t be able to avoid another skillful person doing the job while you focus on posing and looking great.
Travelling Solo And Still Being in the Picture
I’m not photogenic at all. In pictures, my hair is a mess, my mouth is open since I keep talking, I’m sweating, I’m grimacing, and I somehow manage to look even chubbier than I already am. In all honesty, this is also because I’m somehow missing the vanity gene. Without this gene, I’m not carrying a nice choice of outfits with me when visiting mesmerizing sites. I’m not fixing my hair, and I’m not putting on make-up in the tropical heat.
It’s simply not that important to me.
Because I’m not travelling to position myself in some beautiful scenery. The beautiful scenery as such is good enough for me – and for my camera; and mostly also for my blog.
So while I don’t feel the urge to see my lovely mug in front of each and every landmark that UNESCO put on the list of world heritage, I like my picture taken from time to time.
While people who travel as a couple or in a group have it easy, we solo travellers have to overcome some technical obstacles before we can beam cheese into our camera. I wrote about this as one of the downsides to solo travel in a former post. But fret you not, my fellow solo travellers – albeit this term is totally antithetic, obviously – in this post, I introduce five ways of getting good quality pictures of yourself.
Let’s sit around a campfire while I’m telling you how we took pictures in the olden days.
We used to have cameras just like you. However, to ban a motif, we needed celluloid, hence, a film roll that we inserted in our camera. With this, you had up to 36 shots. Especially if you weren’t a professional photographer, every photograph was basically a lucky shot…pun intended. There was so much that could go wrong. First of all, there was no display, hence you were not able to check what your picture looked like. And even with perfectly good output, you still had the chance to mess your film up – for instance by accidentally opening the camera before pulling the film back into its case.
The Land Before Time
Picking your developed pictures up at the nearby photoshop – at that time, this was not software but a real store – was always accompanied by great excitement – and a little fear: Would the result be brilliant photographs showing raving beauty – or some blurry, dimly motifs?!
Life was so exciting then.
So while your own photography skills were constantly tested, handing your camera to strangers asking them to take your picture of a once-in-a-lifetime moment was one of life’s last big adventures. You learned to trust in people as you had no way of checking the result, anyway.
Back then, many memories remained beautiful in your heart, but blurry and dim on celluloid.
With the wonderful invention of digital photography, things changed dramatically. Not always for the better, for instance, there was no mindless snapping away with your 36 shot film. You considered the necessity as well as arrangement of each and every motif since it irretrievably reduced the number of your shots. But when it comes to checking your pix right on the spot – hooray for digital!
Let’s Get Digital
Since today, you can check the result right away, you have a better chance of getting the portrait you expect as you hand those strangers your camera. Nonetheless, aesthetics is very individual and personal and can differ a lot so that even if you explain precisely how you’d like to appear in that picture, you might still end up with a very different look.
Also, even though you can check the picture those good people took, you hardly can ask them time and again to photograph you until you are really, really happy with the result. You basically have to live with what they like even if it wouldn’t be your first choice.
Therefore, self-photography – albeit often more time-consuming – can lead to a much more satisfying result.
In case you do not want to ask people to take your pictures – or if there simply aren’t people around, you have to find a way to take a picture of yourself. And for this purpose, self-timers are a great invention. Most cameras are equipped with a self-timer that you might even be able to set up to as many seconds as you need to make yourself representable.
However, there are certain things to consider when taking pix with a self-timer.
Firstly, make sure that your camera is in a stable position. You won’t look pretty in a picture as you are watching your expensive camera crashing to the ground.
Place your camera in a secure place like a wall, push the button, and while the clock is ticking, try to pose as natural as you can – without looking hectic. My camera even has an interval trigger that allows me to take three pictures in a row. So while in the first one I still look like I just came running from behind the camera, in the third, I look confident and relaxed.
This interval trigger is also a great way to solve the focus problem I’m addressing further below. If your camera’s mechanism is ‘intelligent’ and does not use the first focus point forever and ever but does adjust, only the first shot will be out of focus. The others should come out sharp.
If you place it on some rough surface, try to put something underneath. That can be your backpack or even just a scarf. A soft foundation not only protects the casing. The softer, hence more flexible, footing also enables you to point your camera at the desired angle. On hard ground, it just aims at one – mostly low – level.
Use A Tripod
Obviously, you can mount your device on a tripod. If you use it only from time to time, a smaller one might do. In any case, try out beforehand that it bears the weight of your camera and doesn’t overbalance as soon as you tilt it at a certain angle. Also, make sure the legs can be bent. This way you can either place it on the ground or you can wrap the legs for example around a pole or a big branch.
It is also good if the tripod has a ball head so that the attached camera can be swiveled and you can take photos in portrait format.
The screen on the back of my camera can be opened and twisted so that I can control – albeit, from far – how I’m positioned. Obviously, you cannot really check details.
With most self-timers, the autofocus focuses as soon as you press the shutter release button. Not in the moment as the picture is actually taken.
To avoid the focus being on the background instead of your eyes, you need to deactivate the autofocus.
To pre-focus correctly, you need to determine the correct distance beforehand with some kind of placeholder at the spot where you will be eventually. Focus on this spot and then turn off the autofocus.
Still, this method is quite imprecise. For better results, you might want to opt for a remote shutter.
A quiet place without many people is crucial when taking pictures of yourself using either the self-timer or a remote shutter.
These methods become tricky in a busy place with lots of people around. Firstly, because you might feel a bit stupid taking photos of yourself. But most importantly because you are at a distance from your camera and it stands completely unprotected. People might accidentally bump into it and crash it. Or – in the worst-case scenario – it might even be stolen.
So when there’s a lot going on, you should rather ask someone to take your picture – or just snap a quick selfie.
As I mentioned above, it’s easier to obtain good, sharp pictures by using a remote release. Simply because you are already in the right spot as you pull the shutter. And if you combine it with a recording delay, you’ll have enough time to put the remote release down so that it isn’t in your picture.
If you don’t have a remote release and don’t want to buy one, simply use your smartphone. State-of-the-art cameras can be operated with smartphones. Usually, they come with an app that enables triggering by remote control.
As soon as you connect the two devices, you can use your phone as a remote release and operate it from a greater distance.
First, place the camera in a secure spot and adjust it to the desired image section. Then go into position. In the open app, you’ll have a preview of the frame. This gives you an idea of what the photo will look like and you can position yourself accordingly.
With a tap on the display in the photo preview area, you can determine which point should be focused on by the camera. If everything is set so far, you can trigger with a tap on the shutter button. For the perfect picture, you pose in a way that the smartphone in your hand doesn’t appear in the picture.
Since all kinds of special features vary from device to device, it doesn’t make sense to get into detail. For best results, you might want to search for tips and instructions for instance on youtube.
While using a remote shutter gives you more possibilities to take great pictures than using a self-timer, you should still take the same precautions when it comes to your camera: Place it in a safe spot, make sure it doesn’t shift or overbalance as the lens is moving, and beware of people around you – and, most importantly, your camera
If there’s one kind of photography I hate from the bottom of my heart it’s selfies. I’m not talking about those Hey, it’s such a great evening, let’s all squeeze into this one fun shot shots. This I find actually very sweet. No, I’m talking about these duck-mouth-seducing-glance-victory-sign-look-at-me-look-at-me-selfies. This endless display of hedonism and vanity. I wrote a whole rant about it in a former post – including the fatal dangers that come with it.
This being said, you don’t need to give a rat’s arse about what I think. Obviously, there are moments where you want a souvenir and that’s totally okay, obviously.
I presume that in an era where people upload a thousand photos on Instagram every second – yap, an incredible 50 billion photos have been published on Instagram so far – I don’t need to explain how to take a selfie, do I?!
Nevertheless, do me and the world a favor and be considerate, especially when using one of those hateable selfie-sticks. Be always aware of your surroundings, look around you, try not to bump into others or poke them with your stick. It should go without saying that you don’t rush people or even chase them away because they might be standing in your picture. Remember, that particular site is not your afterimage but for everyone to enjoy.
Obviously, you can always hire a professional photographer. With Social Media and the increase of vanity and the necessity of showing your mug on as many pictures as possible, the market for photographers who accompany your sightseeing for an hour or two is growing.
With my total lack of vanity, I’m travelling to see places and possibly ban them on my chipcard. I know what I look like. And I don’t look any different when in New York, Rio, or Tokyo, hence I don’t need to be on each and every pic. Also, I know that I’ve been to those places, consequently, I don’t need evidence.
So no rental photographer for me.
However, especially if you are into cruises, you know these professional photographers waiting at the gangway to take a picture of arriving passengers as they are exhausted and sweating from getting to the right pier. They are mercilessly stopped, urged to stand close together and to smile. No one pays attention to their weak protest, the photographer is just snapping away. Next! What do you mean, you are making a silly face and your significant other had his eyes closed? No, as often in life, you don’t get a second chance. The photographer doesn’t have all day, and there are more photo victims lining up behind you. Next!
Well, as annoying as this process can be, it might also be great fun. For environmental reasons, I refuse to go on a cruise. Nevertheless, I fell victim to more or less professional photographers on various occasions as I was visiting landmarks. If you’re not too vain and enjoy irony and a good laugh, it might actually be a great way to get a picture of yourself during your solo travel.
In Japan, by the way, they have these professional photographers at some particularly intriguing sites such as the castle in Nagoya or the outlook in Shirakawago. This good man hands you some props and tells you how to pose. In the end, you can buy your portrait which is not exactly cheap. But – and this but has a capital B for a reason – you can also hand him your phone or your camera and he takes the exact same picture with your appliance. And that’s actually absolutely free.
Fun fact: The amazing British photographer Martin Parr even has a collection of him being photographed and mounted onto some hallucination-provoking backgrounds. If you ever get the chance to see it – go for it, it’s just hilarious.
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