I used to feel really uncomfortable taking photos of myself while traveling solo. In fact, my first solo trip to Ireland was a myriad of pretty terrible selfies. There are way too many photos with half of my arm in it, my smiling face taking up most of the frame and just a sliver of a pretty backdrop. Over time, I realized if I wanted better photos, I’d have to simply get over it. So, through learning some great solo travel photography tips to up my game I’ve ended up with some pretty epic photos.
No place is boring if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, and a pocket full of unexposed film – Robert Adams
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Get Comfortable in Front of the Camera
I had to learn to get comfortable in front of the camera and ignore the people watching me do my thing. I realized that If I traveled with a friend they’d be snapping the photos of me acting just as ridiculous as I do in front of my tripod. So really, what’s the difference?
It’s not vain, it’s not just for the ‘gram. The photos are to commemorate me taking a huge risk to quit my job to travel solo. I want to document that to show to my nieces and nephew! (I’d say future children, but the jury is still out on that one).
Know the Type of Shot You Want
I’ll spend a day or two exploring the city at a leisurely pace to get my creative juices flowing. I consider how I’d like to capture the city, what I should wear, perhaps a few pose ideas. Generally, I get a feel for the vibe of the city that I’d like to try to capture. Then I get up early on one morning for an epic photo session. Followed by an epic breakfast and a nap.
Get Up Early
I used to do a massive eye roll when I would see some of my favorite travel bloggers waking up at the crack of dawn to take photos. Until I attempted to photograph myself on the Charles Bridge in Prague in the middle of the day – seriously don’t visit the hot tourist spots in the middle of the day in Prague – or anywhere.
I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy the quiet morning hours in a city. Watching it wake up, shops open, and people on their way to work. Plus the lighting is great, I won’t have to edit people out of the shot, and I don’t worry about turning my back to the camera and someone snatching it!
Now that we know we are comfy in front of the camera, ignoring the eyes of others, have gotten our photo inspo and are up early, how do we actually achieve that photo?
Ask a Stranger
This is often an anxiety-inducing option. What if they say no? Maybe they’ll steal my camera as soon as they have it in their hands? And both things could potentially happen. In my experience, most people will take a photo for you without running off with your camera. You just need to know how to choose the right person.
Here’s how I decide:
- Are they around my age? Most people my age are more than willing to take a photo for me. I can tell them the shot I’m looking for and generally, they get it. They also know what Instagram is, so I usually ask with a joke and say “gotta do it for the ‘gram”… except I’m totally serious.
- Are they trying to take selfies too? If a person is wandering around with a selfie stick attached to their phone, there’s a good chance they will happily oblige your tiny photo session. There’s also less of a likelihood that they will steal your phone.
- Do they have a DSLR as well? If yes, then there is a good chance they know how to work it and can help you achieve your desired photo.
- Do they look like they’re looking for someone to take their photo? Break the ice, offer to take a photo for them. Then ask if they’d take one for you in return. They’ll say yes – it’s good photography karma.
- Should you turn your back on them? Photos with your back to the camera are awesome allowing the viewer to place themselves in your shoes. Tell the unassuming bystander turned photographer what you plan to do in the photo, then see their reaction. If they put their things down to take your photo, they won’t run off with your phone. If the look gives you any sort of hesitation, trust your gut and don’t turn your back… or hand over your camera.
Help them get you the best shot you want by framing your photo before asking. Take a photo without you in it, then hand over the camera, show them the landscape and point to where you’ll place yourself. Ask them to let you know when they’re taking it so you can move a bit. But don’t get greedy here.
If it’s not what you want, just say thank you and wait until they leave. Someone else may come along who can capture the photo you want.
A tripod is the best investment to get the shot you want. It might take a little bit of time to set it up, but at least it ensures you’re getting the right angle.
For the first half of my solo trip, I used a tiny tabletop tripod made by Fotopro. Similar to a gorilla pod but much cheaper. It has rubber legs that can wrap around most things. Mine has been wrapped around trees, edges of bridges, and random posts without any problems. It comes with various attachments but I only travel with the cell phone attachment because my DSLR and GoPro screw into it.
Sometimes the DSLR is a bit heavy for it, so that’s when I switch to my phone.
For the second half of my trip, I decided to bring my Manfrotto tripod along. It fit well into my backpack and didn’t add too much weight. I decided to bring this because it holds the weight of the DSLR much better, stands up taller, and can get better angles when there is nothing to wrap the rubber tripod around. The Manfrotto has allowed me to get more creative with my shots! If you look at my Instagram, you can compare the photos from South America to Europe and see for yourself!
No Tripod, No Problem – Use Your Environment
If I had a dime for every time I’ve propped my camera up with a backpack and placed something under the lens to get the angle I want….well I wouldn’t have to sell products from Amazon on here.
But seriously, use your surroundings, prop it on a step or a few rocks. Just be cautious around water or high ledges where the camera could fall. There’s no point in risking your camera (or your life for that matter) for a photo.
Use the Self Timer or a Remote Shutter
If I’m using my phone I will use the self-timer option. It gives you 10 seconds to take your place in the shot and will snap 10 consecutive photos.
My DSLR and GoPro each have WiFi, so when I’m using those I connect my phone to the WiFi and use my phone as the remote shutter. I still use the 10-second timer on my DSLR for because it gives me time to stash my phone!
Use Burst or Continuous Mode
Your camera should have a burst or continuous mode. This means it takes a series of shots in one go. You can set it to different intervals. For instance, 10/3 means it takes 10 photos every 3 seconds. This mode allows you to move around in the shot without running back and forth. Perfect for some candids, or really awkward faces. It’s also a great mode to capture motion or if you’re doing a jumping shot.
When I pose I often feel like “but what do I do with my hands?”. I tend to go for the gazing off in the distance with my back to the camera. I like this pose because I like my audience to picture themselves in my shoes.
Candids are great too, but that look can be hard to achieve when there’s so much set up involved. That’s why I enjoy hitting the burst mode, because it can capture my movements in a way that’s a bit more natural and unique.
Props are always a good idea. If you’re wearing a scarf or a hat, play with it in the photo. A notebook, your coffee, a burrito, anything can be used as a prop if you’re creative enough!
Editing: Going from Good to Great
Editing can really take a photo from good to great. I use Adobe Lightroom and have created presets for that help me edit with the click of a button and a few tweaks. I used to go crazy with editing. Now, I try to keep it a bit more simple and natural, but still, gotta make the photo pop!
A good app for removing unwanted items in your photo is TouchRetouch. It’s helped me remove random lines and at times people – although that’s a bit more challenging. If you need to remove a lot from your photo, Photoshop is probably the best way to go, but I’m not the person to ask about that. I don’t go beyond Lightroom.
Build Good Photo Karma
Keep the good photo karma going.
- If someone asks you for a photo, take it with a smile.
- Let them know if you’re taking more than one, so that way they can get different poses in while they have you!
- If you see someone setting up a tripod and trying to get a shot, please don’t walk through their photo.
- Let them finish, or offer to help, and go about your day.
By helping other photographers, you’re paying it forward for the day when you ask “Would you mind taking a photo for me?”