One of the questions I get asked most often is “how do you take such good photos of yourself?”. People tend to assume that, like many bloggers, I travel with a photographer boyfriend or professional photographer. HAH. I’m single as hell, I know no photographers, and I also couldn’t afford a photographer even if I did know any… Sound like you??
We’ve all been there — you’ve got a vision for the photo you want. You ask someone to take it, and get a crooked, blurry piece of garbage. Their finger is covering half the lens. It’s like they’ve never held a camera (or phone) before. Or you find the PERFECT photo op… but there’s no one around to take a picture for you. Or you just feel plain awkward.
That can all be really discouraging. But I promise traveling alone doesn’t mean you can’t take fantastic photos of yourself. You just have to work a little harder for them!!
Travel photography has become one of my greatest strengths, and one of the things I’m best known for… And most of my photos are taken by complete strangers. I’ve pretty much gotten it down to a science at this point! SO. Today I’m sharing alll my best solo travel photography tips, tricks, and secrets.
Learn to Have No Shame
My golden rule of photography is that the dumber you look shooting, the better the photo turns out. Sure, you could just stand there and smile for a quick snap. But if you fake laugh, twirl around, jump, walk around, pretend you don’t realise you’re being photographed, and generally just look like a total fool, I PROMISE you will get a killer photo out of it.
Shame is the enemy of good photos. I used to be so embarrassed taking photos in public, and I visited so many cool places but don’t have any photos to look back on. DON’T BE LIKE ME. If you let anxiety about being judged get in the way of documenting your experiences, you will 100% regret it.
You might never see this place again, and you definitely won’t see any of the people here again — so don’t miss out on an amazing photo opportunity just because some bratty girls are staring you down.
One of the most important things you can learn is how to be comfortable looking like an idiot around strangers. The simplest way: just ignore them. Put them out of your mind. Have fun. DO YOU. Think of the photo you want and don’t stop till you get it, no matter how dumb you feel.
One of the main reasons why people feel uncomfortable taking photos in public is just a general discomfort with being photographed. If you’re not familiar with being in front of a camera and you already don’t know wtf to do, being in public just totally exacerbates it. I used to freeze up all the time because I genuinely like… didn’t know what to do with my body.
So dumb as it is, I recommend practicing some poses at home in front of a mirror! Check out a few Instagrammers you like (PS here’s mine) and see what they do.
A few good tips for beginners: move around a lot! Movement creates much more comfortable, natural photos. Walk around, play with your hair, laugh, twirl your dress or skirt around. You can also use props – swing your bag, grab the brim of your hat, or take a sip of your drink!
Learn Who to Ask
If you ask a kindly grandmother with a Nokia phone to take your pictures, you’re gonna have a bad time. Don’t just ask the first person who passes. Pick people who look like they might actually know what they’re doing.
I usually ask either guys with nice cameras (who I suspect know how to compose a good shot), or really basic sorority-looking girls (who I suspect know what comprises a solid Instagram pic). These two groups have served me really well. Asking people who already have nice camera equipment also means you won’t have to worry about them running off with your gear.
If you’re nervous about bothering people for a photo, find a small group of friends or a couple and ask them if they’d like a photo. Once you take theirs they are legally obligated to take yours in return (ok not really, but I’ve never had anyone not offer).
Set Up the Shot for Your Selected Stranger
First, refer to step 1. You need to be utterly shameless in specifying exactly what you want from your photo, or strangers are going to f*ck it up. I personally have instructed people I just met to kneel down, lean out windows, etc to get me the shot I want. Is that embarrassing and kind of weird? Probably. But did it get me the shot I needed, that I literally never in a million years could have gotten otherwise? Yuuup.
Make sure the people you ask know EXACTLY what you want in the photo, where you want it, and how you want it. Take a test shot for them. Frame the photo for them. Most people will at least be able to come close.
You might also like to read: How to Plan Your First Solo Trip
Take a LOT of Photos
One of the best ways to ensure your chosen stranger gets a good shot is to give them a lot of opportunities to get it right. Never, EVER allow someone to just take one or two photos. Tell them beforehand to take a ton! This will ensure that as you pose and move around like the flawless model you are, you don’t only get caught at the moment your eyes are closed or your pose is awkward.
I personally like to tell people to “please just take a lot!!”, and usually one of my poses + one of their compositions is passable.
Get a Tripod (or Get Creative)
Tripods are a great way to ensure that your shots are set up exactly how you envision. Yeah, setting up a tripod and having a full-on solo photo shoot is… not very cool. But who cares? Set up your self-timer in the middle of the road, take 800 pics, do you. If you’re using an iPhone, this tripod is highly rated, under $20, and the flexible legs can stand straight or be hooked around railings, hooks, etc! If you have a dSLR, I use this sturdy, collapsible travel tripod and couldn’t recommend it more highly!
If you don’t own a tripod, it’s not the end of the world. Think outside the box. I regularly stack furniture, pillows, precarious stacks of household objects etc to get the right angle (just be careful!!! I’ve nearly shattered my lens more than a few times). Another tip is to set your camera on a flat surface, but wedge something like a towel under the lens to adjust the angle upwards.
Practice the Self-Timer Sprint
You need to become an expert at running places and posing naturally in under 10 seconds. To get good photos, you need to look relaxed and natural, which means you need at least a second or two of prep time. You have to become a f*cking African gazelle and get into the frame as quickly as humanly possible.
Want to know how I got the above shot? I balanced my camera on top of a flimsy rubbish bin and assorted bottles/boxes on my breakfast table, then SPRINTED across my deck, down some steps, along the (very slippery) edge of my pool, and finally settled into a chill and relaxed pose .01 seconds before the shutter went off. I looked like a tragic idiot, but I got the shot.
Get a Remote Shutter
Nearly slipping to your death while sprinting around trying to get a good shot is not the business (especially when you’re alone). Fortunately remote shutters now exist — which allow you to control your camera’s shutter with another device (a remote or your phone!). I can control my camera (the Canon 6D) with my iPhone via the Canon Camera Connect App!
Even better, you can set the remote shutter to a several-second delay so you have time to hide it and re-pose. This was a game-changer for me and I wish I’d known about it sooner (like, before having the above photo shoot).
INTERESTED IN PHOTOGRAPHY? | Check out my Instagram guides here!
Become Not Alone (Make Friends, Get a Travel Husband, Etc)
There are so many ways to make friends when you’re traveling – from hostel bars to walking tours to attending events. A lot of the time these people make the best photographers, because they usually know you well enough to have a full-on photo shoot with you. Staying at a hostel is the number one easiest way to make friends traveling, and some of my favorite travel photos were taken by people I befriended in my dorms.
Find a Mirror, Window, or Anything Reflective
Taking artsy photos of yourself in a cool reflective surface somehow manages to come off less self-absorbed than a regular selfie. These are always some of my favorite shots because you have full creative control and you get to be both photographer and subject.
Get creative. If you find a cool shop window, a fancy bathroom mirror, or an interactive piece of art (Yayoi Kusama, anyone?) – go nuts!
Seriously, Have No Shame
Just to reiterate – the number one way to improve your travel photos when traveling alone is to stop caring about what other people think of you!! It seriously doesn’t matter AT ALL if other people judge you, think you look stupid, or think you’re being annoying. You never have to see them again, so who cares.
You’ll regret it forever if you don’t take pictures just because there are a lot of people around or you feel shy. I used to feel really insecure about taking pictures by myself, and I missed out on so many awesome photo opportunities. It sucks and I’ll never make that mistake again.
I hope some of these tips help you to improve your solo photography!! As always, my photos are a work in progress, but I like to think I’ve come a long way from where I started.
(Please note that I refuse to endorse using a selfie stick, but you may find one useful depending on your level of TASTE)
HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS POST! LET ME KNOW IF YOU FOUND IT HELPFUL 🙂