It wasn’t until recently (last week in Paris, actually) that I had to figure out how I was going to take photos as a solo traveller in all these amazing places around the world. In the past, I’ve had short solo trips and I’ve managed to get the odd photo of myself somehow, but since I’m travelling for a longer period of time I needed to get creative.
How to get over the fact that you’re having a photoshoot with yourself
Some people have no issue taking selfies, and I envy that attitude and confidence. If you’re anything like me, I’m super self-conscious when it comes to taking photos of myself. So it was a real out-of-my-comfort-zone experience trying to snap the perfect photo at the Eiffel Tower last week, especially when people were sniggering at me because I was using a tripod. (Once upon a time, maybe I would have laughed too.)
But the thing is, if you want the perfect photo you gotta do what you gotta do, so I tried my best to embrace it. Besides, I’m sure they wouldn’t recognise me as the girl-taking-pictures-of-herself-with-a-tripod on the off chance I did ever walk by them again.
Methods of taking photos as a solo traveller:
There are a few methods that I have used to take photos of myself when I’m travelling solo, which include selfies (in various forms), using surrounding surfaces or a tripod, and asking a stranger.
Ask a stranger
Asking a stranger can be a great way to capture shots that you just can’t manage yourself. However, unless you’re prepared to tell them exactly how you’d like the photo (or even if you do) you might not always get the picture you imagined. For example, the top of the monument might get cut off or your hands or fingers (as above) are missing from the frame.
When you ask someone to take your picture always pick your person with care – make sure they look trustworthy (even though looks are never 100% foolproof). I always try to ask someone who has a camera around their neck or in their hands.
“Selfie” (plus, the selfie stick)
The ever notorious “selfie” shots can be taken with an outstretched arm or with a selfie stick and are great for any traveller armed with a mobile phone or GoPro. (As long as you don’t mind you’re head taking up most of the picture.)
Flat and elevated surfaces
Improvisation and luck are what you need to find a spot to place your device in a position that captures you and the scenery or monument behind you. Any secure surface, such as a wall, window pane, fence, rubbish bin (if you’re desperate and have hand sanitiser), car roof, bag or rock, can be great to prop your camera atop to snap a picture of yourself.
Just be mindful of your surroundings when using this approach. Make sure you don’t leave your device in a place where onlookers can easily snatch it while you’re taking the picture or where the wind will catch it and send it flying. When using this method, I always tried to secure my device (usually, my DSLR camera) with its strap.
Using a tripod is by far my favourite method because you can set up the picture exactly as you wish. It’s basically like having someone take your picture for you, but perhaps even better because you can just do it all yourself!
Again, be careful where you set up your tripod and be aware of who is around you. I always try to be within arms reach of my tripod if I’m in a crowded area, such as the Eiffel Tower.
Hands or feet “selfie”
This selfie basically includes your hands or feet instead of your face. Whatever type of device you’re using, taking a picture of your hand or feet adds a little more you into a picture that may have otherwise been taken by someone else. Adding your feet into a photo can turn a picture of a sign on the ground into a picture of you standing on that particular street.
I personally prefer this type of “selfie” to the one that includes my face because not only does it make me feel a little less obnoxious, mostly because I simply haven’t mastered the selfie. It’s also great when you’re travelling and you can’t be bothered doing your make-up and hair (if that’s something that bothers you).
Best methods for taking great photos as a solo traveller with each device:
iPhone (or similar)
If you’re armed with a smartphone the best methods for you are taking a selfie or using a selfie stick to widen the frame of your photo, which will allow more of the background into the shot. Since almost everyone owns some sort of smartphone nowadays, asking a stranger to take a photo with yours won’t have them reacting like they’re seeing Mars for the first time. Generally, most people you ask will know which button to press. Another super easy tactic to personalising an otherwise generic photo is slipping your hand or feet into the frame – and get creative!
Best ways to get the shot:
- Burst mode: This is a great option when asking a stranger to take your photo because it’ll take multiple shots and all they’ll need to do is keep their finger or thumb on the shutter button. This will take multiple shots within a few seconds, thus giving you a selection of photos to choose from rather than just the one picture.
Tip: Tell the person taking your photo to hold it down to the count of two or three, otherwise you’ll end up with hundreds of the same picture.
Go Pro (or similar)
GoPros are a versatile device because they are super small and compact. They are great for taking selfies, and you can change the settings so that it shoots with a wide field of view, which means you can capture a lot more of what’s behind you. There’s a variety of selfie sticks or handles that can assist you with getting that perfect shot, or you can attach the device to a tripod. There are even selfie stick/ tripod combination tools that you can buy. GoPros are generally pretty easy to use in terms of capturing a shot, so asking a stranger to take your picture won’t be too difficult to explain either.
Best ways to get the shot:
- Video + photo mode: While in the video mode, you can also set an interval to take a still photo. If the photo captured isn’t what you were shooting for, you’ll also have the opportunity to use any of the stills from the video. To do this, you’ll need to pause the video at the exact time you want to extract the still and take a screenshot.
- Using the wifi connection and the “Capture” app on your phone: Most GoPros have an inbuilt in WiFi function, which means you can easily connect your GoPro to your phone through GoPro’s official app. This will allow you to operate the GoPro remotely and take your picture from a distance. The app will also show you a live preview, which helps ensure you’ve got the composition of your photo how you want it.
Digital or DSLR camera
My favourite method, but possibly the one that makes me most self-conscious, is using a tripod to take pictures of myself when I’m travelling. Using a tripod with your camera allows you to frame the photo however you wish. Asking a stranger to snap your photo is another option, but you’ll probably have to spend a few seconds explaining which button to press because there are usually so many on a camera, especially DSLRs. You can certainly make the most of flat and elevated surfaces because a camera, such as a bulky DSLR, can easily stand up by itself (unlike a smartphone) so it’s almost like having a tripod. I find hand or feet photos really easy to snap when I’ve already got my camera out while exploring a new city. The hands or feet method of taking photos means you don’t have to rely on a stranger to take your picture nor will you need to bring along a cumbersome tripod, plus it’s a much more subtle way of capturing yourself in places around the world!
Best ways to get the shot:
- Self-timer: This one’s been around for awhile, but basically you’ll change your camera’s settings so that it will have a delay between the time you press the button to the time the camera’s shutter fires. This allows you to swiftly move into position and capture yourself in the picture.
- Self-timer with multiple shots: This method is the same as above except it will take more than one photo giving you a selection of photos to choose from rather than just the one picture.
- Multiple shots: Similarly to how it works with the self-timer, it can also be a good idea when you’re having a stranger take your photo to place the setting on multiple shots. This means that you’ll again have a selection of photos to choose from, which I find really useful because I usually have my eyes shut more than they’re open.
- Remote: Remotes can be bought specifically for certain devices, which are basically a portable substitute for the shooting button on your camera. The allows you to step away from the camera and avoid racing against the self-timer. All you have to do is get in position, simply click a remote shutter release and you’ve got your photo!
- Tip: You can also use the multiple shots setting with your remote.
- Enable WiFi connection and app on your phone: Some cameras have a built-in WiFi connection, which means you can easily connect your camera to your phone, using an app, and operate the shutter remotely. This also shows you a preview of the photo on your phone, which means you won’t have to worry about cutting your head off or standing in front of the monument you’re trying to get your picture with. However, this does seem to use a lot of battery on both devices.
Tip: You can also use the multiple shots setting through the app.
This post is based on the devices that I use to take my own photos, which are the iPhone 7, GoPro Hero 4 and Canon EOS 750D.