One of my most requested blog posts is ‘how to take travel photos of yourself’ so this is my first of two blog posts addressing this query. This is a guide for solo travellers to get travel shots with themselves in (rather than landscape shots or handheld selfies). I am not a photographer and can’t offer photography advice but I can help you get a lovely holiday shot!
I gotta say, I NEVER thought this was a skill I’d ever have to learn! But looking back through my earliest photos of solo travel in May 2018, it’s safe to say there’s been a huge improvement in my photos.
One of the FIRST questions I usually get from first-time solo travellers is ‘how do I get photos?’, often complaining strangers take bad photos,. The first thing I do is remind them that well… I have LOTS of bad photos taken by strangers! Often they’re so bad I can’t even tell where they were taken because I’m blocking the attraction or they accidentally took the photo of the floor! And secondly, why complain? It’s not the end of the world not to have a perfect photo – just go to places because you WANT to. This way, if you don’t get a great shot, you’ll realise it doesn’t bother you 🙂
That said, my photos are much better now than they used to be, which is definitely a perk! The main reason is simply PRACTICE. It will take practice to understand basic framing and – most importantly – the sort of shots you do and don’t like!
In this guide, I’ve concentrated on getting photos taken by strangers because I don’t believe in advice telling solo backpackers to carry a tripod around, especially if you don’t have a strict interest in photography and just want some cool snaps. Personally, I backpack with a strict budget and carry-on backpack – it would be a bit OTT for my backpacking style.
Particularly as you can get some wonderful shots taken by strangers anyway! And (bonus) don’t have to rely on a timer or worrying about a cheap AF tripod blowing over.
1. Decide what you want the photo to be of
So, you’ve arrived at your location, whether it’s a well-known tourist attraction, viewpoint or a cute street. But before handing your camera over to a stranger, work out the angle you want your photo to be at what you want in frame.
For example, if it’s a temple, do you want to focus on a single doorway or the full building, ensuring the roof is not cut off? Is the foreground interesting (flowers or patterned tiles on the floor) or do you want to have more of the sky in frame?
2. Once you’ve framed your photo… take a step back!
Once you’ve framed your photo… Take a step back! This way, if the stranger moves the camera slightly (which they probably will) it doesn’t matter. You can crop the photo back to how you want it. If you frame it exactly how you want it, you’ve given no room for leeway when the stranger makes a mistake.
If you are shooting on manual, set the camera settings before handing it over.
3. Look for someone to take your photo
In my experience, a person holding a big camera is not always a good indicator they take great shots! Since you are framing the photo yourself, you are best off with anyone who is friendly and patient 🙂 I find solo travellers of all ages are usually understanding, and often there’ll be thrilled you’ll also take one for them as well. Also, laidback tourists and backpackers are great in general. Often my best photos have been taken a friendly local, as they are often happy to have a chat with you or even tell you a bit more information about the location.
I would never ask someone who looks busy or is deep in conversation as I don’t like to interrupt them.
4. Ask them!
I usually smile and say ‘hi would you mind taking a photo for me?’ In my experience, people are usually super friendly and happy to help.
Ask them to take the camera/phone from your hands as you hold it up in the correct position, rather than handing the camera to them. This way, it doesn’t take up any more of their time and you don’t have to rely on them for framing.
I sometimes visually describe the framing as well; for example ‘see how I’ve not cropped out the top of the temple roof/archway/the top of the Eiffel Tower.’
5. Step into the frame
Walk to a position that doesn’t block the background or cut your body off in a weird way (for example, at the ankles or wrists). Over time, it will become easier to predict where you will look best in the photo.
Choose a SIMPLE pose. Personally, I am conscious to not take up much of their time. I usually do a simple ‘pose’ facing outwards (mostly because I feel shy, but also if they only take one shot, it is still usable even if I blink) but if they take five or six I have time to experiment.
All you need is one pose you’re comfortable with. 🙂 Make sure they get one shot in that pose before experimenting so you know you have at least one usable shot.
But if you have a great smile, be sure to capture it!
6. Snap away!
If you’re lucky, they will take a few photos for you rather than just one.
If you’re really lucky, they will ask you to check the photo and see if you’re happy. This way, you can go back and move your position if you think you would look better standing more to the right/left etc.
7. Offer to take a photo of them as well 🙂
A couple of times I’ve used my own camera but then had major issues transferring due to large file sizes. I’d recommend using their camera or phone to take the photo.
8. Say ‘Thank you!!!’
Say ‘Thank you so much!’ and mean it. What an awesome stranger to help you!
I’ve also ended up making friends this way – perhaps we have ended up exploring the rest of the attraction together (very cool when it’s a local tourist who is more knowledgeable about the area) or even gone for dinner together.
9. Put your camera way and enjoy the location
Because the best memories will be of the place itself and not the way it looks through a screen.
My most important tip would be to enjoy and learn about each individual place with getting a nice shot your secondary objective, rather than rushing from place to place trying to get photos. That’d be a very boring story to tell your grandkids one day, right?
What if there’s no one around or they take a bad photo?
Honestly… get over it. 🙂 Take a photo with no one in it or a light-hearted selfie.
I also took a lot of photos where I rested my camera on bins or rocks and stuck it on a 10-second timer haha.
- If it’s a major tourist attraction or viewpoint, go early if you want fewer crowds in your photo (or if you’re an introvert like me and crowds make you uncomfortable!)
- The light for photos is best just after sunrise and just before sunset
- Take your photos portrait if you want them to look best on Instagram