Want to know how to take good travel photos of yourself? This is a blog post for solo travellers!
There’s always a place for fun selfies – in fact, for the average backpacker I encourage lighthearted spontaneous snaps over set-up shots. But want to take your solo travel photos up a notch? Here are my top tips.
I’m giving options that require NO gear other than your phone (presume the word ‘camera’ in this post refers to either a normal camera or phone camera) for the budget backpackers and low-key tourists among us. After this, I move on to more professional-looking alternatives for those wanting to invest in their photography.
Precariously rest your camera on a bin
Or precariously rest your camera on a rock / post box / small child, whatever works.
Ah this was my method of choice for a looonnnggg time. (Who am I kidding? It still is.) I’d never had a strong interest in photography before I went travelling, and as a budget, carry-on backpacker it didn’t seem appropriate to carry a tripod around.
So, yeah, I’d rest my camera on a bin or a rock, pop it on a 10-second timer and run into position. As you can see here…
Use a tripod and timer
Although I’ve not yet bought a tripod (I’m tiny and the thought of carrying one full-time makes my shoulders tense up), I HAVE borrowed other people’s a few times.
Gotta admit it does make things a lot easier than relying on there being a conveniently placed bin. A tripod allows you more control of the framing too and will give your photography an overall more professional look.
HINT: Set the camera to time-lapse or burst mode! This way you can get multiple photos in one go, allowing you to move around and ensuring they’ll be at least one photo where you’re not blinking.
There are lightweight, travel versions such as the Joby Gorillapod tripods – I’m looking into these tiny travel alternatives for my next trip.
Photos from when I experimented with a tripod for the very first time haha…
Get a remote trigger and connect the camera screen to your phone
Take things up another notch by purchasing a remote trigger so you no longer have to use the timer. By connecting what your camera can see to your phone screen, you have full control over where you are in the frame, don’t have to rush to get into position and – since you can check the photo right after it’s been taken – easily make small adjustments to your pose without having to leave your spot.
This is a more professional approach for those who need photos for blogs or clients.
Ask a stranger (or travel buddy)
This is a great option for budget backpackers who prefer to travel light… and it can work a lot better than you expect! Best of all, it gives you a chance to interact with another tourist or a friendly local. You also have full flexibility of how you frame the shot – although the first time you ask a stranger to help, you might find they cut your head off! (Off the photo, I mean – it’s not as bad as it sounds.)
There is a knack to this – personally I decide what frame I want first and then ask the stranger to take the camera from me, rather than getting the stranger to frame it (which usually ends badly). And always offer to take one for them too and say thank you.
To read more about how I’ve perfected this approach to getting solo travel photos, read more here:
Take a photo of your boots
A classic. It’s a great option because it’s super low maintenance. For example, if you’ve sat down to enjoy the view after a long hike, this is minimal effort for great payback.
And don’t worry about ugly footwear – number one rule of dressing for travel is comfy footwear, right? At least, I like to tell myself that. 😉
Use a drone
A drone is a great way to show the scale of the location you’re in. Personally, I do not own a drone and dont think I ever will. I usually travel on a budget… plus, I’m super clumsy and would definitely crash it. 🙂 But for those with a higher budget, they are becoming increasingly popular.
Be sure to check drone laws before you fly. Some shots circling Instagram are actually illegal, so be careful to respect the laws of each place you travel. Many countries have their own drone app which you can download before you arrive. This way, you can check you’re in a legal fly zone before using your drone.
Befriend a photographer
Yeah, that works too.
If all else fails… take a landscape shot
It doesn’t matter how much practice I get, sometimes I’m simply too shy to be in a photo. Though more often than not, there is simply no one around to ask.
Other times, you might find this approach is any easier way to crop out crowds or an ugly railing. Not to worry, landscape shots are hard to perfect but are magical when done right. They will still provide a brilliant memory of your trip.
Download the Lightroom or Snapseed app
Half the challenge of taking a good photo is in the editing… especially if you’re a solo traveller trying to salvage a shot you took while resting your camera on a rock. 🙂
Both are super easy to use – have a play around with the functions and see which you prefer. I’d recommend Snapseed for backpackers and Lightroom for anyone truly learning photography. Everyone will have their own unique style so I don’t want to tell you what to do here – it might take a bit of trial and error but you’ll soon figure out how to create shots you love. If you’re feeling unsure? Watch some YouTube tutorials,
HINT for backpackers: Get a sim card reader that connects straight to your phone! You can buy them on Amazon. This saved my life on the road – you can take photos on your camera without needing to bring a laptop with you. Some cameras can connect to phones with Wi-Fi but not all. Read more ways to back up your photos on the road.
Oh, and shoot on RAW to give you the most freedom with editing. And no matter how expensive your camera or phone, be sure to straighten the horizon.
Shoot in the hours after sunrise or before sunset. It’s a tip many people have heard a thousand times already. But just in case you haven’t, that’s when you get the best light. This tip is often impractical when you’re on the road and trying to avoid being out after dark or – most likely – have a full day’s sightseeing. When the sun’s very bright, check your photos aren’t over-exposed, look for shade or simply make use of those editing apps after.
Some tips if you’re not yet comfortable in front of the camera:
- go early – this way there will be fewer crowds, so hopefully, this will help you feel less self-conscious
- find a pose you’re comfortable with! All you need is one good pose to begin with. A popular one for some women is placing their hand on the back of their hat or twirling their skirt, although personally, I preferred experimenting. Over time, you’ll get used to what angles you prefer.
- Or simply do the classic ‘looking out into the distance’ pose – the biggest advantage to this is that you probably can take it in just one shot since it’s unlikely your body will look awkward and it doesn’t matter if you blink. There’s a reason so many photos are of the back of my head – I’m insecure about my appearance but can still get a lovely travel shot.
- Practice 🙂 you’ll be surprised by how much easier it gets over time!
Don’t put pressure on yourself to take perfect photos
Memories are way more important.
When you look back at your travel memories, don’t underestimate how much nostalgia you’ll have for selfies and quick phone snaps. Someone with just a phone and a high-quality selfie stick has the same awesome memories as a complete camera crew! And often quick snaps evoke a far greater emotion than premium quality but somewhat clinical photos, such a copycat Instagram shot. (Though if that’s what you enjoy, that’s cool too.)
If you’re looking for a way to inject creativity into your travels, learning photography is a good starting point, along with starting a journal or blog. But if it feels unnatural to you, don’t feel pressured to take a ‘perfect’ photo.
95% of the time? I grab a quick phone snap before putting my phone away…. or don’t take a photo. It’s just, on my Instagram feed, I share a few photos from ONE day over the course of a full month hehe. I use Instagram as a creative outlet but actually really value my privacy. For example, I’ve just been in Chiang Mai for 6 weeks and I’m not sharing any photos, blogs or stories from my time here because (top secret) I’m an introvert and too much social media overwhelms me.
Find a balance that works for you. Photos can ruly help us enjoy and cherish our travels.
Hi, I’m Cassie, and I’ve been solo travelling the globe since May 2018. In this time, I’ve backpacked around Southeast Asia, Japan and The Balkans, alongside spending a year living in Australia. Currently isolating in New Zealand.