Do you love solo travel, but grow tired of not getting any photos of yourself from your trips? No problem! Tracy Antonioli offers some creative ideas on how you can be in your perfect vacation shot:
Traveling solo presents many unique challenges, but I’ve always found that these challenges are less roadblocks and more great opportunities for personal growth, learning, and most importantly, creative thinking.
Take the strange but important world of solo travel photography, for example.
It’s a solo travel Catch-22. As a solo traveler, you have more time to slow down, appreciate the beauty around you, and point your camera at things. In fact, that’s possibly my favorite thing about solo travel. But there’s no one to point the camera at you. So, sadly, many solo travelers return from a trip with many gorgeous photos of cities, towns, and nature but few (if any) photos of themselves.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many things you can do to feature yourself in your photographs–you just have to get a bit creative.
The Traditional Approach: Talk to Strangers
This most common approach has one very serious positive and one very serious negative. On the upside, asking someone else to take your photo does what travel should do–it makes you talk to strangers. I’ve had long conversations with people who have volunteered to take my photo–typically after I’ve offered to take a group or couple photo for them. Plus, if you take the ‘I’ll take your shot if you take mine’ approach, you’re also doing a good deed for someone else. Everyone wins!
But the negative is pretty serious too–you are quite likely to end up with less-than-ideal photos. Your feet will be cut off, the background will be cropped in odd ways, random people’s elbows may be in the frame. I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to find someone who is already carrying around a big camera–you’ll find these people almost anywhere touristy–and ask them to do you the favor. While ‘big camera’ doesn’t always mean ‘knows what they are doing’, it works most of the time. If you’re really lucky, you may just strike up a conversation with someone who can teach you a thing or two about your own camera. Now that’s a win-win situation.
The Self-Timer Function: A Solo Traveler’s Best Friend
Most cameras have self-timer options, and I promise they are super easy to use. Even on my DSLR, it’s a few quick clicks to turn on a ten second shutter delay. But that’s not really the hard part. The hard part is finding somewhere to place your camera, figuring out where to stand, and posing in a way that makes you not look insane. Personally, I’ve always managed the first two–it’s that last one that I still struggle with. But maybe I’m just naturally insane.
I am always on the lookout for things upon which to balance my camera for a self-timer shot. I’ve used driftwood, bridge railings, rocks, tree limbs, and way more than my fair share of garbage cans. And because my camera doesn’t have live view–meaning I can’t use the screen to view what I’m about to shoot–I always do a test shot first to see how the photo will be framed and to figure out where I should stand. And then all I have left to do is run into the scene, strike an awkward pose, and smile my three-chinned smile!
Bonus tip–the self-timer is also great for those times when you are not traveling solo. Use it to take photos of you and your friends on a girl’s getaway, or of you and your significant other when there’s no one else around to snap your photo. I took this photo balancing my camera on an abandoned lifeguard stand on a beach in Prince Edward Island–it is one of the best shots I’ve ever taken–and I didn’t even technically take it!
Turn the Screen Around: iPhone and Smart Phone Photos
Smart Phones with reversible cameras are great in a pinch. If I’m somewhere especially beautiful or epic, I always snap at least one low-quality photo with my iPhone. I can see exactly what I’m doing and thus the photos typically come out a bit better. But of course, no amount of editing can improve the quality to the degree I’d prefer, which brings me to my next point…
DSLR Self-Photography: Look Deep Into My Lens
After a year’s worth of solo trips with a DSLR camera, I’ve become much better at taking my own photo simply by holding the camera out in front of me, as in the photo above. The key to doing this easily and quickly is realizing that even though you don’t necessarily have a front-facing screen, you still can see what is in the shot by looking at the reflection in the lens. It’s not a perfect art, but try it a few times and you’ll improve, I promise. And you’ll end up with some great future-Facebook-profile portrait shots.
Mirror Mirror: Reflection Photos
I love reflection photos. In fact, on my recent trip to Yosemite, I photographed nearly every lake, stream, and river in an attempt to capture the sky and trees reflected in the crystal clear water. But mirrors work even better, particularly for self portraits. Look around the next time you are traveling–notice the mirrors around you, and see how you can use them to put yourself in a scene. I’ve taken mirror shots of myself in Walt Disney World, at cute cafes, and even in my super-funky hotel room in San Francisco.
Of course, there’s a trick to this as well–don’t look through the camera’s viewfinder or at the live view screen, or the camera will hide your face. This may be ok for some shots, but occasionally you’re going to want a photo of more than just your camera, ears, and chin.
Beyond the Mirror: Super Creative Self-Portrait Strategies
When I travel solo, I take lots of photos of my feet. Sometimes this is the only way to get myself in a shot, and sometimes it really does help express a mood. Tired after a long hike and resting by a mountain lake? What better way to capture that feeling than a nice ankles-crossed shot of your calves and hiking boots. Enjoying some time with your feet in the pink sand and bright blue waters of the Caribbean? Aim your camera at your toes.
I’ve also recently started taking shadow shots. This works best if there’s something unique about your shadow–say, if you are wearing Mickey ears…
…or if there are interesting shadows around you as well–like palm tree shadows in the sand, for example. Sometimes, depending upon the angle of the sun, you can get a shadow shot that includes your surroundings as well. Learn to pay attention to the little things–like your own shadow–and you’ll be surprised what you come up with.
But truly, my favorite self-taken photos are blurry half-shots of me taken using non-mirror reflective surfaces. What do I mean by that? Take this photo, for example–
That’s me, crouching down to take a close-up of a shiny chrome hub cap on the wheel of a vintage truck parked on the grounds of Alcatraz. I didn’t originally take this photo thinking that it would be a self-portrait, but that’s how it turned out.
And honestly, that’s how many of the best self-taken photos occur. By accident. Like my absolute favorite self-taken shot of all time, which I took while quickly walking down Royal Street in New Orleans.
I meant only to snap a photo of the sign for the bar I’d just visited, but I ended up with a beautifully framed shot featuring a vague outline of me with my camera just slightly right of center. I’m not sure why I love this photo so much, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it was one of those accidental shots that turned out super-well.
Or how about this one, which is my new Facebook header shot. I was honestly just trying to take a photo of the mountains, having pulled over in Yosemite. But when I saw that my rear view mirror gave me an opportunity to include myself in the scene, I snapped a few more. One turned out well.
As you can see, there are many, many ways to include yourself in your own solo travel photos. Personally, I’ll take the quirky, blurry, creative shots over my awkward self-timer poses any day!
Do you have any tips or techniques for getting great shots of your own solo travels? If so, please share them in the comments section below!
Tracy Antonioli is not vain–she just needs lots of photos of her solo travels for her blog, The Suitcase Scholar. When Tracy is not traveling she enjoys thinking about travel, planning future trips, and writing about her travels. Did she mention that she likes to travel? Because she really, really does.