Tips for Self Portraits and Video While Traveling Solo

by Gray Cargill on September 21, 2010

One of the things about solo travel that can be a drag is not having any photos of your travel destination with you in them.  I know I’ve been really shy in the past about asking other people to take my picture for me, and even worse about using the arm-stretch method to take my own picture. I just feel so self-conscious taking a picture of myself in a busy tourist spot.  But you can apparently get comfortable doing it: Just ask today’s guest blogger, Cailin O’Neil, who not only travels solo regularly, but creates videos of her travels (with her in them!).  I figured if anyone could offer my readers advice on how to take their own picture (well) or shoot video of themselves on the road, it would be Cailin.

Cailin O'Neil

Overlooking the Sydney Opera House

I travel by myself a lot, and I am always taking photos and filming myself. Often people make comments to me about my photos and videos and want to know how I am able to get them just right. The secret is practice makes perfect, and I always take more than one photo and film more than one take.  If you do that and follow some of my tips listed below you will never have a problem again!

Tip #1 Don’t be afraid to do it or worry about looking silly to other people!

  • You don’t. You look just like any other person who wants a photo of themselves. Would you rather not get that great shot of yourself in front of the coolest thing in the world just to know that no one looked at you funny? Not me.

Tip #2 Be spatially aware.

  • Make sure the camera isn’t zoomed in too close or too far out. Try to avoid having your arm in the shot.  That way it looks more natural.

Tip #3 Framing

  • Unless the photo is of you and only you, try to frame it so that you are on either side of the photo so the subject of the photo (when not yourself) is featured and can be seen.

Tip #4 Take more than one photo

  • Or take more than one take of your video. In the age of digital cameras you always have a quick reference guide right in your hand to see if you have captured the image or video exactly as you like it.

Tip #5 Don’t rush it.

  • You may never visit this place again. Stop and take your time (“smell the roses”).  Give yourself the time to get the exact shot that you would like.
Cailin O'Neil

Cailin in Barcelona

Tip #6 Don’t forget to smile!

Tip #7 Tools of the trade

  • If you want to photograph or film yourself in front of large landscapes or objects, you may want to consider buying an Xshot camera extender. (You can find a link to them on my site.) This allows you to have the camera much further away from you so you can get more scenery and/or more people in the photo with you without needing someone else to snap the shot for you.

The XShot Camera Extender

Tip #8 Let strangers help you.

  • If you are struggling, let the nice stranger who offers take your picture for you. I often hate the pictures the random stranger takes of me, but you never know when they might get a good one of you and it’s all about good karma right? At least you can make them feel good about helping you. (Obviously make sure you feel safe with the stranger taking your camera to do this and are in a safe place.)
Cailin O'Neil

Cailin in Edinburgh

Tip #9 Try to keep the camera in your left hand.

  • For photos, hold the camera in your left hand, even if you’re right-handed. When the camera is facing you, the button is on the left side.  If you use your left hand, your arm won’t be in the photo. Also make sure the landscape or subject of the photo is over your right shoulder, otherwise you will have that arm-in-the-photo problem again. It also looks more natural to have it to your right, as that is the way your body will be turned because your left arm is jutting out to hold the camera.

If you follow all of these tips you should have great photos to remember your solo travels and moments.

Thanks so much for the tips, Cailin!  So, readers, do you have any other self-photography or self-video-related questions for Cailin?  Feel free to post them in the comments below.

Cailin O’Neil is first a traveler, then a filmmaker. She has traveled mostly solo for the past 3 years to 23 different countries blogging and filming along the way. In 2009 she fulfilled her biggest dream by producing and funding the filming of the first episode of her travel TV show “Travel Yourself”. Currently in post production, Cailin now balances editing the show with freelance work in film and TV in her home town of Halifax, Nova Scotia while fitting in more travels every chance she gets.

Gray October 18, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Good advice, Lash. I’ve been practicing for over a year now, and I still can’t seem to take pictures without getting my head right in front of the thing I’m trying to display over my shoulder. 🙂

Lash October 18, 2011 at 11:18 am

Thanks for the tips!

I never feel shy about taking my own pic or asking passers-by to take one, so that part is easy.

But Good to know about the ‘camera extension arm’ and tips for framing yourself with the landscape behind!

The only tip I’d add is to practice the camera angle and your head/face positions. I usually start out with the worst angles of my face and then have to adjust from there. it makes the next photo sessions easier if I remember my best face and camera positions.

:)) Lash

Polish Marble West Palm Beach December 29, 2010 at 9:51 am

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Polish Marble West Palm Beach December 29, 2010 at 9:51 am

Great content!

Marble Care December 17, 2010 at 10:25 am

Great article!

//Sub/Corpus October 6, 2010 at 10:43 pm

great tips …
appreciated !!!

Johnwatersfan October 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm

These are good tips.

I’ve perfected the art of finding a stable place to set my camera, then setting the 10 second timer to allow me to pose. Buying a Joby tripod however, makes it even easier, particularly if you are shooting video from a moving vehicle, as you can wrap it around bars to steady it.

Also, I’ve met wonderful people on my solo traveles by taking pictures of myself, as everyone wants to help the crazy solo girl trying to take pictures of herself!

Sheena October 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Don’t be afraid, that’s the lesson i need to learn. I’m not comfortable taking pictures of myself in public but your’re right, this is for my own fun and silliness=)

Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 5:53 am

I’d say also don’t be afraid of telling someone what you want as well – if a stranger offers to take a photo, don’t hesitate to tell them “Hey, I’d like that huge iconic tower behind me in the picture too” – Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been too sheepish and have a chopped off pic of me in front of half of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (true story! I then waited a min for the person to leave and asked someone else!).

Candicewalsh September 23, 2010 at 4:52 am

Totally did not consider the left-hand trick, sweet!

Becs September 23, 2010 at 12:09 am

i got so used to seeing myself at a certain angle in all my pictures, that i would actually turn people down to who offered to take my picture!

one thing i liked was when i would hold my camera out to take my picture and someone would be on the other end to frame it. the cam never leaves your hand and you save yourself having to take 10 pictures to frame it correct!

Val September 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Great tips! I am always doing the self-portrait thing!

For your #8 tip, I find that since I often carry around my DSLR people will stop and ask me to take their photo of them (I assume since they assume I can take a good photo) – so if you ask someone who has a good looking camera, you’ll probably get better results.

Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I’ve found the same thing to be true, Val.

Natalie LoveYouPlanet September 22, 2010 at 11:00 am

Good tips) I always regret that have no photos of me when travel alone)

Keith Savage September 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Very helpful tips, and timely. I will employ these as I dive into my solo travels abroad. Thanks Gray and Cailin!

Erin September 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm

People will definitely stop and ask if they can take the picture for you! To pay it forward, I try to do this for families – invariably, either mom or dad is missing from the picture, so they are delighted to let me take a photo of them.

With regard to the left-handed thing – make sure you’ve got the camera’s strap firmly around your wrist. I have dropped my camera phone because I’m clumsy with my left hand, and it wasn’t pretty!


Anonymous September 22, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Ooh, good point about the strap! I can totally see that happening to me!

Jenny September 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Good tips!

After 6-months of solo travel I got pretty good to taking photos of myself. Some of them are my favorite photos!

Ayngelina September 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm

One of my favorite photos of myself was at the Colosseum in Rome, a night photo that I took with a timer. I spent an hour getting it right but it was worth it.

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