I love looking through my grandmother’s travel photos, imagining how it was back then. The other day as I flipped through, I wanted so badly to find a photo of her, but she is rarely in any of them. Like I used to, she preferred to stand behind the lens, and I suspect she probably felt vain asking people to take photos of her.
I totally get it. I felt that way too, but then I started getting in my own travel photos, and celebrating my adventure and myself, and you know what? It’s so much fun, and it feels good too.
So how do I manage to be in my photos if I travel solo 99% of the time? This is everything you need to know about taking the ultimate travel selfie (that doesn’t look like a selfie):
Watch the BTS here, and read on for more tips:
Stop Worrying About Others Judging You for Taking Selfies
I used to feel awkward and like everyone was staring at me when I took selfies. But the downside of leaving a place with no photos of myself in it is greater than the temporary shame I might feel from the stares of a few perfect strangers.
I’ve had the opposite happen, too, when people cheered me on as I took my own photos!
I doubt anyone cares. When it comes down to it, humans are very self-focused. And if someone does care that you’re taking photos of yourself, that sounds more like their problem than yours, am I right?
You deserve to come home with awesome travel photos of yourself. Don’t feel shamed out of it!
Show up at the Right Time
The best way to get photos with nobody in them is to show up early, or late, depending on the place! If nobody is around to make you feel weird or judge you, then you can snap away to your heart’s delight as well. It’s a double win!
Even ultra popular tourist spots, like this lake in Glacier National Park, can be empty if you show up before people arrive or after they’ve already gone home. Most people like to sleep in, and will mobilize around midday. Or if it’s a swimming destination, many people are home before sunset.
Get a Little Tripod
I resisted a tripod for three years before finally buying one. A quality tripod is usually somewhat heavy and can be very expensive, but you can also get a cheapie while you’re figuring out if you like using one or not. If you plan on doing nighttime photography or any kind of long exposure, a tripod is a must.
In these situations, the camera needs to be still, so hand-holding isn’t possible. I used to balance my camera on anything nearby, and sometimes I still do, but a tripod will give you the exact height and positioning that you want. That can be hard to achieve if you rely on whatever is in your environment instead.
Use Your Phone as a Remote, or Use the Timer
Many cameras these days have Wi-Fi capabilities and will have an app that you can download to use your phone as a remote shutter. This method is perfect because you can see how you look like in the phone before taking the photo.
Pro tip: If you don’t want your phone in your hand for the photo, set it to a 10-second timer and put the phone down or in your pocket while the seconds are counting down.
If your camera doesn’t have the WiFi capabilities, get a cheap remote (they’re easy to set up), and take photos with that. Plus, they’re easy to hide in the photo thanks to their small size.
Use the Intervalometer/Time lapse Function
If your camera has an intervalometer, or a program that will take time lapses for you, you can set it to take a photo every second or two and straight different poses. Given that the phone and camera will lose signal if you get them too far away from each other, the time lapse is the perfect alternative if you plan to be smaller in the photo/farther away from the camera.
This is now my favorite way to take travel selfies, although if you plan on having an open aperture, you will need to manually focus and make sure that you don’t move too far from the spot you focused on.
Many of the smartphone apps will let you tap to focus, which makes this a better option if you plan on shooting anything lower than an F7 and moving around much.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about with the camera-speak and would prefer not to manually focus, stick to the methods mentioned above.
Use a Drone
No tripod? No problem. A drone is one of my favorite ways to take travel selfies that don’t look like selfies.
You can make yourself a tiny dot on the horizon or you can get closer and get a nice aerial shot that wouldn’t be possible any other way.
Of course, there are more and more regulations every day associated with flying drones, and you’ll need to check the Federal Aviation Administration app before flying in the US to make sure that you’re not flying in a helicopter or airport zone. Drones are also prohibited in all national parks, some state parks, some national forests, and the wilderness areas.
But when you’re in an area where they are allowed and it’s as beautiful as the photo above, it’s a nice toy to have! This was taken with a Mavic 2 Pro. It has a better camera than some of the cheaper models, which makes it much better for photography.
Set Up the Shot Yourself then Ask Someone Else to Take it
Is it too crowded or wet to set up a tripod? Didn’t feel like carting one around? Ask someone around to help you out! There are a few ways to ensure that whoever takes your photo, it’s likely to come out looking good:
- Ask someone with a camera around their neck to take your photo. If they paid for an expensive camera, chances are better that they know how to use it. This person is also unlikely to run off with your camera if they already have one. Best practice is to offer to take a photo for that person before asking. Maybe she’ll even offer back without you needing to ask!
- Ask them to hold it in that exact position and take it for you. Compose the shot before you even ask, and tell them exactly what you plan to do in it so that all of the artistic direction is already dictated by you and not by them.
- Ask someone else if the first time isn’t to your liking. Politely wait for that person to walk away, then try again. It takes an extra five minutes but might result in the perfect photo.
Learn How to Pose
When a photo looks candid, it’s easier to fall in love with, to feel enchanted by it, and to picture ourselves there. How can you achieve this when you’re taking your own photos? Practice!
It’s all about posing in a way that works for the shot, whether by using a prop, being a tiny human in the frame, or dancing or laughing in the photo.
I know it seems weird, but it actually helps with relaxing in front of the camera. My friend Kelsey in Namibia said to me, “You know I never liked being in photos before, but when we frolic or dance it’s interesting and I like those photos of myself.”
It takes time to get comfortable with this, and some positive affirmations help, too.
We live in a weird day and age when we’re conceited if we love ourselves and the way we look but insecure if we don’t – you can’t win. So we might as well choose to celebrate ourselves and have FUN taking the photos rather than feeling self-doubts. Take lots. Keep practicing, reviewing, and having fun with it, and I promise you’ll keep getting better.
Want some help kickstarting it? Sign up for my free 5-days to better selfies challenge:
Now you have all my secrets! I hope you’ll embrace the selfie, see that it’s not a vain way to take photos, and maybe give a few of these ideas a try yourself. If you do, please share them with me in the comments or on social media!
If you have any tips to add, please share them in the comments. I’m always open to learning new tricks of the trade.