How Do People Take Good Pictures of Themselves When Traveling Solo?

Solo travel photo

I have a confession. I’ve been traveling solo for more than ten years now, and I still cannot get decent photos that include me. Sure, I can take the arm-out selfies that we all know and love. And I can take gorgeous shots of the world around me with my DSLR. But I just can’t seem to combine the two, leaving me with two sets of photos: a heap of close-up selfies in various places and beautiful landscape photography. I even keep these photos separated in my online world (‘real’ photos go to Flickr, selfies go to Facebook), as I do not dare contaminate the photos I love with the sub par pictures I get of myself.

Trust me, I’ve tried to do better. I still look up ways to take better pictures of myself during by travels, and I always find the same advice. Advice that I have taken to heart. Advice that, well, does not work. How can it be that nearly every blogger that has broached the subject gives the same advice, and yet none of it works for me? Am I doing it wrong? Maybe. But I like to think I’m capable of following advice, especially with photography. I have taken a few courses over the years, and it always improves my work. So why can’t I get this one thing right? Let’s take a look at the common advice given, and why I think it doesn’t work for me (and dare I make the assumption, most people).

Tripods and Timers

This is really what I want to do. Set up a tripod, frame my shot, and then use a timer or remote to take several photos of me wistfully staring into the horizon at the Cliffs of Moher. Why is that so much to ask? Well, there are actually numerous reasons why this isn’t a reliable way to take photos.

Theft

Setting up a tripod in a bustling city square is just a bad idea. Forget that you are now in everyone’s way. How about the fact that you have just opened yourself up to having thousands of dollars in equipment stolen? Whether you shoot photos with your smartphone or camera, it’s likely worth a good chunk of change (not to mention if it is already holding photos, now it’s priceless). I am not walking 20 feet away from it unless there is not another soul in sight.

Weather

Tripods are tricky. A gust of wind, and again you are losing expensive gear. Sure, many tripods have counterweight hooks so that you can prevent this, but do you use it? Have you spent the time to make sure your gear is stable before walking away?

Self-Conscious

Every single blog post on this subject reminds the reader that they must swallow their pride and get used to being stared at. Do if for the ‘gram. There is a certain amount of public scrutiny I can handle, but being the obnoxious tourist that is in everyone’s way so that she can have a good photo of herself? That is not a role I am currently prepared to take on.

Time

Besides the above, it takes time to set up a tripod, get your remote set up, and frame a good shot. It’s definitely worth it when you know you have the time and can shoot that way for a while. And doing this for selfies is not ridiculous in itself, depending on your location. If you’re on a hike, and want that perfect shot of you walking away into the woods, then go on with your bad self! It is likely you have the area to yourself. You can even get away with this on quieter streets in cities.

But let’s be real, we all want that photo of us shopping in the markets of Marrakesh. In other words, the place where we are ostensibly there to do another activity, not spend twenty minutes setting up one shot. We are going for candid, and setting up a tripod to take a picture solo is anything but.

Carrying Gear

Have you ever carried a tripod around all day? They fold up, but still almost always require their own carrying case. The entire internet suggests getting a GorillaPod. I have one, it’s cute. It still does not fit in my purse or my camera bag (it does fit in my backpack). It also is only useful if you can attach it to something that is a few feet off the ground, unless you are going for a this-photo-was-shot-by-someone-laying-on-the-ground look.

I already carry my camera gear around a lot of the time. Adding more items to carry is only done when I know I will be using it. It isn’t practical for my daily wanderings. If you’re going out with the express intent to get photos of yourself, it’s fine, but not a realistic option if you intend to only set it up if the perfect opportunity arises.

Ask Someone to Take the Photo

In theory, this should work. If you were traveling with friends, you would do this all the time. But your friends know you, know what you want, or can at the very least re-take the photo after you tell them what you want.

It turns out, strangers do not inherently know what you want your photo to look like. You could spend the time telling them, having them re-take photos you don’t like. But this will only work one or two times before they want to carry on with their day.

In my experience, photos from strangers get the job done in that you are more than a floating head with a background (as you would be if you just took the selfie), but they do not usually turn into your favorite photo from the trip.

solo travel photo
This was the result of asking for a photo of me with the city of Edinburgh behind me.

Use a Selfie Stick

Isn’t this just a selfie? I suppose you get more of the background involved, but it still lacks the artistry I’m imagining for my photos.

Random Body Parts

I have lots of photos of my shoes on random floors. Usually Converse. Sometimes barefoot. If the goal is to simply be in your photo in some capacity, then congratulations! But, you aren’t really in your photo. I’d definitely rather have the selfie. When your grandchildren flip through your photos years from now, these are not likely the pictures they will cherish.

solo travel photos
My shoes are in higher quality photos that I am.

So what’s the magical formula to getting amazing photos of yourself during your solo travels? I have no idea. I’ve read blogs that insist the above will get you what you want, but I have yet to achieve it. I think the tripod is your best bet, and will definitely work if you’re in a quiet location. But the rest of the time? Make a friend, girl, and go do a photo shoot! Or submit to the selfie.

If you have any great solo photo tips, or want to meet up with ladies abroad so that you don’t have to worry about, join Companach’s Facebook Group!