The one question I get asked most often when posting my photos on social media or showing someone my pictures is, "Who took the photo?" Even before "where was it taken" or anything about what's actually in the image, it's as if I have a secret photographer ten steps behind me at all times, just lurking in the shadows.
I travel on my own a lot, but in fact, even when traveling with others I often find that the best snaps are the ones I set up and take myself and by 'best', I mean the ones I want - not the most well composed or exposed shots.
I'm by no means a pro, far from it, but I've been experimenting with different equipment and methods and have managed to up my Instagram game significantly over the past few months. So let me share my tips on how to take your own photos when traveling solo.
Starting with the most obvious, ask someone to take the photo for you. They usually come out rubbish though, right? And then you're too embarrassed to ask for another because it makes you look totally vain. There are a few things you can fix up after with editing like a wonky horizon, you can even easily "photoshop" stuff out too, like a rubbish bin or a stranger standing in the shot with cheap apps like Retouch.
There's a simple trick to get photos that you'll love first time though. Before handing over your camera, set it to 'continuous' or 'burst' mode. Most cameras have this option in their settings, you can even do it on your iPhone, just explain that the person needs to press and hold to take a whole load of images while you pose/walk/stare into the distance. Get more than you need and chances are at least one will be usable. The whole absurdity of the situation will probably get a genuine laugh out of you and your new photographer, producing the most candid style picture you'll get from a set up shot.
Here are a couple of Instagram pics I've achieved through using continuous mode.
I often prop my camera or phone on a windowsill/bench/floor to get an angle, but there are a few pieces I bring on every trip to get the best solo photos. I usually get generic brand stuff from eBay or Amazon, meaning nothing is crazy good quality but it's cheap and light and does the job. If it's something you're going to get a lot of use out of, splash out on a reputable brand and read the reviews.
A mobile phone tripod, which also doubles as a mini tripod for a digital camera when you screw off the extendable plastic phone holder. Handy if you want to use the time lapse function on your phone too.
A full size tripod isn't really practical for traveling unless it's your job, so go for something lightweight and adjustable like this Joby Gorillapod. It can wrap around virtually anything, like a railing or tree branch, to give your camera a steady surface in order to take clean images. Go for the option with additional ballhead to change the angle of your camera and check that it holds the weight of your model.
Whichever tripod you use, set it up and check the view before switching your camera to self-timer mode. I like the Canon Powershot G1 X Mark II for travel photography, as it has a flip up screen so you can actually see the image while you're in the shot and you can play around with the timer options to give yourself more time to get into the frame and to take a set number of pics, (e.g. 10 secs, 10 frames) so you don't need to keep running back and forth.
Now, this is where me and the professionals beg to differ, so I'll give you both arguments. In my opinion, a selfie stick when used correctly can help create some decent self-portraits - just try not to get the metal stick (or its shadow) in the shot, like this one;
Freelance lifestyle photographer Michael Vanarey disagrees, "shoot yourself in the face if you buy one" he says. Why does he feel so strongly about them?
"I can't tell you how many times I've seen bus loads of tourists in a parking lot at the base of a magnificent valley ripe to be explored on a sunny summer day and all they do is get out, whip out the selfie stick, take pictures in the car park and then get back on and sit in the air-conditioning. It's reducing the art of travel photography."
For self portraits while traveling solo, Vanarey asks a stranger or sets up his camera and uses the self-timer option;
"When you travel alone, its good to capture great things. Usually there are people around that I have no hesitation to go up and ask them to take the photo. But if it's something more artistic, then a tripod with a 10-sec timer on your camera is a better option. If you don't have a tripod, just look for anything to rest your camera on."
Source: Michael Vanarey
When you're choosing your camera, look for features like the ones I've mentioned above; continuous mode, a flip up or tilt screen so you can take pictures from above or different angles and customisable self-timer, like the Canon G1X Mark II, which I used for this shot;
It also has a couple of other nifty features that have made it much easier to take solo photos while traveling. You can activate the self-timer by simply smiling or winking at the lens, you can even teach it to recognize your face. Another winning addition, is the facility to remote control the camera with your smartphone, making it much easier to jump into an Instagram-worthy shot.
Action cameras are a nice addition to your traveling tech gear, especially if you're into outdoor adventure trips. I'm loving the Kaiser Baas X150 which actually comes with a wrist remote control (like a watch) and connects via WiFi to an app, making it perfect to take solo photos while traveling.
Remember, just because you're traveling solo, doesn't mean you can only take selfie style photos. Try and incorporate some of the scenery, taking a moment to consider composition. Think how you would recreate an image taken by someone else, even when there's nobody around and utilize the functions of your equipment, no matter how amateur you think they are.