One of the perceived hazards of travelling independently is that with no travel companion, a person will have nobody around to help them capture amazing photographs of their travels.
When I first started travelling this was most certainly something I struggled with. I hated asking strangers to take photos of me; for some reason it made me irrationally embarrassed. Not only this, but once I’d finally summoned the courage to ask someone to snap a shot for me, I’d always be worried that said person would run off with my iPhone!
Over time, I have learned how to cut other people out of the equation, and how to capture wonderful shots of myself, by myself, without any help at all.
So without further ado, here is a guide to mastering the art of the ‘self timer selfie’.
First things first, you will need to get yourself kitted out with an appropriate camera. Sure, iPhones and GoPros can do an alright job, but for the absolute best travel pictures, you will want to go for a more capable camera. I swear by my Olympus OM-D E-M1 – a mirrorless 4/3rds digital camera with spectacular capabilities. The camera body is lightweight, attaches to a wide range of lenses, is unbelievably weatherproof and best of all – much more affordable than a true DSLR.
As much as I love my Olympus, it doesn’t really matter which particular brand of camera you buy – you just want it to have a few specific capabilities.
Look for a camera with an adjustable self-timer, one able to take bursts of multiple frames, one with easily adjustable exposure times and most importantly, you want something sturdy enough to take a few knocks.
Next – invest in a decent tripod. You don’t need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars, but avoid the smaller ones aimed at travellers. Look for a tripod that can be compact, but that can also reach a height of at least 1.4 to 1.8 metres. Look for something without a fixed head area – this will allow you to make minor adjustments to the frame of the shot without having to rearrange the entire tripod.
Lately I have been using this Manfrotto tripod, and it has proven to be a very trusty travel companion.
If you can find a camera with the ability to work with a remote, then this will broaden your self-timer selfie capabilities.
My little Olympus can connect to my phone via WiFi – and I am able to use my phone to remotely capture shots. This comes in handy when the 10 seconds that self-timer mode gives you just isn’t enough. Maybe you want a shot of you on a cliff face and it takes more than 10 seconds to get there, or maybe you want a photo of you in front of a waterfall and traversing the wet rocks requires a bit more caution than one can achieve in 10 seconds. Whatever the reason, being able to use a remote will hugely improve the quality and variety of shots that you can produce.
Now that you have all the appropriate gear, it is time to start shooting! When it comes time to take a shot, picking an appropriate location to set up your camera and tripod is vital.
Firstly, you need to find a surface sturdy enough to support your gear. A decent tripod won’t require you to find somewhere completely flat, but you’ll want to make sure it is at least semi-well supported. Nobody wants to see their precious camera gear hit the ground hard!
Next, you need to set up in a spot that will give you a beautiful backdrop to work with. You’ll want something interesting, but not visually busy enough that adding a person to the shot will overwhelm the entire frame.
Lastly, you need to make sure that wildlife, elements or other people are not at risk of knocking over your gear, because that would just be heartbreaking.
After you have found your desired shooting location, you need to be aware of the position of the sun and the amount of light entering your lens. If your lens is pointing towards direct sunlight, anything in the foreground (namely – you) will appear dark and underexposed.
If shooting with the sun glaring into the lens is unavoidable, then go ahead and shoot that shot anyway. Such pictures can be edited to create a more evenly exposed image, but if you can get it right at the point of shooting, it saves you a lot of fiddling around in photoshop later on.
When using auto-focus and depending on where you intend to place yourself in the shot, sometimes it can be difficult to prevent your camera from automatically blurring the background to create depth of field. While this depth of field can create some amazing images, sometimes you want to create an image which is focused all over.
If you get yourself far enough away from the camera this is usually not too difficult, but if you wanting a shot in which you are less than two metres away from the lens, auto-focus can occasionally make your life a bit difficult.
In these instances, it pays to turn off your auto-focus and manually focus the shot. Using manual focusing can be a delicate art, and one that can feel foreign to those who are used to auto-focus, but if you have a little patience and due diligence, manual focus can be an essential tool in creating the shots you want.
When you aren’t able to see what you are shooting, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that a bunch of ‘dud’ shots are inevitable. Don’t get discouraged. You may get the shot you want on the first go, and then other times you may need fifty (or more) attempts. This is just the nature of things. Go with the flow and remember that a little perseverance can go a long way.
If you are in one of those situations where you are anticipating that you won’t get the shot on the first go, using burst mode can help you get the shot more quickly than if you were to use a self timer. I can set my camera to take 1 frame per second, which means that I can set up the shot and move around in the frame for a while, obtaining many shots – and usually, at least a couple of these shots will be usable.
Feeling comfortable enough to set up a tripod and take pictures of yourself in public spaces isn’t always something that comes overnight.
If you ever find yourself wanting a photograph but feeling too self-conscious of the people who will see you taking the image, just take a second to remind yourself that you are unlikely to see any of those people ever again; and if you go home without getting that awesome shot, the regret of missing an awesome photograph will stick with you much longer than the awkwardness of people looking at you funny.
Bite the bullet and get the shot. You’ll thank yourself for it later.