Picture it: Lake Amatitlán in Guatemala, 2006. Me, on the pier, posing for what has since become one of my favorite pictures of myself. Somehow, everything just seems to work: the landscape, the ghostly effect, the fact that you can hardly see my face. A pretty great shot, you say? Why thank you - I took it myself.
One of the unfortunate side effects of the travel bug is that more often than not, your friends won’t have time and money when you do – or vice versa. Symptoms include frustration, anger, petulance, oftentimes culminating in fits of independence in which you simply take off on your own. But just how are you supposed to get that brag-worthy facebook profile shot if you’re going it alone? Sure, you could ask a stranger to take your photo. And then there’s always the “self-portrait” mode on your camera. I despise both of those options and I’ll tell you why; asking a stranger can a) be embarrassing; not to mention difficult if there’s a language barrier and b) such shots usually turn out dull and far too “posed” for my liking. Self-portrait mode? Who wants to see a picture of my fat head blocking such and such beautiful monument? Not me. Below, my favorite tips for capturing that elusive, evocative, interesting self-portrait… all by your lonesome.
Taking Photos of Your Hands Holding Things
Hold on, ’cause I’m about to get artsy on your ass.
What’s better than a random picture of a Japanese Coke bottle? A picture of your hand holding the Japanese coke bottle! The easiest of all self-portraits to tackle, and more personal than a still life. Experiment with backgrounds to capture the mood of the place, but keep the focus on the object itself.
An old favorite, but even more powerful when you’re out of your element. Get creative: subway doors in Madrid; you in the left, a local on the right. Shop windows inKyoto with your head superimposed on a kimono. Your face reflected inLoch Ness.
Tip: turn your flash off – both to properly capture the reflective image and make yourself less conspicuous in public.
Taking Photos of Your Shadow
Great for capturing the scenery; even better for camouflaging sweaty, dirty, pimply “backpackers’ syndrome.” Lend a touch of mystery to your photo album.
Catch the sharpest shadows about an hour before sunset; turn off your flash; experiment with poses.
Taking Photos of Your Whole Self
You’ve made it! Welcome to the big leagues.
Dublin, Ireland. July 2010. A walk home from school. Camera balanced on a rubbish bin.
What you need:
1. Your camera
2. An interesting backdrop
3. A self-timer
4. A stationary object upon which to balance your camera; i.e., your makeshift tripod.
Osaka, Japan. March 2007. Again, walking home from work but apparently not too tired to take photos of myself.
For the self-timer self-portrait shot, it’s important to get the balance and height of the camera correct. In lieu of a tripod, you’ll have to get creative once again. I’ve used (closed-lid) trash cans, park benches, rocks, my suitcase, my purse, a hat, pitchers, glasses, even low-hanging tree branches to get my shot. First, carefully balance your camera and check the LCD screen to make sure the landscape you like is in frame. Ignore interested glances from passerby. Hit self-timer. Step into the frame.
You will make mistakes:
Duesseldorf, Germany. May 2010. Balanced on a rickety wooden table, a sign reading “Tante Anna” was the last thing my camera saw before it shattered onto the cobblestone street. Yes, I’m an idiot.
But then, eventually, you’ll get it right:
Rome, Italy. December 2005. Camera balanced on a trash can
Osaka, Japan. May 2007. Camera balanced on a park bench
Inishmore, Ireland. March 2010. Camera and Eva balanced on a piece of cliff. Don’t try this at home.
I also find that in some cases, an awkward camera angle can read as “interesting”:
Osaka, Japan. July 2007. Camera balanced on a fence post. McPork!
Rome, Italy. December 2010. Camera balanced on my purse
Pamela Anderson, eat your heart out.
But sometimes, it all just comes out perfect:
London, England. November 2003. Camera balanced on an ancient Roman wall
Got your own tips for taking self-portraits while traveling alone? Share them in the comments section below!