A more accurate title would be ‘shooting travel photos when you’re flying solo or your Instagram husband/mum/brother/friend has had enough’, but that didn’t sound so catchy. Either works.
The most obvious answer to the dilemma would be to just take photos of your surroundings without you in them. Easy, job done!
We all know that doesn’t quite cut it though. Who wants all their holiday photos to look like you could’ve pinched them from Google images? No ta. Photos with you (or at least someone) in frame make the image so much more personal (and go down better on social media, let’s face it). That’s not to say that landscape travel snaps are redundant, however – far from it. Personally I think it’s just about choosing whether a photo would benefit from a human subject in the frame or not. Some don’t need it, and some look 10x better with a person in shot. I’ve been asked a couple of times how I take my travel photos when I’m away on my own, so I thought I’d share my tips and advice for anybody with solo trips planned.
First up – deciding whether a shot would benefit from you in it. That’s a good place to start! Personally I think it depends on whether there’s already an obvious ‘subject’ in the foreground meaning that the photo isn’t flat – like this tram shot in Lisbon for example. The tram already provides a focal point so no need to faff around asking a stranger to take your picture (or trying to take a photo of an unsuspecting stranger for that matter). Some travel photos would be ruined by a person ie. you getting in the way.
This one from the Lake District last week, however, would have looked much better with somebody walking along the path. Oh well.
So if you’ve decided you do want to be in the shot, my next tip would be to set yourself up with some kind of remote shooting. Many cameras these days come with the option (I know the Canon G7X and Olympus Pen do, anyway) and it’s honestly a godsend. Why else would I be discreetly holding my phone in most of these shots? Haha. Being able to see the shot you’re taking via an app on your phone is so helpful, although a standard camera remote would also be really handy.
This shot from Hamburg is still one of my favourite travel photos to date and was taken using the Canon Camera Connect app. Facing away from the camera is a good way to hide your phone!
Hotel room photos can look really boring without a person in frame (they look like estate agent shots, basically) so I almost always use remote for those.
That said, on my camera, remote shooting A) doesn’t shoot RAW files so a badly lit shot can’t be recovered, and B) only shoots on Automatic mode. If you’re anything like me you’ll know the Auto mode is The Enemy. Auto is to be avoided. Auto works terribly for backlit photos (unless a silhouette is what you’re going for, in which case roll with it) and just generally makes photos look flat. So sometimes I just use good old self timer, prop my camera up somewhere, and run into the shot. At least you can use Manual or AV mode to set the aperture and/or shutter speed yourself that way.
If I remember rightly this one in Slovenia was taken with self timer because remote shooting kept giving me a silhouette. So I had to leg it like an idiot to jump on the swing in time lol.
Bumping into a professional photographer is always handy too but I can’t offer any advice for that one!
If you want solo snaps of touristy places, there’s only one way to do it and that’s to head out early. Absolutely no way would I have put my camera down on a wall when Rome was buzzing with people in the afternoon – way too nervous about it getting swiped for that – but at 6am with nobody around I felt ok doing so. Early morning Colosseum was a pretty sight! So you avoid having tons of people in your photos, and can feel more secure about placing your camera a few feet away when it’s quiet. Double win.
Make use of shooting from low. If the floor is the only place you can rest your camera, just work with it! It’s an easy way to get straight, symmetrical shots.
If you’re asking a stranger to take your photo, just give them your phone. I’ve made the mistake of assuming that people know how to focus an SLR before and had only out of focus shots; everyone knows how to use a phone camera though so it’s a better bet. Chances are you’ll be in a cool place where you don’t want the SLR wide aperture, blurry background look anyway. I use a Huawei P9 but some of my favourite accounts I see on Instagram are iPhone only.
It goes without saying that you need to be super cautious and selective about who you hand your tech too whilst out and about – touch wood nothing has been stolen of mine yet but I’ve heard many a horror story! I usually offer to take a photo for someone else (fellow solo person or a couple struggling to get a snap of them both) and then ask if they’d mind taking one of me afterwards. There’s no foolproof method though so I guess you just need to use common sense.
That’s about all I have to offer on the topic! Let me know if you have any questions or more tips for getting snap-happy on your solo travels.
Lily Kate x