Traveling Solo & Photography; Getting The Shot (With You In It)

Solo Travel and Photography Be In The Photo.jpg

A commonly pondered question, how do you get the perfect photo with you in it when traveling solo?

It's not an easy task.

I think its natural instinct to not only want a photo of a location you visit, but also to be in the photo. Over the past little while relying on strangers to take photos for/of me, I've started to pick up on some keys to photo success or failure.

While there's a few methods (tripod, self timer, camera remote, selfie) I'll focus on the asking a stranger for help method in this post.

First, there's some solo work involved before you ask a stranger for help.


1. Finding the right light

There's two keys here.

  • Be outdoors, but stand in the shade.

Prime example here. My face looks some rather uneven in shot one with awkward shadows on one part of my face, and blinding white on the other.

Good look right? ... No.

When you stand in the shade you still have the benefits of natural light in your photo, but don't have harsh light lines and shadows to deal with.

Notice, I'm just standing feet from the original location in the second photo, and its basically the same background, but a much better quality photo?

(Yes, I'm one of those that throws my sorority symbol when traveling - who doesn't like making it on the sorority Facebook fanpage?)

  • Selfie in a circle for light

No shade in sight around your desired photo location?

Take out your phone, turn on selfie mode, and watch how the lighting changes in the camera display as you turn in a circle, testing out all angles.

It's likely the light is better in some directions than others. Once you've determined the best direction for light, proceed to step 2 and ask a stranger to take your photo for you.

(It's less awkward by having already determined the light, instead of having your stranger take a shot, and then having to ask them to retake it in another direction because of horrible lighting).


2. Characteristics of the perfect photo-taking stranger

  • Young

Still many middle aged and/or older adults are not familiar with technology. Hand my Dad an iPhone, and stress crosses his face. Yeah he'll click the button to take the shot, but he really doesn't have a clue what he's doing.

Someone young likely knows to position the camera/phone in a way to get the important aspects of a photo in, and will actually look at the display to see whats in the frame, and adjust accordingly.

The middle aged lady who took this shot for me missed half the cupcake ATM... Kinda the point of the photo mind you. (MASSIVE cupcake ATM fan here by the way!)

Having strangers take travel photos
  • Female

This isn't always the case, but generally speaking, your safer bet is a female. They know what they like in photos, and will do the same for you.

Females are more likely to realize that your legs look huge if the photo is taken from an awkward angle, and will do for you what you would like you to do for them, that is, make you look good.

  • Someone with camera gear

Ahhh yes, the tell tale sign that this person takes photos semi regularly, and/or has an interest in photography. The holy grail of photo taking strangers is someone who is carrying a tripod, camera bag, or a large, impressive-looking DSLR camera.

This photo was taken by a young female who had a tripod slung over her shoulder and a large camera hung from her neck.

(Note - the one situation where you can't adjust for light; when the object of interest is in a permanent location, and you don't want to hike around 3 blocks to get it from a different angle.)

3. Tell your stranger what you want in the photo

On first try, the person didn't get in the Walk of Champions. We thought it was kind of obvious... but apparently not. So state exactly what you're looking for.

"Hi, would you mind taking a photo of us with the Walk of Champions in it?" is a good, friendly, line.

(We asked a middle aged man for the first photo and a young sorority girl for the second).


4. Hand the camera over in the desired orientation

Want a vertical photo? Hand the camera to your stranger vertically.

In my experience I've found strangers are not likely to switch the orientation of the camera/phone once it's in their hands.


Do you have any other tips for having a stranger take the perfect travel shot for you? Would love to hear it! Leave 'er in the comments!

And of course, for more of my travel shots, you'll want to follow along on Instagram!