Self-portraiture is one of the most difficult projects to take on, both technically and mentally. Being both the photographer and the subject means that you have to take on double the responsibilities. But, by embracing the challenges that self-portraiture presents, your technical and artistic skills will flourish. Here, I’ll go over 20 tips to help you capture great self-portraits when you are alone and on the road.
1. Use Manual Focus
When you’re taking self-portraits, you’re playing the role of both the subject and the photographer. This can be tricky for several reasons, including focus.
Many photographers prefer using autofocus more than manual focus when taking images. And for a good reason. In most cases, autofocus is faster and more efficient than manual focus. Although cameras vary in autofocus performance, most autofocus systems on modern cameras are exceptionally advanced.
However, when it comes to taking a self-portrait, using autofocus can often complicate the shooting process. With autofocus, you’ll often have to go back and forth to check if your focus is accurate.
I find it easier to manually set my focus to infinity. This ensures that my camera keeps most of the elements in my frame in sharp focus, including myself.
I recommend shooting in manual using a wireless remote shutter release. This way, you can take a large number of self-portraits without having to run back behind the camera.
2. Use a Narrow Aperture
Narrow apertures will produce a deep depth of field. A deep depth of field will place most of your image in focus, whereas a shallow depth of field will only place a small area of your image in focus. When shooting self-portraits, using a narrow aperture is often ideal as it will allow you to capture yourself as well as the background in sharp focus.
3. Use a Tripod
Photographers often aim to travel as light as possible. But, don’t neglect your tripod. Mounting your camera on a tripod will allow you to compose and take portrait images effectively and with ease.
You may be wondering: Can’t I just find a level surface to put my camera down on? In a basic sense, this method works fine. But, in reality, you’ll run into problems. For one, you won’t be able to experiment with different angles. The angle that the surface provides is your only option. Also, finding a surface that’s both in your desired location and stable enough to hold a camera will take time. A tripod is your safest bet.
Thankfully, there are plenty of compact, lightweight tripods out there today. When traveling I usually carry a tripod that is around 3-4 pounds. For this, I’d typically use the Manfrotto 190 Go! M-Series. If you are looking for a tripod that weighs less than 2 pounds I recommend the SIRUI T-1205X.
4. Use a Wireless Remote
Using a tripod with a wireless remote allows you to take self-portraits without having to run back and forth from your camera.
Wireless remote functionality is included with many new cameras, so you’ll likely just need to find a compatible remote. If not wireless remotes have a base that typically connects to your hot plate to give accessibility to all camera types.
The exact way and settings you have when setting up your wireless remote will depend on your camera and the remote you are using. These are some of the most common settings and methods to connect your wireless remote.
To shoot with a tripod and a wireless remote, first select the drive mode that enables remote use. You can generally identify the mode by the remote icon beside it.
Then, select from the modes on the remote. If your remote has two modes, you can either have the camera take the shot instantly or two seconds after you hit the remote button. The two-second delay is usually the best choice in this scenario because the lens will have time to focus on your form. In most cases, you will have more delay timing options to choose from. This is especially true with high-end wireless remotes.
As with any method, there are downsides to using a remote. For one, since the remote will be in your hand right before you take the photo, you’ll need to hide it quickly. You can throw the remote into a safe location out of frame, keep a hand in your pocket, or keep one hand out of sight of the lens.
Also, remotes typically have a small range, often around 16 feet. We also found that the remote often needs to be even closer to the camera than the set range for the shot to be taken.
If your camera has wireless functionality then you can typically purchase a very inexpensive and simple wireless remote. These will work fine but they have fewer settings and typically a shorter range than a more quality remote.
For an option that is compatible with nearly all cameras and has more features that the options above I recommend the Pixel Wireless Shutter Release. This option is great because it has a very large range over 26 feet, a digital screen for ease of use, and functions both wirelessly and wired.
5. Use a Timer
A good alternative to using a wireless shutter remote is using your camera’s timer. To use a timer for self-portraiture, mount your camera on a tripod. Pay attention to the framing of the shot, and adjust the tripod as needed until it’s exactly where you want.
Then, select the 10-second timer setting on your camera. Also, select the continuous shooting option or burst mode. This will enable you to take as many as 10 consecutive photos, allowing you to experiment with distance and posing without having to run back behind the camera.
6. Show Up Early
Beat the crowds and get the location to yourself by arriving early. By doing so, you’ll also have greater freedom in the number of photos you take and where you set your camera up.
Showing up as early as the sunrise can give you access to an empty scene, even at popular tourist spots. People typically don’t head out to see the sights until late morning or midday. So, at sunrise, you’ll get a break from the crowds along with golden hour lighting.
7. Scout Your Location
Travel photography adds an extra layer of difficulty to photography. The element of the unknown is present whenever you travel. So, give yourself time to get familiar with your surroundings. Let yourself experiment with different lighting, camera angles, and poses to create a balanced composition.
When scouting your location, plan for the unexpected. It could suddenly start raining, or your scene could become crowded with passersby. So long as you are prepared and give yourself time to adapt, the unexpected won’t hold you back from capturing exceptional photos.
8. Know Where to Stand
You can’t be both behind the camera, checking the composition, and in front of the camera. So, adjustments to your positioning have to be made by taking images, checking the result, and moving accordingly.
To nail your positioning in self-portraits, mark the precise spot on the ground where you should stand. Once you have an exact marker of where to stand, you can make more accurate adjustments.
9. Try Out Different Angles
As a photographer, you already have experience in posing subjects. But, it’s more difficult when that subject is you.
Many photographers use the same angles over and over again in self-portraits without even realizing what they’re doing. Once we feel comfortable with one angle, you may subconsciously get stuck on it.
Identify the angles or poses that you may be stuck on. Then, make an effort to break free from them. Of course, you never have to strike a pose that makes you uncomfortable or emphasize an angle that makes you feel nervous. But, this sense of awareness of your self-portraits will encourage you to experiment with different angles.
10. Use Light to Your Advantage
It doesn’t matter how stunning your scene appears in person; without the right lighting, it will appear dull in an image.
Making lighting a priority in your self-portraits is crucial to the success of your shots. First, consider your goals for the portrait, as these will determine the most appropriate lighting.
If the frame will only feature your head and shoulders, aim for muted sunlight to avoid harsh shadows. If you want to pose with your back to the camera looking out at a breathtaking view, pick a clear day or catch the golden hour.
While you’re traveling, try to stay aware of the lighting conditions around you. This way, you can always adapt your positioning and camera settings for a well-lit photo.
11. Pay Attention to Relative Brightness
Balancing the relative brightness of your entire composition is crucial in all photography, including self-portraits.
As you shoot, stay aware of the brightest, most colorful elements in the scene. The viewers’ eyes go to the brightest element of a photo first. So, your focal point needs to be brighter than its surroundings. Otherwise, the elements around will overwhelm the photo and it will lack a focal point. In the case of self-portraiture, you’re the focal point, so you should be more illuminated than the objects around you.
12. Follow the Rule of Space
The rule of space suggests that there should be an ample amount of negative space out in front of your subject’s eyes. Humans have a natural instinct to follow other people’s line of vision. Tapping into this instinct allows photographers to guide the viewer’s eyes through their images.
Let’s take an example: Say you want to take a self-portrait with overlooking a scenic view. Naturally, the viewers will wonder what has captured your attention. This will compel them to follow your gaze and explore more of the photo. With the rule of space, you can influence the order in which your viewers take in the scene, giving you greater control over your image’s narrative.
Leaving more space in the direction towards which your subject is looking is also a great way to convey the illusion of motion in your picture. Say that your self-portrait depicts you walking down a path. By placing negative space between you and the background, you will create a sense of movement and momentum as you journey forward towards your destination.
13. Use Dynamic Poses
Candid motion is an incredibly effective tool for telling a story through an image. In self-portraiture, you’re the subject and, therefore, the person to catch in motion. It’s tricky to take a photo of yourself moving naturally, so try out dynamic poses instead. A dynamic pose is a still position that suggests movement, making for the effect of motion in an image.
You can convey movement by positioning yourself in a way that clearly displays the outline of your body. In particular, make sure that there’s space between your arms, legs, and body so each part is distinct.
14. Shoot in Vertical Format
Photographers are often inclined to shoot from a horizontal perspective. This makes sense, given that humans see the world from a horizontal perspective, not a vertical one. We look at the world from eye level, observing from side to side, not up and down.
However, by neglecting shooting in vertical format, you’re bound to miss out on may photographic opportunities. For instance, if you’re shooting against a background that’s vertically oriented like a tree or a skyscraper, you can more effectively capture its essence with vertical formatting.
15. Use Props
Props can work as an extension of your personality in a portrait. Your props could be planned, like a car parked in a scenic location or an old camera clasped in your hands. Or your props could be spontaneous like an ice cream cone picked up at a stand near the shoot. The props you choose can speak volumes to your essence as a person, giving your self-portraits greater meaning.
16. Don’t Be Shy
Self-portraiture used to be associated with vanity, making it uncomfortable for photographers to explore it. The rise of social media largely negated this misconception, but some photographers are still hesitant to make themselves the main subject.
If you’re struggling with this consider the difference between making art and being egotistical. Are you interested in self-portraiture for its value as an art form? If the answer is yes, then you can hugely benefit from delving into self-portraits.
Know that you deserve the opportunity to grow as a photographer through self-portraiture. Don’t hold yourself back for fear of seeming vain. We judge ourselves more harshly than anyone, but other people could greatly benefit from your self-portraiture. It’s another opportunity to speak to people through images – let yourself take advantage of it.
17. Make Friends
While you’re traveling, one simple method for snapping photographs of yourself is simple: make some friends! Exploring a new city alone can be an exhilarating experience, but seeing the sights with new friends can give you a whole new take on traveling.
One easy way to do this is by staying in a hostel. By doing so, you’ll be in an environment where it’s easy to talk to new people and make friends.
You can also sign up for guided tours to meet new friends. On these outings, you and your new friends may enjoy taking pictures of one another, both individually and as a group.
To make friends abroad, prioritize being a good company over being a photographer. Don’t overwhelm others by frequently asking them to take photos of you. Make sure that everyone is having fun while your taking photos – some people enjoy taking photos on trips, but others prefer not to. If you hand someone your camera to take a photo of you, make sure that it’s all set up and ready to go.
18. Use a GoPro
GoPros can be utilized, to great success, in travel photography. This is particularly true if your goal is to capture a self-portrait against a sweeping landscape background.
If you’re worried about needing to use a conspicuous selfie stick to take self-portraits with a GoPro, don’t. To take a selfie with a GoPro, you’ll do well with just the length of your arm. If you want to avoid having your arm in the shot, you can simply bring the camera closer to you. For a better grip on the GoPro, find a handgrip that can also be used as a tripod.
Using a GoPro with a tripod is also a smart way to reap the GoPro’s unique benefits when you’re not taking selfies.
To use a GoPro for self-portraiture, you can set your GoPro to snap photos at short intervals. These intervals will give you a few extra seconds to adjust your framing. The front-facing display counts down the interval until it captures the photo.
19. Take Your Time
Patience is key in self-portraits. You have more to do in self-portraiture than you do as a photographer in other types of shoots, so don’t rush. Go through each step carefully, making sure to calmly consider each decision. Try out various techniques and take test shots until you’re happy with the setup.
20. Edit Your Self Portraits
When you take a photo of a vivid landscape, you likely pour time into the post-production process, enhancing the colors and correcting small flaws. Your self-portraits deserve an equally involved editing process.
Saturation, contrast, vibrancy, and white balance can be adjusted, even slightly, to enhance the appearance of your portrait. From there, you can remove small elements that detract from the image, such as dust particles, and make the edges of the image perfectly straight.
In self-portraiture, don’t skimp on post-production. While the edits that you make should be subtle, they’ll greatly contribute to the overall quality of your work.
Practicing self-portraiture when you travel forces you to be creative, efficient, and perceptive. You have to think on your feet and constantly adapt to your surroundings. But, even more importantly, you have to practice self-awareness and confidence.
It takes courage to get out from behind the camera and become the focal point of your work. In doing so, you’re exposing yourself to your viewers. But, this could come to an extraordinary reward. So, be brave and willing to be front and center in your travel photography. The result could speak to your viewers more deeply and profoundly than any photo you’ve taken before.