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I’m by no means a professional photographer.
I know, I know you must all be shocked.
In fact, the truth is I’m just a girl who repeatedly stood in front of a camera and asked why do I look like a brown blur? I was sick of bribing my friends to come and help me shoot and frankly also kinda over random strangers taking some errr… interesting shots. And although I haven’t won any prizes (yet) I think the fact I’m not a professional photographer makes me exactly the right person to be delivering this teaching to you.
From one muggle to another this is how to take your own photos as a solo traveller.
Study the pros
Do I have to go to model school?
Have you finally had enough of strangers taking sub-par photos? Are you desperate for the freedom of not having to rely on anyone else for your world (Instagram) domination?
Before you go anywhere near a camera (I’m serious don’t even glance at it – I’ll know) take note of poses you like on Instagram and Pinterest. Use your millennial skills to gather them together and create a mood board, or y’know just a saved folder somewhere. This mood board is now your life. I’m not saying skip work to stare at it (although that’s what sick days are for right, RIGHT?), but in your spare time have a little look at it, add to it and get those creative juices/poses flowing.
Practise posing in the mirror
Where do hands even go?
At first, it will probably feel ridiculous and awkward, but over time the mirror becomes your Nigel Barker and you’re the hottest new contestant on ANTM. Study angles and stare at your face. Remember more time at home with the mirror means fewer shots out there in ‘the field’ as you already know which is your best side and what looks you want to capture. You’ll also quickly learn what doesn’t look good and will see sides of yourself that no human should see. Ever.
Decide what your “look” is
How do I decide on my brand?
Are you cute and girly or are you a little rough around the edges and might have stolen my lunch money as a kid? You’ll notice in the majority of my photos I’m smiling because my brand is a chirpier extension of me. Always laughing at my own hilarious jokes and glowing through the goings-on of life. Then there’s the other side of my personality that is sarcastic and dry and those photos are more of a hide your wallets vibe.
Your persona doesn’t have to be an exact reflection of you. It might be a caricature or your alter ego. But the same still applies. How would she act? What would she do? All these things play into the shot. Are you more likely to be laughing by the pool or sipping a cocktail gazing at me over your sunglasses? Whatever her story is, write it through the lens.
Fun fact: people find it really awkward to smile on command. Where do you think saying “cheese” for the camera came from? Saying the word literally mimics the shape of an albeit slightly toothy grin. If smiling is part of your brand and you feel awkward grinning on cue (I feel you) – try fake laughing. Yes, I’m aware it sounds ridiculous but just trust me. Once you do it you’ll either start laughing for real at the absurdity of it all or it still feels a little awkward and weird but in photos looks like a natural smile. I do it all the time. Oh, and in photos too…
How to take your own photos in public
What if people look at me funny?
There’s a 99% chance they absolutely will. When you’re taking photos alone people will probably stare at you. You’re going to have to suck it up and get used to it. Or if it gets too much let them know your social details and tell them you’re delighted that they’re fans of your work and they can find the finished product on your blog/Insta. Lap up that free publicity baby. It’s hard to come by.
To begin with, of course, it’s nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. Like a first kiss when you kind of just mash your mouths together, scrunch your eyes shut and hope for the best. But we all have this problem of thinking that people think about us waaaaay more than they actually do. One hot tip to bypass the awkward kissing stage and skip straight to professional tongue tennis is to get up before the masses. Shoot your photos at sunrise and there will be way fewer people to worry about and conveniently some #dreamy lighting too.
Invest in the right equipment
What do I need to pull off this feat?
Once you’ve decided to go for it it’s time to kit up. If you’re looking to upgrade from your iPhone (or Android… I know you guys exist too) the Canon G7X II is the camera I currently use. Although I love my phone I much prefer the quality of photos on my camera. The handy thing about this camera is that it has a screen that flips up for the ultimate selfie mode and it has built-in WiFi. The built-in wifi means you can easily transfer photos from your camera to your phone and means you can use your phone as a remote as well.
There’s only so far balancing your camera on a stack of books can take you. Especially if you’re travelling it’s not always practical to be carrying around an entire library so it’s worth investing in a tripod. I currently use the GorillaPod, which has flexible joints that you can bend in a number of angles and even grip to objects like rocks, benches and small unsuspecting humans. It is a little bit on the pricy side but it’s absolutely worth it for a piece of kit you can rely on and fits in a small (but stylish) backpack. I lent mine to a friend and she loved it so much that I ended up buying her one of her own.
If you prefer to take photos on your phone then just make sure to get a sturdy tripod that can support your phone and also a reliable remote so you can trigger photos. With the remote, you’ll first want to set up a timer on your phone, then work out a good hiding place for it so it’s not visible in photos. If you’re at home this might be behind a pillow or if you’re out and about tucked into your outfit out of sight.
Get to grips with your camera
Which button do I press?
Whether you choose to use your phone or camera make sure you know the basics. That means checking that you aren’t overexposed, actually being in focus and knowing how to set up a timer and intervals. For me, any longer than a ten-second timer is too long but allow yourself time to ditch the phone/hide the remote and get in position. It’s basically a more self-centred game of hide and seek.
Okay now let’s switch it up. Think musical statues, but Vogue(ish). Twirl, leap, pace, wave, arch, flex. You’re not a tree so move darling. Things that feel kinda weird like pacing backwards and forwards on your tiptoes in still actually look pretty beautiful. I don’t know about you but my hands always feel really… spare in photos. Hanging there all limb like. If you, like me, also have awkward hands consider getting props or using objects around you to hold or place your hands on.
Take more photos than you think you’ll need
How do I know when I’ve got the shot?
You know when you’re travelling and you ask someone to grab a photo of you? They half-heartedly glance at you then snap without looking? Don’t be this guy (and sorry it is usually a guy!). Use remote viewing to study where you want yourself to be and take some test shots before launching into your whole shoot. And for the love of all the things check to see if you need to modify anything before continuing. You don’t want to be shooting for an hour and then realise there’s one annoying hair that just won’t lay flat when you could have quietly plucked it out and pocketed it hours ago…
I promise you there’s nothing more frustrating than getting home and realising you were moments away from the shot and then bowed out from embarrassment or because you got tired. Take. More. Shots. The life of a model/photographer/editor/Instagrammer/blogger isn’t easy, but hey someone’s got to do it.
Edit your photos to add life
How do I fix this?
This is arguably my favourite part of the whole thing, but *beep beep* quick disclaimer don’t rely on editing. Try to make the picture the best you can beforehand by shooting in natural light, making sure you’re in focus etc. In the long run, it’s a lot harder to fake than it is just to do it well in the first place… as can be said about most things in life. Mmmhm *sassy black girl clicking*.
I do most of my editing on my phone because I love the functionality of Lightroom app and it’s quick and easy to use. The app is free but you can get a superior version on desktop for $$$. In the past, I did use VSCO and paid for a subscription but I switched because I prefer the features of Lightroom and having more control over the final outcome from the very beginning.
Meet the wizard that is Adobe Lightroom
How do I use this?
If you’re new to Adobe Lightroom I suggest checking out this tutorial, which will get you to grips with the basics. Then it’s really a case of trial and error. How I edit my photos won’t be the same way you edit yours and vice versa. As a beginner, you may even want to hit the ‘Auto’ button and then customise from there.
As a general rule bright photos tend to be more eye-catching so if that’s the look you’re going for nudge the exposure up slightly and bring down the highlights. Increasing whites and blacks will also brighten the photo then use the ‘vibrance’ tool to add some WOW. I also like to clarify and sharpen my images to add detail.
My favourite tool on the app is the HSL tool, which stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminance. Using this tool you can literally change the colours of your clothes to make completely different outfits (you’re welcome fashion bloggers) and can add more life where it hasn’t translated well on camera.
These tips are here to guide you but they’re just that – a guide. Give yourself the freedom to express yourself and add your own magnificent flair. If you have found any of this advice useful I’d love for you to share this post and tag me on Instagram @effyshowslife.
What about you guys? How do you take your own photos as a solo traveller? Let me know in the comments!
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