One of my favorite pictures of myself taken by a stranger. I have found success asking others to take pictures for me, and you can too!
For the past four years now, I have traveled almost entirely alone. In fact, I insist on it, refusing any invitations or requests to travel from other people. (I’m kinda bitchy like that.) On my own I’ve been to several countries, and all parts of China and I have never had any major problems that I couldn’t deal with myself.
You see, there are still two problems I have when traveling alone. One is going to the bathroom when you have all your luggage with you, and the other is taking pictures of yourself, your whole body, when at an interesting place.
Everyone can take a selfie, but sometimes a selfie doesn’t accomplish what you want. So what to do when you want a picture of you but don’t want to take a selfie?
Here are some tips:
Find the Selfie Queen
You know that annoying young girl taking 100 million pictures of herself drinking at Starbucks? Ask her to take a picture for you, especially if your camera is your phone. She will not only know how to work it, but she’ll know the best angles and places for you to stand. She’ll even notice the light and position you out of the shadows. These Selfie Queens have spent countless hours making sure they know how to take a good picture of themselves, so use their knowledge to let them take a good picture of you.
This selfie queen is perfect if you want a picture of yourself drinking at Starbucks.
Even Better, Find Her Boyfriend
This is the guy that has taken 100 thousand pictures of his girlfriend being cute in the snow, cute at dinner, cute when she is just waking up. His muse is his girlfriend, but she is a demanding muse, and through her tantrums and pouts at bad pics, he has learned a thing or two about taking pictures of people. Wait till he is finishes taking pictures of his girlfriend and then ask him to take one for you.
Look for the Person with the Nicest Equipment
If you are at a tourist destination, chances are there are several other people around who are happy to take your picture. No one has ever refused a lone traveler looking for some help. But, the ability of these tourists vary greatly. If I can’t find a selfie queen I prefer to ask people with the nicest camera, assuming that they care a bit more about photography and composition then the average phone/camera user. These are aspiring amateur photographers and they might even feel proud that you asked them to do it.
See that guy using $3000 equipment to take a picture of a shadow of a tree on the snow? He’s a good candidate to take a picture of you.
Sure, we all want a picture of ourselves standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, but what about some more creative, interesting photos of yourself? Find a reflecting surface and stand in front of that, or use your shadow falling across something interesting to show where you are. While technically a selfies it doesn’t just have to be your big face in front of something. You can take some more unique pictures of yourself by yourself while out and about.
Don’t ask the Waiter
I don’t know why, but I have never had a good picture of me taken by a waiter. They seem to stand back as far as they can, and take the biggest, widest picture possible usually getting a finger, or a piece of clothing in the way. You think they get asked all the time to take pictures of a group of friends eating together, and yet every time a waiter takes a picture, it always needs to be edited to make it at all worthwhile.
Could the waiter have gotten any further away?! And what’s with that big purple thing at the bottom of the picture?
Ask the Person to Take Several
Most people tend to naturally take at least two or three, but if they don’t, ask them. It’s free and easy and there is really no reason not to. You blink, maybe you move your mouth weird. One picture almost never works. Get them to take several.
In a cooking class in Thailand I just passed my camera to another participant and told him to go crazy as I made spring rolls. Now I have the whole process on camera and I even used it once to remind myself how to make it when I did it at home.
Always, Always Check Your Picture
Sometimes you feel a bit imposing when asking others to take pictures of you, so when they hand back the camera you put it in your pocket immediately, thanking them. I’ve done that a few times and it has always gone wrong. Make sure to check the photo and if the fault is you, blinking, or a strange look on your face, usually the person is happy to take it again. (In fact, most people feel a responsibility when taking a picture of you and usually ask “is it okay?” when handing back the camera.)
If the fault is theirs, bad composition, holding the camera strange, then just say “great! Thanks!” and hang back and wait until they leave and ask someone else to take a picture again.
At a recent professional badminton game I asked my friend to take a picture of me standing in front of the court. I was thinking it would be a great profile picture for my badminton site. As it was my friend who took the picture, I trusted her and didn’t check. When I finally looked, long after we were out of the stadium, I freaked out at my poor friend. But really I have no one else to blame as I should have known better and checked immediately.
Sometimes You Just Need to Live Without the Picture
Sometimes, none of these tricks work. Maybe you are totally by yourself with no way to set the camera timer, or maybe that perfect picture you want is just a bit too difficult to ask a stranger (specific composition, or something in which you would have to move far away and it would take time). Then you just go without.
Everyone loves to have some nice pictures of themselves in cool places, but really, pictures should be an afterthought. We don’t travel just for the pictures. We travel for the experiences, for the feelings for the chance to see these things with our own eyes. So if you can’t take a picture of yourself standing in front of a beautiful mountain view, or standing admiring a piece of art, so be it. You got to walk in the mountain yourself, and you got to look at the piece of art with your own eyes. That’s the important part. The picture is just gravy and isn’t necessary when it comes down to it. So, if you have a good idea for a picture of yourself but no method to do it, then just let it go and move on.
Sometimes you just have to forget sticking your face in every picture and just sit back and enjoy the scenery.
As for the other problem I have, going to the bathroom with my luggage, well, I’ve just learned how to use a squat toilet while keeping a 20 pound backpack on and hope that I can raise myself without support and don’t slip. So far so good. But if you figure out a good hack for dealing with asian squat toilets with all your luggage, please let me know.