a complete guide | how to get amazing solo travel photos
Amara Amaryah | travel + books + poetry, always poetry. a platform for story-telling, visuals, positive self-talk and empowerment | how to get amazing solo travel photos.
how is your heart? today (and always) the vibe is making the most of the autumn colours, hot tea and cold mornings, autumn evening playlist (thank you Yazmin Lacey, Joy Crookes, Joomanji, Mereba, Esperanza Spalding and co.) and of course, finding time for the things i love most. i mentioned in my post-lockdown lessons post that this is a time to reevaluate how you want to live life so i hope you're committing to that still. i hope you're finding joy in the small almost unnoticeable things, habits or practices you want to lean into or adjust. because you deserve it.
today i want to share some tips on how i get amazing travel photos while travelling solo. i've spent a lot of time this year going through my archives and experiencing my travels through pictures and i realised just how much i self-document even on solo trips. i think the best part is i remember how nervous i was to ask for my first pic on my first ever solo trip to budapest. and how shamelessly bold i have become now. so. today i am going to take you on a journey and share some of my best shots, some of my flops and some of my tips. vamos ...
i think the first thing to say is you are travelling solo. you are already a bad ass. you are already brave. so why are you fretting to ask someone to take a picture of you? why are you not posing the way you want? you are not shy-o. be bold or go home. to your accommodation and think about all the photo opportunities you missed. joking. it's not the end of the world if you don't get the shot, which is my second point …
a not so rare moment of me having fun with strangers who decided that the casual candid wasn't enough and that i needed to climb the ladder and get a proper pic. glad i did though, if only for the memory of this group of brunching aunties shouting over each other to direct a photograph i wasn't sure i even wanted. Cordoba, spain.
it is only a picture! it's really no big deal if you don't seize the photo opportunity. the number one lesson/sacrifice of solo travelling is accepting that sometimes you gotta sit this one out. i have had so many moments solo travelling where i have seen a vision of a shot i want, scanned the scene to see who i might ask and then decided against it. because sometimes, it's not about you. or the pic. or the gram. or anything. it is just about being there, experiencing this thing called life in a brave and new way. sometimes i shake the thought away and just enjoy the scene without taking away from that butterfly-in-stomach solo travel moment because of "content". sometimes, photographs can wait. just breathe it in.
and so … whenever the vibe is right and you want to self-document yourself, here are the ways that have worked best for me:
Self documentation methods:
Prop up and positon your phone
almost a year ago i travelled solo to jamaica and literally propped my phone up against rocks and trees in the jungle. this is a method if you don't have or cannot use a tripod in that moment. for instance, i was in Dunns river and couldn't set up my tripod and climb the falls with all that equipment. aside from that, i also don't own a tripod lol. investments will eventually be made but this method is simple and allows you to have full control over what your background is. a note, if you're filming near water then maybe bring a waterproof phone wallet - it saved me more times than i am willing to admit. there are some snippets below demonstrating how i get these solo jungle shots. check out the video on my Instagram reels here
which takes me to my next point...
i admit it, i absolutely prefer videojournals to photojournals. i feel like it captures me more and i am recently discovering my love for soundjournals. setting your phone up somewhere (reachable, safe and within your vision) and pressing record can allow for you to capture yourself in movement. you can use this method to 1) take screenshots from the video and 2) take sections from the video. the slow mo function is a nice touch and doesn't require much work but looks beautiful. also, i have only used this method in nature parks, beaches and places i have clear vision in (not a busy city area where anyone can just snatch up your phone). see my favourite and most successful example here.
for capturing photographs, this is another option you can use with or without a tripod. this is a nice simple method you can use, again in an isolated (but safe) location such as a beach, nature park, botanical gardens, jungle etc. iPhone users, i usually select AE grid lock to try and get more control over the lighting and quality of the picture. other options include tripods and drones which work really well if you're into tech a little more.
i've included this because there are a few angles i have discovered work well for me when i cannot get any nice pictures from people i have asked. nothing against selfies but i do usually avoid that angle for my platform (i'll send them to my mum though). once while in Budapest i had to hold the camera to the side of me with an onlooking view of the city (can you imagine). i definitely learnt a few things (beyond how far my independence will take me) and should probably share a few of my learnings:
- side profile angles work really well with an accompanying view
- crouched shots work well too if you're limited and placing your phone on the floor.
- always go in the direction of the sun if you want to be the star of the image lool but if you're going for a silhouette style /artsy image then pose with your back against the sun!
- colourful walls almost always do all the work for you.
Time of day/avoiding tourists
big advice right here. although i no longer have hang ups asking strangers for photos, sometimes i want to be very dramatic, possibly do the most in the streets a la scorpio moon and i sometimes don't want too much attention while doing so. because she introverted or whatever. so sometimes i opt for the path less travelled which means not always choosing the busy tourist attractions but the cobbled side street, the field that i stumble across or the quieter part of the beach. this also allows me to experiment with poses/angles and be a bit braver with my storytelling without too many people eyeballing me. i know some travellers who do want to get the shot in the main attractions so go really early in the morning when there aren't many crowds. of course be vigilant if you're travelling early or isolating yourself. don't leave yourself vulnerable for the sake of a photo. have fun but remember you're still in safe solo travel mode.
Help from strangers:
On choosing a photographer
if you're not too keen on self-timer pics or the other options then it's time to ask for help. there are some pictures that are going to have a better effect if they're a wider shot and not propped up against a tree on the floor. a note, i always pay attention to who i ask- tourists with cameras, people who aren't in a rush, other solo travellers, people who may find it more difficult to run off with my phone… think about all of these things when selecting. in my experience, it is always kinder and less painful asking people to take a picture on my phone rather than my DSLR, it is less intimidating. i also have found that asking tour guides etc to take my picture has worked in my favour. it naturally leads to more interesting conversation with someone who know the area. i have made friends and contacts from doing it this way and even took some pictures of them and sent them over through wetransfer/WhatsApp. win win.
lovely italian uncle who was happy to take my pictures during the tour to viñales in cuba
i asked a solo traveller in jamaica who was taking pictures all afternoon to take my picture
lovely tour guide (and fab historian) Jordion took this one on my camera, it's blurry but the effect is still nice plus all of the pictures and videos from turtle rivers came from him
Direct the shot
if you hand over your phone and ask a stranger for a picture without any direction at all… sorry for you. please do not complain though. if you don't direct you cannot expect. that was what i walked away saying to myself throughout most of my first solo trip to Budapest. the below pictures evidence this well well:
- a series of award winning attempts at making me never ask for a photograph again - Budapest, Hungary 2019. (this is not even all of them)
this was the most tragic of trips in regards to getting good solo pics. i do not wish to discuss the pain of having to say thank you after receiving these pictures. it taught me a good lesson though: direction! here are a few easy ways to to that:
- frame the shot. take an establishing shot and show the kind stranger exactly what kind of a shot you would like, even hold the phone in the correct place so that you get exactly that shot.
- choose a background that does most of the talking for you. A beautiful scenery can sometimes distract if the image doesn't bang the way you wanted it to.
- don't be ashamed to ask them to take it again! or to move to another location. obviously don't take too long but try to get a range of options.
- commit to your vision (read, be confident). during my trip to jamaica and cuba, i had a bank of travel portraits from instagram or pinterest which gave me goddess level inspiration and helped me confidently direct and pose.
i had a vision for this shot so i framed it for my lovely passing photographer in La Habana, Cuba.
Photographers in the area
this is a shout. it isn't something i have ever done before but i have seen it done well. if you know you're travelling to a city, do a quick search or call out on your social media platforms to ask for photographers in the area. i imagine this is a good way to ensure you get some good shots and also a potential travel guide. it means paying for the service but on the plus side you get the shot from someone who knows what they're doing.
not necessarily a top-tip but more of a practice: try your best to tip people within tourism who offer to take pictures of you. they don't have to do it and your tip goes a long way so if you can, try to pay up!
mahogany beach, JA. my camera didn't do the sky in these pics justice so gave them a little bit of magick. the photographer working on the beach didn't see my vision but i did. this literally is the feel of my JA trip. he zoomed in more than i usually like but he did a good job and took his time so a tip was more than deserved.
i guess my final point is, don't worry if you don't get the shots you want. you can always edit them afterwards! in jamaica i asked someone to take a few shots of me in dunns river and it didn't turn out too cute, but applying a few vsco filters really changed the game and gave it a vintage look. fyi having your phone in a waterproof wallet is smart but it may tarnish the quality of your pictures. don't let that stop you though, if i worked around it, you can too.
those are all of my tips. i hope this has helped you prepare for taking beautiful pics while solo travelling. i know it can seem daunting at first but going solo doesn't mean that you miss out on all the fun. in fact it is very important to me, as a black woman solo traveller, that i document my existence. i try my best to make my mark in this part of the internet by proving that black women go solo too and we do it so beautifully. i need images to help me on that narrative because other black women deserve to see it as possible. to motivate themselves and continue the cycle. thank you for reading what i write. comment and subscribe to the newsletter below.