HOW TO CAPTURE GREAT TRAVEL PHOTOS EVEN IF YOU ARE TRAVELLING ALONE
My Tips & Experiences Travelling Solo
I love to travel. I always have. I sort of live for it. Long haul adventures to faraway lands. City breaks to beautiful unexplored cities, or even return trips to my favourite ones. Chilled weeks lazing in the sunshine. Even Work trips away. I just love travel.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a ton of places, long haul and short haul. I cherish those adventures and every trip inspires me to plan more. In my eyes you can’t travel and see enough.
What’s funny though is only a small amount of my travels are captured and shared on my blog. Naturally I travelled an awful lot before I started my blog and so those adventures (some great ones too) have gone undocumented online and live solely in my memory and some authentic holiday snaps captured without any real purpose (you know the kind, definitely not shot with Instagram in mind). Some travels I simply haven’t shared because I’ve not had the ability to capture photos while I’ve been away … in fact many recent travels fall into this bracket (since I started my blog six years ago), especially within Europe and Scandinavia. Whether its trips with work, trips with girlfriends where I just haven’t taken a camera, or trips where I have but just haven’t found the moments to capture what I want. I always feel a little sad that I haven’t been able to share my travel stories and tips with you from all those countries I’ve explored but not documented throughout not just the last few years but really my whole life pre blogging! A couple of years ago I made a pact that I’d try and change that.
Recently Ive tried really hard and made a real effort to capture more of my trips, especially those with work when I may be on my own or have limited time to plan anything particularly photographic. For a while I thought a smaller camera with some good lenses (I use this & this) would make it easier to capture those moments and allow me to shoot a little more on the go. I invested in something smaller but that didn’t really make the change or encourage me to capture more – except these posts here, here & here. So I just went back to my beloved Canon and rather than shoot with my very hefty prime lens like I do normally, I popped back on my 50mm 1.4 … a lens that on reflection really is my favourite. And something about it’s weight and depth just made me fall in love. I’ve carried it everyday with me and shot anything and everything I can on the way.
It may have been the beautiful city of New York that urged me to change my ways most recently on my work trip, that and Denver which was a first for me. Despite travelling alone in NYC, I captured some of my favourite travel photos, enough for a worthy blog post, instagram and tons for the memory too.
Today I thought I’d share my tips for capturing photos when you’re travelling alone! I’ve learnt the hard way but found a few techniques and tricks that really help not only capture your travels when you don’t have a friend or colleague on hand to snap that perfect shot, but also help just inspire you to capture your adventures even if it is on a work trip or a busy weekend with pals when you can’t spend the whole trip obsessing about taking photos.
FIVE TIPS FOR CAPTURING GREAT TRAVEL SHOTS WHEN YOU ARE TRAVELLING ON YOUR OWN
ALWAYS CARRY YOUR CAMERA
Obvious right. For me as a blogger and travel photographer, this means carrying my canon or my smaller Fuji. Most trips when I’ve not captured content, it’s because I’ve not taken my camera with me … maybe it was luggage restrictions or the type of trip I was on (e.g. I never used to take my camera on Work trips or my many trips away to Norway with my girls). I regret that.
The canon is big and heavy so my Fuji is a much more light weight version which still takes incredible photos. I do have a mental barrier in that I just love what my canon creates so much that anything else I shoot with I think it’s not ‘worthy’ of sharing. Stupid as they’re probably just as good as each other. But what’s really important here is not what you are shooting with, if anything the more technical the camera the more tricky it may be to get good shots, what’s important is that you always have it with you! It’s better to have a good phone camera than nothing at all, and these days phone cameras are so incredible that in reality your phone, a good eye and Lightroom is really all you need to capture beautiful travel photos. I regret not using my phone more for trips I’ve been on when I haven’t been able to lug my camera around or subtly have it in my bag.
ASK FOR HELP
I know it sounds simple, but it really is true. If you want a photo and you’re on your own, simply ask passers buy, other tourists, staff or people working where you’re visiting. On my recent trip to New York every single photo taken of me, was taken by a total stranger who I simply asked to help me capture a moment. The story behind each photo is so vivid to me and if anything it makes each capture more enchanting and memorable.
Take these photos in this post. I saw the location and waited patiently for the perfect moment and to find a helper. I set my camera ready, adjusted everything just as I wanted it. I spotted a little girl of maybe 16 taking photos with her dad on a phone and when they finished I asked her dad if he would mind doing the same for me. The girl clearly seeing my camera and knowing the sort of thing I wanted offered up her skills, despite me setting the camera up on manual with an auto focus she took it one stop further and switched the lens to manual and took what are my favourite photos of my whole trip and in fact some of my favourite photos ever. I couldn’t be more fortunate or grateful.
Of course not every chance photographer did so well …
Picking the right helper certainly can make a difference. If you have a tricky camera finding someone who can speak your language really helps when explaining the settings. I’m so grateful for those that helped when they really had no idea what I was saying, but sadly the shots showed it. Ideally go for other people taking photos, firstly you know they know roughly what they’re doing and secondly they’re going to be more likely to be in the mood to take a shot and help you. For those people I always offered photos for them in exchange. If you’re lucky enough to be with a colleague then don’t be ashamed and simply ask for their help. In Denver my friend and colleague Anna helped with all my shots and I am so grateful for her enthusiasm and all the photos she captured of me.
Despite always giving very clear directions on how to take the shot and what I wanted, manually setting the camera up for every shot, sharing an example shot of composition I wanted, 9/10 photos came back out of focus. Some heart breaking chance moments missed on camera as a result of no focus or poor composition, people walking in front of your image etc. The perfectionist in me would have loved to say ‘again’ over and over until I got the exact shot but you learn not to push your luck and accept what you get. But all you need really is that 1/10 being a workable shot, or in some cases like this, pure perfection and just what I hoped for.
On the occasions where I really didn’t have anything to work with I hung around and asked a few others to help. OR … went back to my trusty self timer and balanced my camera somewhere for a chance good shot!
ALWAYS SET THE SHOT UP
If you shoot on manual like me, take test shots and ensure the light and aperture is ready to go for your new found photographer friend.
My camera proved to be 99% impossible for most people i asked, the low aperture and need to specifically focus on me and adjust the crop meant most people gave the camera back and when I scrolled through i just had to nod and smile and say thanks, whilst secretly i was dying inside that the perfect shot was entirely out of focus.
Shooting with a 1.4 on a professional camera set to manual did mean most photos were out of focus sadly (at NYC library I asked 6 different people over the course of an hour to try and help me get the shot, and they all came out unusable … sometimes you just have to give up)! On that basis if you’re less worried about depth of field you may be best giving your new photography helper the camera on auto or at least I higher F stop!
Or if you have a slightly more user friendly camera, it may be best to go for that. Let’s not forget the phone too, no one needs training to take a photo on that. In hind sight it might would have helped me a lot, especially in those moments where you don’t have time or space to pose (top of the rocks for example).
It’s always helpful to prepare the shot fully before asking someone to help. A test shot showing what you want and a clear and friendly request will make a difference. I always did a test shot and example first.
BEGGARS CAN’T BE CHOOSERS
Most my shots in NYC were either perfectly composed and 100% out of focus, or perfectly in focus but not the perfect crop. In reality you just have to learn to accept what you’ve got, for a perfectionist and photography obsessive like me this was hard but it really is the only way. Especially when you choose to use a DSLR.
Your phone really may be a far better travel photography companion than fancy kit if you’re travelling alone.
But whilst 99% of photos perhaps weren’t up to my usual standards, the 1% that were (probably nearer 10% to be fair), were perfect. And the reality is you don’t need 15 shots of you in front of a building, all you really need is one. And for all of those ‘one’ shots I am so eternally grateful to the wonderful people that helped me shoot them.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT
And finally, whilst us bloggers and instagrammers may be seeking the perfect stylised capture. The ultimate pose and perfectly composed backdrop. Sometimes it’s those slightly out of focus, slightly more natural and less planned shots that actually make the most beautiful visuals. You don’t always have to follow the trend, creating something unique and different if anything is better, and if anything more magical.
I’m so grateful to the family from Wimbledon who helped me so enthusiastically in Central Park and spent so much time getting me the perfect shot, to the little girl at the rockafella Center who took these photos and some of my favourite ever pics, to the Spanish girl and her boyfriend who also took some of me outside on the decks, not just once but twice, and the guy that saw the French girls struggling to use my camera so stepped in and did them for me. To the Italian girl travelling with family on the high line who captured me on my first day, the blogger who stopped her own shoot to take one of me at the flatiron, the staff who shot me eating brunch at Ruby’s, the ladies who just finished work and were rushing home who stopped to shoot me in Greenwich village and in Central Park. And of course all the tourists who I leant on at NYC library to try and capture a pic in the tricky midday sun. Thank you all. You didn’t only help me create content and capture a moment, you made the memory even more special by being part of it.
The moral of the story is just do it! Just ask. Take your camera on the off chance you’ll have time to shoot. Lean on people. Repay the gesture. It’ll be worth it.