The Tricks of a Solo Photographer: taking a great selfie.

Sometimes it’s not that difficult to get a photo of yourself.

Editor’s note: Since first publishing this post in 2011, a lot has changed in our cameras, our phones and our language. The term selfie was not heard of then. Now, in 2013, it has been declared the “word of the year” by the Oxford Dictionaries. While technology may have made taking a selfie easier the 8 steps listed below are still relevant.

Capturing the moment in photographs is as important to solo travelers as it is to anyone.

And while it’s fine that we’re not in most of the shots, it would be nice to have the occasional photo as evidence that we were actually there.

Everyone likes photos of themselves – including solo travelers.

The Hazards of Self-portrait Photography

But there are hazards to taking your own photo. With most cameras, you won’t be able to look through the viewfinder and take your photo at the same time. There’s a lot of guess-work involved – and a lot of room for errors such as:

  • A chopped off head.
  • The “Kilroy Was Here” effect (peaking up at the bottom).
  • The horrors of a double chin you didn’t know you have (and needn’t show).
  • Massive dark circles under your eyes caused by light from above.
  • Disappearing altogether because of a back light (a particular problem of mine with white hair).

The list goes on.

Woman at river

Here, I barely made it into this shot. (On my Blues Highway trip. I’m in Memphis.)

How to take your own photo OR How to take a selfie.

Fortunately, with a bit of practice, you can avoid these problems and take great self-portraits. To master the one handed, no viewfinder shot:

  1. Shoot yourself using the widest angle your camera offers. Zooming in leaves too little room for error.
  2. Extend your arm fully. Again, this gives you more room to get it right plus it will show where you are – the background will show.
  3. Hold your extended arm at the same angle whenever possible. Through hit and miss, you can discover the best angle to show your best side.
  4. Be aware of how you hold your head and be consistent with it as well (to avoid the double chin challenge.)
  5. Make sure that there are no smoke stacks or flower pots positioned behind your head (so that they don’t appear to be springing out of your head in the photo).
  6. Be aware of the location of the sun to avoid ghastly shadows under the eyes or the silhouette effect.
  7. Don’t be shy to send a big smile into the camera. So what if people around are looking at you oddly. You’re happy and your photos should reflect that.
  8. Delete all horrible pictures of you. I have no really bad ones to show because I’ve already deleted them.
woman in the desert

I’ve become better over time. (In Wadi Rum, Jordan)

Another option for the solo photographer

Only recently did I buy an iPhone and one of the big surprises was the ability to see myself as I take my own photograph. However, I think I will stick with my method with my camera for a number of reasons. It offers a wider angle making it easier to get more in the picture, the photo is larger and the quality is better and there’s no temptation to look at the screen rather than the lens. However, in a pinch the phone is a great solution.

There are tons more suggestions in the comments below. Check them out and leave your own.

Best Camera Bag I’ve Seen

I saw this camera bag on another travel blogger and love it!!! Check out the Lowepro Passport Sling Camera Bag. Fabulous for men and women – it looks just like an ordinary city purse but functions like a day pack and travel bag. Yes. Love it

  • Daniela

    Btw, I really like the “half-faced” shot …. Looks different, kinda artsy :)

  • Shelly Freitas Arnerich Morgan

    I love this camera bag, Janice and am purchasing it for my trip to Tuscany on this endorsement!

  • solotraveler

    First solo trips are always exciting. Have a great time!!!

  • Naina

    Hi Janice!

    I embark on my first solo trip on Sunday! A lot excited 😀

    These tips will be of great help, I am sure! Thank you and keep inspiring! :)

  • Irene Wyrsch

    love the last tip in your list: “delete all horrible pictures of you” :) I wish more people would adhere to that…

  • Omran Brkawi

    Yes Wadi Rum 1 of Jordan Majik

  • Janice Waugh

    It has to have a wide angle to fit you and the background in. Most phones will work as well.

  • allie

    i just bought one Janice

  • allie

    Shari, thanks for the info. I watched the video and was so impressed I just purchased one on line. I bought the pod that is also Magnetic so it can be stuck to refridgerator or signs . Also found a promo code I used and saved 6 dollars. Thanks again, excited to try it

  • Maddie

    Awesome! I purchased this in November:

    It helps with watching how I look.

  • ingrid

    what camra do u use cause i find it hard to get the cam far enough away from my face to get anything in it

  • Claire Taylor

    I swear, if my double chin doesn’t stop photobombing me I’m gonna start charging it rent.
    I have a cheap little pocket tripod thing that can be set up (IF there’s somewhere to set it up) but apart from that, my lens clearly isn’t wide enough to fit anything other than my head and my extra chins in it if I try an extended-arm-selfie. Can I ask, what kind of camera do you use? Is it a point and shoot or one of those fabulous but chunky DSLRs which would cost more than everything I own to buy?

  • Shari

    Gorillapod is a flexible tripod. I think it is one of the best inventions!

  • luis ferreira

    Sometimes, you get solo photos to remember for the rest of your life. This one shows the outskirts of Jerusalem…

  • luis

    extendo arm??????

  • luis ferreira


  • Shari

    I use a a gorillapod and self timer, it is fantastic! You can put it anywhere, I even put it on a lamp posts sometimes.

  • nelieta mishchenko

    Beautiful photo of you in the white scarf and thank you for the tips!

  • Em S

    Yes, it is wonderful! I bought one not too long ago! the XShot Pocket Extender. Collapses to 6 inches and extends out 31 inches. There is a longer one but it doesn’t collapse as short…I think it collapses to 8 inches? I bought the ANYCASE for my iphone to use as a tripod mount. What I like about it is that you can use it without taking your case off your iphone….unlike the glif.

  • Lucy Sunshine

    The same thing happened to me on a solo travel trip – I lost the memory stick with all my photos from Yosemite, Kings Canyon and the Grand Canyon. You can always find places of regular tourist places online, but I have my memories of the experience and I will never forget those. I am always happy to remember that ‘I was there’!

  • euromerp

    I travel solo all the time and recently bought an “extendo arm” it gives my arm an additional 18 inches of reach so I can fit more in the photo. I have a samsung TL205 which has a front view specifically for self-takes – even has a smile sensor and snaps the picture when you smile, if you don’t feel like setting up the timer.

  • moonstone

    my first trip travel solo to europe was dream come true, but with photo was a nighmare somethig happen with the picasa download all my photos are missing I dont know what to do photo from paris and Rome are gone.

  • Jenni

    I bought one of those bags (Lowepro) when I bought my new DSLR and I absolutely love it, so useful and easy.  It is amazing how much space it has and is very versatile.  You can also adjust the strap length which makes it soooo much easier for those little short ones of us.  I must admit I have few photos of myself and the majority are pictures I have either timed or had oter people take. 

  • Norma

    Grrrreat tips – thank you!!

  • waitressdotcom

    Gorillapods are the best!!!  You can also hold the end of the  tripod in your hand and it extends your camera for the hand held self portrait too!!!  FUN!!!

  • Julieperlman

    i need a new camera because my canon s 90 does not take good pictures in nighttime and zoom is not strong enough…I love canons..any suggestions

  • Letsgotravelcom

     What I always do is shoot back my own shoe…as you can see the photo in

  • Letsgotravelcom

    What I always do is shoot back my own shoe

  • Janice Waugh

    Great tip. Thanks!

  • Bikebloke

    For self-timer photos on a mini-tripod (or sitting on a rock), set the camera for a burst shot, so you don’t have to run back and forth trying to get a good pic.

  • subra mani

    Taking our photograph by our self is very interesting and thrilling , No need to depend on others to take our photographs. Since I am a solo traveler , it really helps.

  • Florine Foulon

    Same for me when I go for a solo trip (even if I don’t do these as often as you apparently!).
    Furthermore in this case, it’s harder to look natural while taking the pose and wait for the other to press the button!

  • Anita Mac

    Thank goodness for digital cameras – if we don’t like the picture, we can just redo it!  I have mastered the self portrait in my little point and shoot – not so successful with the DSLR – guess the longer lens still fools me.  Have to admit – I offer to take pictures for other people (solo travellers and pairs) all the time.  I hope good travel karma will come back to me, and when I really want that photo of me, I will be lucky to find someone to take it!  If i have taken a photo of them first, I usually set up the camera for how I would like the picture to look – hopefully then I will get a photo that I am after!

  • Ken

    My latest camera has an articulated screen that I can turn around and see myself in the frame. Before that, I’d set the camera up on a mini tripod and set the timer and burst mode Then I’d be likely to get at least one keeper. Back in my film days, I’d do the same but with one shot, hoping it would be OK.

  • Vacay Girl

    I too need to master some techniques. My last solo trip I befriended a local there and he took a pic of me. I was oh so grateful for it. Otherwise the only pic I would have had of myself would have been by the hands of a self-timered camera and me rushing to a chair to sit down and hope I positioned the camera properly to catch me. Lots of blurred outtakes. And all this was while I was on the balcony of the room I was staying in. Not my best moments on camera. But nevertheless it’s enough proof to prove I was there.

    I love that last pic you have posted. And I agree it’s a little intimidating to take photos of yourself with a big smile on your face. You don’t want to get the stink eye from passerbyers. I’ve got to woman up in that aspect and do it anyway.

  • Amanjeet K Chauhan

    Dilemmas of solo travelers everywhere! I’ve learned I really don’t like how the widest opening on a DSLR lens makes my face look – I’d rather just ask someone to take my pic unless there happens to be a nearby reflective surface – anything – to include myself in the pic :)

  • Nailah

    Thanks for the good advice. Still working on the self portrait…its particularly difficult for me because I travel with a DSLR. I usually just end up asking strangers to take my picture for me…I’m can be fairly shy so its a good way to force myself to begin talking with people when I travel alone.  

  • Gwendolyn

    Check out the Samsung MV800 camera, great for us solo travelers who want to be in the picture.

  • Kiwigram

    I think you have contributed a very good article.  I know a lot of people need this.  You really put it all together in the Wadi Rum picture, well done.

  • DoRa House

    Your photo with the white scarf is really beautiful. You look great at the enchanting background!

  • Janice Waugh

    Ya, like the castle in Edinburgh. My head and a castle, not easy.

  • Janice Waugh

    Now that’s funny.

  • Gerard ~ GQtrippin

    Classic tips. Keep your chins up!

  • Cailin

    Great tips Janice! I always take at least 5 shots until I get it just right and it is always harder when you are trying to fit that monument in behind you just right haha :)

  • Cheryl

    Thanks so much for the tips.  Solo pics are always a source of frustration for me – not anymore!

  • Alamin



    Thank you for your nice article on solo traveler blog. It will help me.




  • Robin Burks

    Oh, that dreaded double chin shot. I have my share of those (although many have been deleted). This is a great post, though. I’ve looked at the extension things that you can use on your camera for self photos, but I think I would feel like a dork using something like that (as if I don’t feel dorky enough trying to take my own photo, right? LOL).

  • London 78

    Great advices! I admit it is hard to take good photos when you travel solo but I will try some of your tips and I hope I can do better! But having long arms really helps 😀

  • Leslie

    I find its always best to ask someone who looks tech-savvy to take a photo of me (i.e., they are using a photo at the moment). Fortunately, I have long arms and a Canon G11 with a display that swings around for easy self-portraits :)

  • guest

    Buy an Xshot!

  • gardenbre

    deleting the really bad photos – what a concept – love it!  … off I go to put it on ‘to do’ list … 

  • Kelly

    I have a pic exactly like yours in the elevator! I love my solo portraits! 
    Like you said, it’s great we have digital cameras so we can delete the bad ones right away. No one else has to know :)

  • Janice Waugh

    Yes, I sometimes have to remember to take pics of myself but they are nice to have.

  • Janice Waugh

    I hadn’t thought of that issue. Good solution.

  • Janice Waugh

    I’d never heard of the Xshot. I’ll look it up. Thanks!

  • Janice Waugh

    Yes, it has its merits.

  • Janice Waugh

    The Gorillapod is a good Idea. I think I’ll add it tothe post so people can see what it looks like. Thanks!

  • Janice Waugh

    Ya, the double chin thing haunts me as well. :)

  • Jodi Henderson

    I LOVE self-portraits. My favorite thing about them is that they’re often imperfect. The angle is slightly off here or you are chopped off there. I guess I feel like they have more character than a posed photo.

    The double chin thing is so funny. I took a pic of myself with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop and got nothing but this enormous double chin! I took shot after shot and could never get the angle right. Ah well. :-)

  • Helder Jean

    Hi, Janice. Since this is my first comment here, let me tell you that I find blog amazing! I’m a solo traveler myself (and onebagger :D).

    Regarding photos, there’s an accessory that I find VERY useful: it’s called Gorillapod. I have the small model for my camera, but they have many different kinds (one of them also fits cellphones). I always bring mine in my trips!

  • Tiffany N

    Great tips–thanks for putting this out there! I’ve always been anti iPhone (since I’m pretty sure I would become addicted) but the feature of being able to see yourself is pretty nice, along with instagram and the quality of pics.

  • Amanda Williams

    Have you ever heard of the Xshot? It’s a camera extended that makes taking photos of yourself a breeze! It collapses to fit into a purse, but extends to like 4 feet or something. You just attach your camera to the end, and you’re good to go!

    Of course, the other option is to just find someone friendly-looking and ask them to snap a photo of you.  :)

  • Melissa Hogan

    I’ve used my iPhone4 to take a few self-portraits now while traveling. One issue I’ve found is that people always think you’re using the other camera and duck out of your way or think you’re photographing them or something. I’ve taken to covering the other side of the camera. This way strangers will just think I’m an idiot for covering the lens rather than a creepy crowd photographer. 😛

  • Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    Wonderful tips!  I always get complaints about not having any photos of myself in my blog posts.  I’ll have to give these a shot.

  • Abhijit Gupta

    A very very useful post for solo travellers! 😀
    Definitely a topic that needs to be addressed more often!