How to Take The Best Travel Selfies & Photos

Let’s not beat around the bush here. You want to have the best selfies on Intagram when you’re traveling to the beautiful sandy beautiful beaches of Cabo, snowboarding in some pow pow up in the Rockies, or up north chillin’ on the boat at the lake house. To be honest, you want to have the best snapshots to show off to the world all the time. No shame. It’s the world we live in. Here’s some tips to capture your once-in-a-lifetime memories (er, show off of your tan). 

Walking on sunshine.

And you should also stick your face in it for a better photo. Shade is the enemy here. Wherever the sun is, direct your whole body so that’s it’s facing the sun, and then have the person stand in front of you, with their back to the sun, to capture the shot.

When you ignore the sun’s positioning: 

Ignoring the sun when taking photos

When you know how to use it to your advantage:

La Union Philippines

Best time for photos.

So you don’t have to worry as much about the sun’s location, the best times for taking photos are at what they call “golden hour”, which is right at sunset or at sunrise (but usually people aren’t up that early). The light is diffused during these times, so there are less shadows.

Sun is rising in Varanasi

When to go low and when to go high.

One of the best times you want to angle the camera upward and move it closer to the ground is when you’re taking a photo where you are jumping up in the air — like everyone does as soon as they see an ocean for the first time. Other photo opps for this: snowboarding. When you hit a jump (even if it’s little), have your friend crouch down and angle the camera up towards you so you can gain an extra few feet of air. Trampoline photos, are another option. But, maybe I’m the only one that would want to take those …

When to go low (pointing the camera in a downward direction)? There’s not that many occasions, as these kinds of photos usually run the risk of turning out like bad MySpace photos. There are a few cases, like shots with staircases.

Pointing the camera at face-level:

La Union, Philippines

Pointing the camera upward from knee-level:

La Union Philipinnes

When to go low (get get get low when the whistle blow):

Delhi, India

Asking people to take your photo. 

This one might be the hardest tip of all. I’m not normally shy, but I don’t know, there’s always that feeling of not wanting to bother someone. After living in Costa Rica alone for a few months, it was something I just had to get over. The truth is, you’re never going to see any of those people you ask to take a photo again, and if you’re at a popular travel destination, chances are, they’ll probably give you their camera so that you can return the favor.

Just ask someone that looks friendly. Look for a millennial, they won’t judge your photo-centric addiction. And use a little common sense with the people you do ask, as there’s always that one traveler you meet that tells you the story how they asked someone to take their photo with their camera, and they took off with it.

My secret for when I don’t have anyone to ask for help when taking a photo.

I don’t usually write about my travel gear, but I was using this device a few years ago, way before I started traveling. It’s called a PopSocket, and if you’ve met me in person, you already know how obsessed I am with mine, because I’ve shown you a live demo of all the things it can do. Anyway, here are all the ways it’s helped me take the best travel photos:

1. Taking selfies in front of famous buildings.

If you’ve ever tried taking a selfie in front of anything, you know how hard it can be to use your thumb to press the button on the screen while also holding your phone so it doesn’t shake or drop. Since this acts as a handle for your phone, you can free up your thumb to press the capture button with ease and have more security when taking the photo.

Kaitlyn Schlicht with PopSocket

2. When you need a kickstand to rest your phone. 

If you’ve ever tried taking a selfie so that it doesn’t look like a selfie, you know you need to rest your phone against something so you can use your TimerApp (I’ll get to the best apps and editing programs in another post). We all do this to make the photo look like it was taken more naturally, without a huge arm or stupid selfie stick in every photo — which, by the way, I still am refusing to buy because I think they look dumb, but who knows, maybe I’ll end up getting one one day.

My PopSocket literally allows me to rest my phone anywhere I want to place it, without having to search for a book / rock / other foreign object to set it up against. In the photo I was taking below, there obviously wasn’t room for me to set anything behind the phone to prop it up anyway.

Taking a photo with PopSocket

5. Works well for other devices.

I also use a PopSocket on my GoPro and iPad, so I can use stand these up, or just so my buttery hands won’t drop them.

PopSocket on GoPro

4. Bonus: Excellent for navigating when riding on the the back of the scooter. 

Someone has to drive the scooter, and someone has to navigate in the back. You know this if you’ve traveled in scooter-popular places. I’m the one happily tasked with the latter. I trust the PopSocket handle so that when I uncollapse it (by the way it folds in and out so that your phone loses the bulk when you don’t want to use it), and use it while cruising at 50 mph down windy dark roads in Turkey without any streetlights and a broken headlight, I won’t drop my phone.

If you are interested in for improving your selfie game, or need an extra handle so you don’t drop your shit, use this link so I can make a little bit of mula, and you can get $2 off: PopSockets. Did I mention they’re customizable?! 

When to use a fisheye lens or a GoPro:

Archways are good to shoot with a fish eye. When you are in a tight space. If you are inside somewhere and you’re trying to get a lot of things in frame. If you’re standing next to a super tall building like the Eiffel Tower and want to fit it into the frame.

Or, use one if you just want a cool looking shot with a different perspective.

Probably goes without saying, but GoPros are good to use obviously any time you need to capture the shot and don’t want to worry about breaking a very expensive gadget at the same time. Surfing, mountain biking, kayaking, digital nomading …

Digital Nomading

Instead of using the zoom lens, physically move your camera closer.

For most cameras, the zoom lens can make the resulting photos turn out blurry, and it’s a bummer to go through those photos at the end of the trip.

Learn to get comfortable in your amateur photographer skin by getting all up and personal with different objects and people, and just smile and laugh with the people nearby if they make fun of you. You can’t be afraid to look a little silly, it’s always worth getting the shot.

Photo from Varanasi - VIRTVE

On that note, don’t be afraid to get weird with your camera. 

Okay okay, get your mind out of the gutter. But for real, move around, place your camera in weird spots, and experiment. Here’s a shot I took when I put the camera right next to side of the boat when we were in the backwaters of Alleypay in India. Don’t be stiff with your cam.

Backwaters of Alleypay

Take everything that’s in the frame into consideration.

When I first started taking travel photos, I wanted EVERYTHING in the photo, but then when I would review my photos, it looked like I was just aimlessly clicking away at whatever was in front of me (which I was). Frame up the shot nicely, and put some thought into it. As much as you might want to capture literally everything because you’re adrenaline rush is on full from traveling, you’re not the Google Maps car.

Squid on Khao San Road in Bangkok

Look for patterns and symmetry.

In nature. In buildings. In boats (like the example below). You are not going to end up hanging up the photo you took of the Eiffel Tower with a bunch of tourists in it. These are the kinds of photos you hang up and you keep.

Boats in Varanasi India Photo: VIRTVE

Don’t shoot everything in the middle, face on.

Try different angles with subjects. If you are taking a photo of a friend at the beach, instead of lining them up right in the middle of the shot, try to move the camera to the left or the right of them so that the shot captures the person within environment.

Varanasi, India - VIRTVE

Make sure your subject looks cute.

If taking a photo of a friend, or having a friend take your photo, it doesn’t take long to check that his or her hair is out of the face, there’s no spinach in their teeth, etc. You know, head, shoulders, knees, and toes kind of thing.

Colton Chorpenning in Italy

Rules of 3s.

There’s a lot of different rules of 3s when it comes to shooting photos. Some of them I like, some of them I don’t. My favorite one that I’ve heard is to have 3 nouns in the photo. A person, place, and thing for example.

Taking a photo of someone’s house doesn’t really mean anything. But if you add local person in the photo with a true expression, around laundry that’s hung up. Well, now there’s meaning.

Man in Varanasi, India

Lastly, play with your photo “style”!

Unless you are a wedding photographer, you don’t have to stick to just one style of photos. With the photos I take, my writing, and my editing, my mood shines through. Sometimes I feel vibrant and playful, and other times more solemn and serious. Just mess around and experiment with your photos.

I’m not a professional photographer by any means, and am always looking for more tips to improve. If you have any tips, spread the knowledge for me and fellow travelers in the comments section.