HOW TO TAKE STUNNING SOLO TRAVEL PHOTOS USING A TRIPOD
+ MY TRIPOD RECOMMENDATIONS
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Imagine, you're standing over a valley at sunrise, the light is beginning to sparkle gold and pink and your bed hair is gently being blown by the wind, it's the perfect photo opportunity. You look around... you're alone. Standing your phone/camera up against a rock simply won't do and a selfie doesn't feel entirely appropriate for this perfect moment. It is an absolute pain and annoyance of solo travel.
For me, taking photos is such a big part of my trips, I couldn't imagine not taking the time to capture a moment through my lens, especially when it feels like a 'once in a lifetime' event. Starting out my solo travel journey I travelled with nothing more than a backpack and a small Olympus camera, asking strangers to snap a quick photo of me whenever I had an opportunity to do so, this is how some of them turned out...
Although these photos aren't too bad, I can see little to no benefit of asking a stranger to take your photo. From not knowing your angles, not knowing how to work your camera/phone, the underlying pressure to only take a couple of photos because you don't want them to be standing there for ages and even the fear that they will just snatch your gear and run away, all of it just makes asking for a photo seem too much of a hassle.
After years of travelling by myself I have become very comfortable with my best travel partner... my tripod. Although they can be pricey and a bit bulky, investing in good quality camera gear was vital for me to elevate my photos to the next level. I can take my time at each location without feeling like I'm inconveniencing anyone, I usually take between 100 - 300+ photos in one location, so I couldn't imagine asking someone to stand there for that long! I love the flexibility and freedom of not relying on anyone else when taking photos and this post will focus on which tripod to pick and how to properly utilise it so you can snap the best photos, even if you're by yourself!
(Although I have added an extra bit at the end for if you have to ask people)
CHOOSING THE RIGHT TRIPOD
THE COMPACT ACTION TRIPOD AT MINIMUM HEIGHT
THE COMPACT ACTION ATTACHED TO MY CAMERA BAG IN SWEDEN
For a full rundown of all my camera gear I take on my trips, you can find my camera equipment blog post here, as for this section we will be focusing on my tripod, the real star of the show. I first invested in a tripod back in 2018, after being sick of asking strangers to take my pictures and deciding to pursue photography a little more seriously. My first tripod was the Manfrotto Compact Action tripod. I really didn't have any idea of where to start when it came to finding a good tripod that would suit me, so I read dozens of blogs to find what would work best for travellers, something that wasn't too big and bulky and wouldn't take up a tonne of room in my bag. Manfrotto came up nearly every single time as the stand out brand to pick.
MANFROTTO COMPACT ACTION TRIPOD
I have been using the same tripod, the Manfrotto Compact Action, since I bought it over 2 and a half years ago, and I couldn't be more in love with it. Even after using it continuously and if I'm honest, not taking the best care of it, it works perfectly. The build is light, durable and easy to use, all the things I was on the hunt for when it came to a travel tripod. The Manfrotto website sells this tripod for £69.95, but you can buy it on Amazon for £54 here.
Material - Aluminum
Minimum height - 44cm
Maximum height - 155cm
Weight - 1.2kg
My camera bag, which you can check out here, has an external pocket where you can slide the tripod into and clip it so secure it, this makes for easy access whenever I need it. The joystick handle makes it easy to use, and particularly easy to flip the camera into portrait, which is how I shoot all my photos. It's light enough for me to easily carry it around without feeling weighed down and one of the most important things for me was that is was tall enough, seeing as I'm 5'10, which it is! It comes up to around my mouth, which is perfect when I'm trying to get more 'eye level' photos and when I'm standing close to the camera.
There are only two main downsides to this tripod. Firstly, is seeing as I've had the tripod for a fairly long time, and have had it in a number of weather conditions (including rain and snow), the legs have started getting a little stiff and squeaky. It not a big deal for me and it can easily be fixed, I would imagine this happens with most tripods after time. The second downside is because it's so light, it doesn't bode well in super windy situations. I've only had 1 or 2 incidences where the tripod has nearly blown over but the conditions were unusually 'gale force'.
Overall the downsides don't particularly bother me and the Compact Action tripod is still my holy grail for my trips. I would recommend this to someone who wants to become more serious with photography and needs an entry level tripod that isn't too pricey. This tripod is a must for me and I can't imagine going on a trip without it anymore!
MANFROTTO COMPACT LIGHT SMART PHONE TRIPOD
The second option is a relatively newer addition into my collection and is a great choice for people who shoot on their phones, the Manfrotto Compact Light Smart Phone Tripod (bit of a mouth full). Built very similarly to the compact action tripod, it comes with a ball head for easy adjustment between landscape and portrait photos and a phone clamp to secure your phone into. I don't use this one too much, mainly just for Instagram stories so I can talk with both hands, but it's small, light and very easy to travel with, a perfect option for someone starting out. You can purchase one of these off Amazon for £52.
Material - Aluminum
Minimum height - 39cm
Maximum height - 131cm
Weight - 0.84kg
I would say the only downside for me is that the maximum height is quite short for my liking, however I am very much above average height so the odds of finding a tripod that goes up to my eye level and doesn't weigh a tonne is very slim. Although this tripod isn't the tallest, it's still a great option and is very functional for people who don't want it to take up copious amounts of room in their backpack/bag.
An alternative option, for those who either want the extra height of the Compact Action tripod, but solely use a phone, or if you're a person who uses both a camera and a phone, is to buy this combo here, it's the Compact Action tripod (my holy grail), with a smart phone extension that you can easily screw into the top and attach your phone onto. This combo costs £68.95 from Amazon and would be perfect for people who want the best of both worlds!
3K JOBY GORILLA POD
3K JOBY GORILLA POD
The last option is a gorilla pod, perfect for the people who don't want to take up too much space in their bag and who don't want to lug around a full size tripod. Unlike the other two options a gorilla pod is built with flexible rubber covered aluminium legs, meaning you can attach it to almost anything from a tree branch to a street light. These became super popular with vloggers and videographers, who use gorilla pods to keep their camera steady as they walk and film. It doesn't extend, instead it's a small, compact option that can easily fit in your day bag for when you're wandering around. This 3K Gorillapod can be purchased off Amazon for £59.95.
For me, my Gorilla Pod is definitely used more for videoing rather than photos, however thats not to say you can't utilise it just as well as either of the other tripods that I've mentioned. The incredibly small size and light build make it perfect for people who want something a little less intimidating than a full blown tripod and it would be a useful investment for people who want a starting point in the tripod realm.
Material - Aluminum, ABS plastic, steel
Dimensions - 6cm x 6.5cm x 7cm
Weight - 0.114kg
Obviously the large downside to this is that you do need some form of post, pole, ledge, etc that you can wrap the legs around for you to be able to get photos from eye height, otherwise you'll have to stand the Gorilla Pod on the ground. I personally don't think this is too much for an obstacle, but I can see how it could get awkward/annoying at certain points in time.
HOW TO USE A TRIPOD AND CAMERA
So it's all well and good having a tripod, but if you don't know how to use it there really isn't much point having one. Each camera/phone is different and there will be a variety of different methods you can use to achieve your desired photos that you are hoping for. I personally prefer using a timer for my photos, this is because I like checking the composition of the photo and where I'm standing frequently, however I have used both other options previously.
For more information on my camera and other equipment you can read about it here.
The three most popular options for taking your own photos are:
A wireless remote can bluetooth connect to a little device that you add on to the top of your camera, so you can remotely click a button and the shutter will go off. This is good for quick, continuous photos, however sometimes you can be caught out with spotting the remote in your hand, so you have to be careful. It's also important to check the composition periodically, too, to make sure that you're standing in the best place! Each major brand will offer a remote that you can purchase separately through their site directly or from Amazon, just make sure it's compatible with your camera model!
The majority of model cameras will have some form of built in timer in the settings. This can either be a continuous stream of photos until you manually shut it off, or it will be a timed number that will automatically shut off after a certain period of time (my camera shoots either every 05 seconds/one second in rounds of 10.
Most big named camera companies now have their own smartphone apps which allow you to do camera adjustments straight from your phone as well as a live view of what you can see through the camera lens. You can change much anything from the ISO, shutter speed, aperture (I talk more about all of this in my Travel Photography ebook) and of course, taking your photos.
Most of these apps have a timer setting so you can set the timer and find a place to hide your phone, whether that's behind your back, in your pocket or just out of the frame of the photo. Personally I think this is the best option for beginners to either photography or using a tripod as it gives you an easy way to change and adjust either where the tripod is standing or where you are standing, so you can get the best photos.
SETTING UP YOUR TRIPOD PROPERLY AND CREATING A 'SCENE'
The majority of this comes down to practice, and I have had my fair share of disastrous shoots with unusable photos. There are some basic rules of photography that you should get familiar with so you can make the most out of your tripod and camera and create some stunning photos (again, this is all included in my Travel Photography ebook).
I think of each photo as a piece of art, or rather a perfected moment in time. So for me it's important that the scene feels natural and the viewer of the photo can almost imagine themselves there. The 'feel' of your photo will come down to your personal aesthetic and style of photography, again, this will be something that you determine/find as you get more confident with photos. Here are some things you should look out for when you're setting up your tripod while taking travel photos:
POSITIONING YOURSELF CORRECTLY
One of the most important things to remember when you're composing a photo, make sure your body isn't blocking any of the 'featured' background you want to include. This could be anything from the pattern on the wall to having part of the background 'sticking out' the top of your head, this just looks silly and unprofessional. Try and aline the tripod so there is some sort of space where you can stand without blocking your subject matter. Below is an example of what not to do when taking your photos:
WHAT NOT TO DO
COMPOSITION IS MUCH BETTER, YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE THE BACKGROUND
KEEPING THINGS IN PROPORTION
You want everything to look proportional in the photos, which means there should be a clear definition between the foreground (you) and background (whatever you are standing in front of). You want to give the image a feeling of perspective, as if someone is there with you, so if you stand too close to the background to the point there is no definitive difference between you and whats behind you, your image will look distorted.
As a budding travel blogger obviously background is important. Make sure there is one/a few main aspects that you want to predominately feature in your image and centre your tripod around that. I like to remind myself that I am an addition to the photo so I need to figure out a way I can incorporate myself into the photo that looks effortless and natural, I find this really helps 'set the scene' of my image and I can really find angles that work.
One big thing to look out for when setting up your tripod is making sure there are no shadows being projected into the frame! If there is you'll either have to move the tripod or edit the shadow out post production (Photoshop and Lightroom are both great options for this).
TRIPOD SHADOW EDITED OUT WITH LIGHTROOM
ASKING A FRIEND TO TAKE YOUR PHOTOS
Say you didn't have time to buy a tripod or you're at a location where it just isn't viable to whip one out (in the water, a museum, etc), this is when asking a friend comes in. As a solo traveller this can be kind of tricky as I need to find someone from the hostel to come with me to this location. Generally if I know I'm going to a place like this I like to preplan a little and warn them that I will want some photos; I also like to make a day out of it so it can still be lighthearted and fun! Whether it's just one person or a little group asking for a photo is perfectly fine, but I would recommend you making it very clear about what you want in the photo, even guiding their hands to the exact place you want the camera to be held.
When asking a friend there are a few things to talk to them about before handing over your camera or phone:
Angles are a big game changer in photography, everyone knows this. It can quickly change the whole feel of your photo, and there is absolutely nothing worse than having your head covering half of the monument behind you or making your head look massive compared to the rest of your body. Be very clear and specific of where you want the person to hold your phone/camera, you can even guide their hands and tell them to hold right there.
MORE IS MORE
In this case, more is more. My pet hate is when you hand someone your phone and they take a singular photo before giving it back, because it's never a good picture, EVER. There's no harm in asking them to take a lot, and make sure to be moving around a little bit so you have some options!
Some people have no idea about foreground, background, rule of thirds, etc, so make sure you clarify what you want/don't want in the background, whether it's mountains, a painting, cute archway, it's up to the photographer to frame you up nicely within the photo! Also make sure there is no bins, clutter or just anything that doesn't look nice lingering in the background, if there is you will either have to move it or move the camera so it's out of frame.
THE RIGHT SETTINGS
One thing I make sure to do when handing over my camera is having everything on the right settings, because as someone who doesn't use a camera or someone who has a different brand of camera, you'd be pretty clueless to change the settings by your own accord. This can easily mean, overexposed, underexposed, out of focus, grainy and so on. I like to stand where the person will be standing and make sure everything is looking good before asking them to take the photos (this also applies to phones, just make sure everything is how you like it!).
In all honesty the best way to take stunning photos is to have confidence. It can feel awkward and weird at first, especially with people watching you, but the fear will slowly fade over time and you will create some real magic through the lens! If you've been contemplating investing in a tripod, this is your chance to do it and start elevating your travel photography to the next level!
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