Robert Schrader in Iceland

Why Your Travel Selfies Suck—and How to Fix Them

If you read yesterday’s Iceland post, you probably noticed all the photos had me in them. What you might not have realized is that these photos were selfies—yes, every single one of them, a fact that’s true for 99% of photos of me on this blog and my social media.

Indeed, one of the most frequent questions you all ask me is who takes my photos for me. In today’s post, I’ll not only explain how I manage to photograph myself in the same way I photograph external subjects—I’ll challenge the contemporary notion of what a “selfie” is and, as respectfully as possible, explain how you can make your travel selfies suck less.

(You can go ahead and dispose of your selfie stick now, if you’d like.)

The True Definition of “Selfie”

If you’d never heard the word “selfie” before Oxford selected it as the 2013 word of the year, then you probably have a very narrow—and, frankly, wrong—definition of what a selfie is.

Contrary to what celebrities (and many of my fellow travel bloggers) might have you thinking, a selfie is not a blurry, poorly composed picture you take of yourself with your smartphone’s front-facing camera, aided either by your arm or some third-party apparatus. A selfie is a self-portrait, however you choose to interpret that.

Now, I’m sure that some people in the world are perfectly content to portray themselves as duck-faced heathens who exist solely in the center of their device’s default frame, independent of any meaningful context. But I’m not one of them—and you shouldn’t be either.

How I Take Killer Travel Selfies

Instead, I approach a selfie just as I do any other travel photo: With precise attention to color, composition, depth of field and all the other elements that differentiate amazing pictures from shitty ones, the only difference my own presence in the frame.

Technically speaking, this requires three things: 1) A DSLR camera and its lens family (I currently travel with a 28-300mm telephoto zoom lens, a 50mm prime lens and a 16-28mm wide-angle lens); 2) A tripod; and 3) A remote. I occasionally use my camera’s self-timer function instead of the remote, i.e. if I’m taking a wide shot with infinite focus and don’t intend for myself to be sharper than my background.

Artistically speaking, it’s a bit more complex. I aspire to seem as candid as possible in my expression and pose, which seems a bit contradictory, not only to the general concept of self-portraiture, but again to the parameters most people ascribe to the contemporary selfie, which seem to necessitate forced and even stupid expressions.

Indeed, the idea is that my selfies will be of precisely the same quality as the photos I take of other subjects, if only so my blog’s photography will be consistent.

Travel Selfies Do’s and Don’ts

First thing’s first: Throw out your selfie stick. You will never take a selfie that doesn’t look completely stupid while using one, even if you attempt to hide the stick from the frame—even if you’re successful at it! Buy a tripod instead or, excepting that, wait until selfie drones go mainstream and entrust morons on the street to take pictures of you that aren’t completely horrible in the meantime.

Secondly—and this tip applies to travel photography in general—buy a real camera. Obviously, a DSLR or mirrorless camera is the best way to go, but even mid-range point-and-shoots produce better photos than top-of-the-line smartphones, megapixels notwithstanding. (Yes, I realize some people take amazing photos with smartphones but you, with all due respect, are almost certainly not one of them.)

Finally, as I echoed in the previous section, approach your travel selfies in the same way you would approach any other travel photo, be it a portrait of someone else, a landscape shot or any of the additional multitudes of travel shots you can take.  To extrapolate an idea one of my college writing professors told me—that nonfiction needs to transcend the idea that “this happened to me, therefore it is important”—your selfie needs to be awesome because it’s an awesome photo, full-stop, not because it’s a photo you took of yourself.

Some of My Favorite Travel Selfies

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About The Author

is the author of 731 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

CherilNClarke December 16, 2015 at 10:23 am

Great post. I always have my Nikon DSLR on me. I don’t, however, lug around a tripod because I do not like checking bags. Do you check bags to bring your gear or have you found the perfect tripod that will hold a heavy lens and not take up too much space in your carryon?

Michelle Christina December 16, 2015 at 10:24 am

So good! Thank you for this!

lemisstache December 17, 2015 at 1:44 am

Your photos are stunning, as always!

Miles of Happiness December 27, 2015 at 6:55 pm

Yep! Great work Rob!! I need to make more of these beautiful selfies 🙂

mjwatson February 7, 2016 at 11:10 pm

May i ask how you took the picture at the Inari shrine? Did you set your focus point to a specific tori gate then stand exactly parallel to it? What was your aperture? I have never been able to get my focus exactly correct in selfies (although I’ve only used the self timer, maybe the key to this whole process is the remote?). Thanks much!

Robert Schrader February 8, 2016 at 8:08 am

I actually just used a remote and AF. My aperture was f/1.8. It took me many, many tries to get it correct! But eventually it worked.

Travis Lamrock April 23, 2016 at 1:14 am

Thanks for the tips, Rob. Do you mind saying what kind / size tripod you use? I remember reading one of your posts where you said that you don’t check luggage. Cheers!

Robert Schrader May 2, 2016 at 6:59 am
Travis Lamrock May 3, 2016 at 1:00 am

Thank you, sir.

Maliha Talib May 11, 2016 at 10:40 pm

Absolutely agree with all your tips and suggestions! I prefer taking proper photos of myself wherever I am at versus the typical camera selfies we commonly see today. I was wondering how you make sure that you are in the shot and you’re standing at a good angle for the camera? I have a really nice tripod and DSLR, but it’s a real struggle to get myself in the shot.

Pete February 27, 2017 at 4:30 pm

I swung the Canon way for years. I had some good lenses for my 70D, but although it was an excellent camera: too heavy, too bulky.

I went mirrorless. At first to the Canon Eos M, which proved to be all but unusable, though not bad for landscapes. And then to the Olympus range, where although it felt like I’d died and gone to menu hell, the features, the flexibility, the lenses and the low-light performance made up for that.

I’m wondering how you’ve changed – or not – with trends in photography gear.

Obviously, you’ve got the skill and the eye. I dare say you’d do just fine with a phone camera, but the limitations of sensor size and a plastic lens the size of a mouse ball would become apparent all too easily.

Thanks for the lesson on selfies. Your photographs are inspirational.

Robert Schrader February 27, 2017 at 4:50 pm

I’d be interested to see some of your mirrorless shots. Most people I know who use a mirrorless and not former DSLR users, but just hobby photographers (and even random tourists) who seem to have found a deal—the results have not been pretty.

As far as trends, I don’t think I really keep up with them. My goal has always been to purchase gear that allows me to shoot what I see in the world. My perspective has maybe changed though.

Thanks for the kind comment!

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