We often get questions on our travel pictures on Facebook asking about the third person behind the camera. Who took this photo? Did you hire a photographer? Are you hiding something? To all these questions we have only one answer. We took those on our own (believe it or not). “On our own” doesn’t mean a selfie stick here. I kind of hate wide-angle selfies with distorted horizons and too much background with everything in focus. I mean a picture where you force the viewer into thinking that a third person was involved in taking it, adding a much deeper perspective compared to a selfie. So here we are sharing our tips on how to take couple pictures by yourself (without annoying anyone!)
If you’re a traveler couple, you must have often encountered the situation where you bump into a stunning landscape, want to take a picture of yourself against the gorgeous backdrop and left with no option other than to approach a stranger. Now if you use a DSLR, good luck with that picture mate. I’ve scared tens of tourist handing over the DSLR. People really get uncomfortable on seeing this clunky sophisticated piece of equipment. Some refuse straightway, the more affectionate ones accept and next comes the marathon task of explaining them the details of how to view, focus and click. All in all, it’s a mess and 9 out of 10 times the photo comes out far less than what you imagined.
Check out our St. Lucia post for an illustration on how to take couple pictures by yourself.
So, with our fair share of unfocused, clipped and jittery photos, we finally decided to take things into our own hands and reshape the destiny of our couple pics. With a little bit of trial and an additional 1.5 kilos to our luggage, the results we got were simply a world apart from our earlier pics. Precise framing, focus and details and most importantly not at anyone’s mercy. So, without any further ado lets discuss the top 5 hacks on how to take amazing couple pictures by yourself.
How to take couple pictures by yourself while traveling?
1. Use a Tripod
The first and the foremost requirement is a tripod which is stable enough to hold the DSLR and can easily slip into your luggage. I use an old Unimax tripod since the last 8 years, sturdy enough to hold my Nikon DSLR slapped to a 55-300mm telephoto lens. It weighs just 1.5kg hence never a hassle in traveling. I’ve intentionally mentioned a telephoto lens here because it makes the camera front heavy. If your tripod can balance a front heavy camera, it’s good to go. A tripod not only helps in stabilization but a dozen other things that can give you stunning results. Let’s discuss them below.
When you use a tripod, in just a few shots you’ll get the feeling that your framings are getting much better than the hand-held shots. The secret to this is the time you spend unknowingly while composing a picture. You just can’t run and gun with a tripod. You’ve to spend a minimum of 3-5 minutes before the click. And it’s a well-known fact that the more time you spend before the click, the better is the result. It just happens.
The most prominent and one of the first improvement you’d notice while using a tripod is a straight horizon. Handheld shots especially taken in a hurry tend to have bent horizons because of the camera not been properly leveled. We seldom notice this in-camera and scratch our head afterward while watching it on the computer screen. Not that it can’t be corrected in post-processing but realigning will always cut a chunk of the edges and mess with your composition.
You’ll see an instant improvement on your horizons while using a tripod. Because if the tripod is not leveled you can visually see it in the legs and the camera itself without even peeking through the viewfinder or live view screen.
3. Use live view
Almost all the DLSRs and point & shoots have live view. Use it to compose the shots. No need to peek through the viewfinder. Use the grid overlay on the screen and place your partner as per the rule of thirds whenever applicable. It’s surprising actually how 9 out of 10 times we miss this during a hand-held shot.
Live view also gives a holistic idea of the whole picture from corner to corner. Trust me, 90% of the time, you’ll see some unwanted object in the field of view when you spend some time composing through the live view. Sometimes you can just remove it if it’s a piece of garbage or something small. Or you can shift your position to mask it. If people are moving, wait patiently until they move out of the frame.
You always want the viewer’s eye to be focused on the subject. An unwanted object in the frame especially something bright will hamper this. Unknowingly the viewer’s eye would be drawn to the distraction, instantly killing the purpose.
4. Be in the picture
Now we are talking about couple pics here. So you can’t be left behind. Otherwise, the whole purpose of writing this post is lost. Heck, I’ve never left myself behind so I won’t let you too. The requirement here is to remotely control the camera. There’re 10s of apps for all the major camera models available for free on both Google Play (for Android) and App Store (for IOS). Just download one, sync it with the camera and you are good to go. Thank me later for saving some cost from buying a remote 😉 .
But my personal choice involves a bit of running. Sometimes the remote-control method doesn’t work perfectly. You compose the frame, focus on the subject and run to pose. Click and no response. This happened quite a lot with me. Either the focus point shifted and the camera was trying to refocus on the sky or the infra-red sensor simply didn’t respond. I found the former occurring most of the time. So, my go-to method is to compose the frame with the subject in the desired area, then set the camera timer to 10 seconds, click and dash to my predefined spot. Apart from the occasional composition misses, this technique has been a failsafe for me.
5. Always! Click in RAW
Actually, this should have been the first point in my list but somehow slipped to 5th with the flow . I’m myself guilty of this cardinal sin for 4 years straight only because of my laziness. I was too lazy to even attempt post processing hence defaulted to jpeg always. I never understood the amount of information I was losing until I forced myself once about 3 years back to click in raw. The results left me both impressed and depressed beyond my imagination. Depressed because of the profound realization of the sheer magnitude of the mistake I made all these years. Impressed because of the amount of information I could use now to liven up a seemingly dead image.
A pic in raw format has tons and tons of more information compared to a baked in format like jpeg. So much that you can pull out an amazing amount of details from dark shadows and bright highlights, where usually in a jpeg you’d see nothing. Quantitatively we are talking about 25MB vs 2MB for the same pic clicked in raw and jpeg. The memory size will vary depending on the resolution you choose. If you don’t believe it than have a look below.
In my opinion, half the war on how to take couple pictures by yourself is won if you simply switch to raw. Don’t worry about post-processing. Even a novice can learn the basics through any YouTube tutorial in half an hour. I use Adobe LightRoom for post. The first few steps are always – correcting white balance, adjusting the blacks and whites and removing the shadows. These three simple steps will change your picture from this
Bonus: If you’re still reading then apart from the 5 major tips on how to take couple pictures by yourself, let’s discuss some additional tips too
6. Reserve mornings and evenings for your tripod photography.
Lighting is one of the essential elements to create a perfect picture. Experts advise targeting the golden hour which is technically one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset for your best pics. During this time, the sunlight is slanted coming from the horizon, diffused all over the sky and has a soft tint to it. It’s the best time for some backlight photography, the ones with those magical light rims around the subject’s head.
But while traveling, to be practical, this is too less a time window to click anything. Moreover, after a late-night party, I won’t care about waking up before sunrise. It’s a vacation for god’s sake. So, I normally extend my time to around 3-4 hours after sunrise and 3-4 hours before sunset. It’s still better than taking pics at 12:00 noon when the sun is directly overhead and creates harsh shadows.
Now the natural question that pops up is what to do for the rest of the day. Well, spend some time with the family and keep scouting for locations to target during the golden hour.
Again, this won’t work if you are moving from point A to B to C and not returning to A before nightfall. So, in that case, there’s no option but to take pictures all round the day. Just click them in RAW format to salvage the best out of them later in post. You’ll be surprised at the results.
And don’t forget to use a variable ND filter which is basically a sunglass to the camera lens, reducing the intensity of light hitting the sensor. I intentionally mentioned variable here. A variable ND has two glasses fixed to a frame. It has a range of stops which means you can control the amount of light getting in by rotating one piece of glass over the other. A normal ND filter, however, has only one stop so you’ve to physically change the filter every time you want to go one stop more. That’s cumbersome and too many to carry while traveling.
You can buy some decent variable ND filters online. Don’t go for the very cheap ones as they can give a bad tint to the images. Somewhere around $30-100 should be fine. You can check the reviews for each on YouTube.
7. Lens selection
For the best portraits with an amazing bokeh, you definitely need primes like 35mm, 50mm. But this is practically not possible while traveling because of weight or space issues. The best is to go for a telephoto lens with a long range of focal length, something like a 55-300mm in addition to the kit lens. This has been my go-to combination for all these years until I shifted to Sony lately. But I still use my Nikon old horse.
You can buy a variable aperture 55-300mm for quite a decent price ($300-400), but if you opt for a fixed aperture the price will jump up many folds as well as the physical size of the lens. Faster a lens is, higher the price you pay. A fast lens has a big aperture that can take an enormous amount of light with very good low light performance. But variable aperture works fine too. I’ve been using a variable aperture 55-300mm Nikon DX for 8 years now as my go-to lens for my trips. Although recently I shifted to Sony simply because of weight issues. I’ll be writing a detailed post about it later.
8. Find a quiet spot
We have seen this so many times that it seems like a rule of thumb now. If you just walk 100 meters ahead of the crowd, most of the time you’ll come to a secluded corner from where you can take some fabulous uninterrupted photos. On a beach walk to the far end. In an island walk away from the jetty, as we did in Poda Island Krabi. Or just wait until the crowd disperses.
When hiking the Great Wall of China we rushed ahead of the crowd to reserve our empty spot. Although we had a friend then who helped us with the photos, the sole point here is to find that coveted spot.
Always walk ahead of the crowd to find that secret spot waiting for you. Trust me it’s there. You just need to find it.
We really hope the above tips helped you to click some amazing couple travel photos by yourself. Do share your experience in the comment section.
Happy clicking 🙂
Signing off for now…………………
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