Here are tips anyone can learn to take better self-portrait photos. This article is especially useful to solo travelers.

Like a lot of people, I enjoy seeing myself in my travel photos. One day when I’m old and forgetful, it would be nice to sort through photos of how I lived my life when I was younger.

After posting my 2012 year-end photo series, some readers asked how I managed to take those photos during mostly solo travels. I thought it would be a good idea for a new blog post about tips on taking better self-portrait photos.

My self-portrait photo souvenir at the underground mosque in Taman Sari, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Rule of thirds

The rule of thirds applies to self-portraits as well. Taking yourself off the center of the photo results in an interesting composition that will reveal more about your destination.

Try to mentally divide the scene into three parts and position yourself in one section. Turn on the ‘grid lines’ feature on your camera to help you compose the photo.

I was lucky to have traveled to Tacloban, Leyte with friends who know how to work angles. If I traveled on my own, I would’ve needed a tripod to take this shot. San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the Philippines.

Also keep an eye out for vertical rule of thirds, not just the horizontal ones. Maha Bodhi Temple, Bagan, Myanmar.

…or you could let the scene fully engulf you. It’s more fun to break the rules! Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand

I try to explore as much of the area to find good angles. Set-up the tripod. Take a test shot with me in the photo. Then, figure out where to position myself.

It’s difficult to know where to position yourself on the photo, especially if you can’t flip the LCD screen or if the camera is too far. I try to mentally mark objects that are easy to spot like a slab of concrete (2nd photo) or middle part of the pediment (3rd photo) so I know where to stand/sit.

Find the Light

An excellent posing tip from ANTM: Make sure that the light source, like the sun, is shining on your face.

If you’re under a shade or shooting against the light, consider filling in light by turning on the camera flash to even out shadows on your face. Remember not to set the flash too high resulting in overexposed photos.

If you can’t set the flash power manually, try putting a tissue or thin paper over it.

The sunset was already start to set, creating shadows on the hill. I had to find a clear spot where I could take advantage of the golden sunlight. Sambawan Island, Biliran, Philippines.

It’s not all about being in the limelight. Shadows can also create darker mystifying moods. Bagan, Myanmar
If you can, always shoot in RAW format when taking self-portraits. It’s how I get to even out harsh shadows on my photos. If the lighting is horrible and I shot in JPEG, the final picture wouldn’t be as good.

Know your angles

Handheld self-portraits oftentimes capture your most unflattering angles. Fully stretching your arm, leaning to the side, and pushing your head back will turn you into a  no-neck-quadruple-chin monster.

Instead of fully stretching your arm, take it back a little. Then, move your chest and face a little towards the camera. You can push your head back a little but also remember to push your shoulders downwards and your chin upwards. This will reveal your neck and get rid of necessary chins.

Try practicing taking self-portraits in front of the mirror to discover your best angle. You can see the live view on the reflection if your camera doesn’t have a vari-angle LCD.

I discovered my best angle is facing a little to right, showing more of the left side of my face.

This was a handheld shot using a DSLR with an ultra wide angle lens. Holding a heavy DSLR in one hand captured an awkward strain on my right deltoid muscles. You won’t see it in the photo because it was cropped out. Train ride from Mandalay to Hsipaw, Myanmar.

Ultra wide lenses on SLRs are definitely an advantage when taking self-portrait photos. Be mindful with the lens distortion, if you’re using them.

For compact camera users, an arm extender like a mini extendable monopod is very handy. It’s small and light, easy to stash in my daypack.

Below my left shoulder, you can see the shadow of my compact camera that was mounted on an extendable monopod. Helicopter Island, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Plan the shot

Planning is very important if you want to take travel photos that are different from those taken by thousands of people that visit the same destinations.

Try to know the best time of day/month to do your shoot by looking at pictures online and asking the photographer or guessing when the shot was taken. Lighting isn’t always the only consideration. The fewer the people crowding these tourist spots, the better.

On most hours of the day Ta Prohm temple was filled with tourists trying to capture their own Tomb Raider moment. I decided to go there during the late afternoon, the time when 99% of tourists are off taking sunset shots at Phnom Bakheng or Angkor Wat. I didn’t have to deal with random people joining my shot every 3 seconds. Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I bring my tripod with me as much as I can so I don’t miss an awesome photo opportunity. I would not have taken many of my best self-portraits, if I left my tripod at home or at the hostel.

Wireless Trigger

Other than the tripod, a remote control shutter trigger is the most useful camera accessory that I have. I can set-up my tripod, pose in front of the camera, click the remote, and conveniently capture myself in the photo. I set a two second delay so I’d have a little time to pose.

The advantage of having a remote shutter compared to using the timer is that you won’t need to walk to the camera every time you want to take a shot.

If you must use the timer, sometimes I still do when my camera is set up too far, set the camera to take multiple (burst) shots. You’d have different poses to choose from.

If I used a flash with the timer on my DSLR, the burst shot mode gets automatically disabled. What I do is use the “time-lapse” feature instead. I only discovered this feature after extensively exploring the camera settings. Goes to show how useful it is to know what you can do with your camera.

I set-up my tripod and camera on a dry surface a couple of meters away from the waterfall. It would’ve taken me ages to get a usable shot if I had used the timer because it already took me 30 seconds to walk over slippery rocks and pose under the waterfall. So I can use my remote shutter, I placed it inside an underwater waterproof pouch. Awao Falls, Compostela Valley, Philippines

Reflections are your friends

Get creative with reflective surfaces like mirrored windows on buildings and cars when you’re out exploring. Saves the trouble setting up the tripod :)

Passed by a super clean mirrored glass window in front of what looks like a temple or clan house in Chinatown. A car was parked in front the first time I saw it.  I had to come back a few hours later to take this shot.  Melaka, Malaysia

Focus first

Always review your photo if you got the focus right. Sometimes, the camera incorrectly focuses on the background and blurs you out.

Point the camera on your face, half press on the shutter, then compose your shot accordingly. Better if you can set the camera focus mode to “center weight” or use the “focus points.”

If you’re using an SLR mounted on a tripod and you’re posing from a fair distance, set the focus mode to “focus point,” set the focus point to where you will be positioned. To make sure you get the focus right, direct the focus point on the ground/surface where you will be standing, half press to set the focus, then switch to “manual focus.” That way, you won’t have to depend on the auto focus.

I wanted to capture the details of the Tanaka that a nice Burmese woman applied on my face. It’s the yellow dried up cream that locals use as sun protection. I used a little zoom (24mm) so I can get a crisp shot of my face and blur out the temple in the background. Bagan, Myanmar

This shot was taken at one (1) second shutter speed. I had to stay perfectly still for 1 sec so I didn’t blur myself out. Big advantage if you were forced to play “statue dance”  when you were a kid. Biri Rock Formations, Samar, Philippines.

You can also get creative by blurring yourself out using the focus or, in this case, a long shutter speed. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Blend in

“Own” the shot by interacting more with your surroundings. Try posing differently than the usual stand-and-smile pose. Try sitting, even lying down. Have more body contact with things around you. Use a prop. Dress like a local.

Create drama for interesting photo souvenirs. Looking away from the camera, focus your glance on the horizon or interesting elements in the shot, close your eyes, pick visually stunning and unusual spots to capture the photo, take varied zoomed-in and wide angle shots.

Sat and held my hand on the edge of the cliff while looking away into the mesmerizing waves. Used a tripod and camera timer in burst mode. My body was so awkward in the first shot. I took 45 more photos so I’d have lots to choose from. Luckily, I captured one where I appeared more relaxed and comfortable soaking up the beautiful scenery. Biri Rock Formations, Samar, Philippines

There were a lot of colorful kayaks made from synthetic materials at the lake. When I saw a wooden raft in one corner of the lakeside, I was instantly drawn to it. These rafts are traditionally used by locals. In the photo, I attempted to blend in more by dipping my food in the water. Lake Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines.

Ask for help

Requesting other people to take your picture is most convenient in crowded tourist areas. Scout for people who look like they could spare 30 seconds (or more) to take your photo. Hunt down other tourists who are carrying DSLRs, in particular. More often that not, they will know how to take a good picture.

You won’t be the only person traveling on your own. Lookout for other solo travelers, and ask them if you can tag along. That way, both of you can take each other’s photo.

Requested a friendly guy to take my picture at the crater of Mount Bromo. Not only did I come home with a great picture, I also gained a new friend that I still keep in touch with in facebook. Mount Bromo, Java Island, Indonesia.

Quality control

Try to take as many photos as you can even if it’s the same background. Change your pose on each shot for variation and review your shots before moving on to another angle/location. It doesn’t have to be a drastic change, even small movements in your body can bring out better angles.

Sometimes I take as many as 20-100 self-portrait photos doing different poses with the same background. One of those photos is bound to be, at least, “usable.” Even subtle movement in your expression, head angle, arms and leg positions, make a significant difference in the overall mood of the picture.

When you’re traveling around Asia, you never know when mating monkeys are going to “bomb” your photo. Baluran National Park, Java, Indonesia.

As for post processing, the only thing I edit is my heavy and dark eye bags. I don’t totally get rid of it because it looks unnatural.

I tend to sweat a lot, especially on hot humid days. I always bring along a pack of wet tissues so I can wipe the oily mess off my face.

If I’m feeling vain and want to instantly even out wrinkles/pores, I use TONYMOLY Egg Pore Silky Smooth Balm or Lioele Secret Pore Rich Balm. They work like magic and make skin soak up light amazingly softer.

I also bring a pack of (non-powdered) oil control films but they’re for wiping off grease on my camera lens. Always check that your lens is squeaky clean (even on compact cameras or mobile phones) to get those life-like clear shots.

Share the moment

It’s boring to only take photos of yourself. Share the screen with people around you.

One time, I was traveling with my aunt and siblings in Kuala Lumpur. We were at the sky bridge of the Petronas Towers when my Aunt suddenly requested the whole group of strangers to join our photo. I haven’t done that on my own (yet)  but it was a brilliant idea.

Photo souvenir with new friends who teamed up with me on a trip to Leyte and Samar after reading about my travel plans early that year.


Creativity is the limit. Anyone can take amazing photos with any camera but for those who are curious, here are the main camera gears that I carry:


When I’m choosing to buy a camera, there’s one feature that I consider above all else: a vari-angle / fully “flippable” LCD screen. It’s obviously much easier to compose photos of yourself when you can see how the photo looks before taking it.

You can instantly make sure that you’ve got your face and the background are well composed in the shot and that you’re not blurred out because the camera got the focus wrong.


My biggest considerations for a travel tripod is that it should be (1) compact when folded so I can fit more of other stuff in my backpack and (2) fully extended height should rest somewhere at (my) eye level. I’m 5’7″ tall so a tripod that can fully extend to a little over 5′ is okay (3) light as possible.

Why consider the tripod height? ANTM’s Tyra Banks says the most flattering portrait shots are taken when the camera is held just above or at eye level. Nobody messes with Tyra when it comes to selfie advice.

Having a fully sized tripod also provides more versatility when composing photos.


Using a remote control is more convenient than the built-in camera timer most of the time and the waterproof pouch is extremely useful when taking shots at waterfalls, the sea, lakes, etc…

I’ll post more about my gears in another blog post.