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Taking Photos of Oneself by Solo Traveler

Hi all, So, I'm going alone to Nice for language course for 12 weeks. And I will be visiting Amsterdam, Rome, Paris, etc during that period. I will bring my Sony A300 DSLR camera as well as my Sony T2 compact digital camera in my daypack when visiting those cities. My question is what are the best and safest ways for me to take pictures of me with the background of the city? Do I need to bring tripod so that I can pose in front of a background while setting the camera on timer? This seems like a rather silly question, but I can't find any advise or information about it in travel guides. My main concern is theft if I'm handing my camera to people on the street to take my pictures (especially in big cities). And moreover, this is my first time traveling to Europe. So, any suggestion or advise is most welcomed. Thanks in advance!

Posted by
9110 posts

Hand your camera to somebody else that looks like a tourist. Then they'll hand you theirs, then somebody else will walk up ........ It goes on all the time. Quit worrying.

Posted by
1035 posts

Ok, assuming you have a moderate amount of common sense and street smarts, it should be no problem to find someone to take your picture. - If you are in a touristy area, look for someone like yourself, taking pictures. Often times a couple or family is doing the same as you, looking around for someone trustworthy to snap a photo. You take their picture, they do the same. I have done this dozens of times. - Setting up a tripod and timer for a solo shot in a tourist area may attract just the kind of attention you are trying to avoid (ie, pickpockets, scammers, Roma children). I hate being around other tourists* except when I need a picture taken. Then I love them. - If in a non touristy locale you can always find a local who will take a shot. Be polite, smile, use the local language if you can, no problem. This is where you need to employ some common sense in who you ask. Years of travel and I only ever had one person say no (at the Brandenburg Gate, what a jerk!). *I think I hate being around tourists because they remind me that I am the same. Part of the doctrine of the Blue Book cult is pretending I am a local. Seeing other tourists holds up a big mirror to that delusion. EDIT: What Ed said, much more succinctly than me.

Posted by
23465 posts

One approach we use -- if we see a couple taking pictures of each other, will offer to take their picture together in exchange for them taking our picture together. Never have been turned down. Second, why so much equipment? Keep it simple, take one camera.

Posted by
590 posts

I travel solo as well and I always hand my camera to someone who is also a tourist. Never had a problem with this and it is very easy to pick out the tourists!

Posted by
1890 posts

Try the Gorillapod tripod. It's very light weight, and it's easy to set up. The attachment is placed on the bottom of your camera (you'll have to pick one of the two you plan to use for speed of use) This tripod can be made to hold onto about anything. So...you can set it up almost anywhere. Wrap it around a fence, place it on a wall. I find that if you find a couple, a man/woman combination, and one or the other has a camera, they will be more likely to take a quick picture of you. They are tourists as well - we hope :> We've handed my camera over to a few people to take pictures of myself and my husband a few times, but I find that I don't want to bother people, so I tend to use the tripod. I'm not so sure that a point and shoot camera would be of much interest to thieves. I feel they are more interested in cash/credit cards, something that can be used immediately. I'd say, don't hand your DSLR camera to anyone, use the point and shoot camera for this purpose. And, if you are into photography, DO take both cameras, you will regret not having the full function DSLR with you for 12 weeks!

Posted by
5678 posts

I too travel solo and I look for couples to take my picture when I want one. I had a Norwegian couple take my picture at the World Cup Parade in Amsterdam this summer. ; ) I have thought about using the gorilla pod, but haven't yet. And I love having a DSLR and the point and shoot in Europe. Pam

Posted by
1525 posts

Good advice so far. I'll add that you can't go wrong asking an older person or an out of shape person. They can't run fast. Seriously though, as long as you avoid a local fit male between 12 and 28 years old as your photographer, you'll be fine. I would also suggest you be very specific in your directions of how to frame the shot. You wouldn't believe how dim some people can be in this area. We once asked a fellow traveler to take our family photo in front of the "Sound Of Music" Gazebo. We looked fine in the photo. In fact, we took up the whole photo. It looks like we are there standing in front of a window. Duh....

Posted by
9363 posts

I always offer to take a family's or couple's picture together, even if I don't want one of my own at that moment. I have even done this in countries where I don't speak the language. I was at the Great Wall when I saw an elderly Chinese lady taking her husband's picture. I offered, through gestures and smiles and nods, to take their picture together, and they were delighted. Then, of course, the husband wanted to take mine, so I handed over my camera. He took one for me, then one of me with HIS camera. It is still one of my fondest memories of China, just interacting with someone I couldn't even talk to.

Posted by
356 posts

I always ask someone and have never had someone run off with it yet! I often get asked to take photos when I am wandering around London in my lunch hour. I am a five foot tall female wearing a business suit so probably don't fit the image of a mugger! Just pick someone who is very unlikely to be a criminal. Unless you are a terrible judge of people you will be fine.

Posted by
123 posts

another vote for the gorilla pod! We took one for our 3 week trip around europe and it was great for night shots and couples shots.

Posted by
33 posts

Gorillapod has just come out with a tripod like what's been previously described in this thread - with the addition of magnetic feet to attach to metal surfaces that you can't wrap the legs around. Haven't used mine yet but they seem to be pretty strong magnets.

Posted by
56 posts

Hi all, thanks a lot for all the great advices. It seems that many are recommending the gorilla pod. When attached to a pole or tree (or something like that), is it easy for someone to take it off and run with it? What about the extendable pole thingy (like a monopod), that we can attach the camera into and hold while taking pictures of ourselves. Anyone has experience using that?

Posted by
1003 posts

I've never used the gorillapod to take a picture of myself, mostly because I hate being photographed :) but I recommend it for just regular photography. Sometimes you can't find something to stand a regular tripod on but you can wrap the gorillapod onto a pole or a fence or whatever. Plus it's light and you can fold it up any which way. I have the mid-sized DSLR version and it's still very small and light yet sturdy. The only time I have gotten my picture taken while traveling alone was doing the exchange thing. I have heard of people taking alone a cheap disposable camera and using that as the one they give to other people. I took one with me a few years ago on a big trip that I did mostly solo, and found I never used it. But I thought it was an interesting idea.

Posted by
12172 posts

I take a small tripod (a little smaller than the Gorillapod). It works well for framing myself into a picture as well as taking low light, night or fireworks shots. Most often, I'll just ask someone in the area to take my picture - so far no one has run off. I also take only a small all-in-one camera. Years ago I packed an SLR, along with flash, lenses, filters, tripod and bag on a trip through Asia. My friend took an all in one pocket sized Canon. My pictures were great but so were my friend's. My pictures didn't justify the additional weight. Right now I take a Nikon Coolpix S-8000, a little bigger than the smallest you can get but I love the 10x optical zoom, HD video, and large viewing screen.

Posted by
123 posts

RE: When attached to a pole or tree (or something like that), is it easy for someone to take it off and run with it? It takes a minute to wrap around a pole and set up. People around get curious as we set up - but we never had an instance where someone tried to unwrap it from the pole or whatever. Just don't leave it on the floor/ledge completely unsecured or unattended.

Posted by
571 posts

Two thoughts I don't think were previously mentioned: 1. It's best when you do the asking. Approach someone who looks like a tourist, looks trustworthy, etc. What are the chances you've asked the pickpocket in the crowd? But if someone approaches you and offers to take your photo without anything in return (in other words, not another tourist looking for reciprocation), then trust your gut instincts and if unsure for any reason, say "no thanks" even if it costs you a picture. 2. Unless your language lessons are one-on-one for 12 weeks in Nice, you're going to meet new friends who might similarly want to visit those adjoining countries. I'm guessing that you won't be doing all your site seeing alone.

Posted by
56 posts

It's good to hear from Salsachica that the gorilla pod requires a bit time in setting it up, so I assume that means it's gonna pose a bit "challenge" for thief to run off with it while I'm posing :D And apparently my boss has a gorilla pod. So will try and test it out whether it can hold my DSLR or not. Surely it's able to hold my pocket digital camera. I'll probably borrow it from him if it's easy to use, not heavy, and doesn't take a lot of space. For the DSLR, I won't bring my zoom lens or flash or filters or bag. Just the bare minimum (body + kit lens + battery pack + charger) so that it's not too heavy. I also have my iphone 4 that I can use to take video and can be used as backup camera if I'm walking in Nice town but don't bring my camera at the moment. As Matt L. suggested, yeah hopefully my classmates also want to travel around and can be travel companions.

Posted by
56 posts

Check out Monopod on EBay. It's an expandable 4 foot extension that you can put your camera on. Set the timer and take your own picture. In its colapsed mod, about 8 inches long, it makes a great steady rest for low light conditions.

Posted by
6788 posts

Stewart - if someone wants to grab your camera and run, if it's attached to a Gorillapod on a fence or tree won't slow them down for a microsecond. For all intents and purposes, a Gorillapod really only holds a camera steady/in position - it will not slow a thief down - not at all (unless the thief is very incompetent, and you shouldn't expect that). That said, a Gorillapod is a handy tool to bring along, if only because 1) it's small and lightwight, and 2) it can allow you to make some shots that would be difficult or impossible otherwise. I always bring one - in addition to a real tripod. Lots of good advice above about having others take your photo. I do this all the time. I have also had mixed luck with the photography skills of those I ask to snap a photo for me - even if I frame the shot and set everything perfectly...some people are just not very good at following your directions (language issues, etc.) and I've got my share of photos with my head cut off. My advice is to ask for several shots (try more than one person to improve your odds). For a really memorable shot that you want to be sure to get, then set up your tripod and eliminate the guesswork - but be prepared to wait a while if your shot is in one of those post card spots (I will wait a long time to get others out of the frame, but some places that's just not possible, ever). I do usually travel with a tripod, but I have a pretty compact one (collapses down to about 12 inches). I'll bring a gorillapod, too (along with 2-3 cameras - although I know that's blasphemy to many here). Be sure you have realistic expectations for a Gorillapod - most will not hold a heavy DSLR with much of a lens. They make several sizes. They also have quick-release mounts, so you can get a mount for your DSLR and another for your compact - be sure that what you get will work for both.

Posted by
500 posts

There are several versions of the gorillapod from a very small one for point & shoots to larger DSLR models.

Posted by
6788 posts

One more point - if your camera is going to be stolen, it's much more likely that it will be grabbed by a pickpocket, on a crowded bus/train/station, etc. (or just left somewhere by a careless owner) than it is that it would be grabbed by a thief you ask to take your picture. How fast can you run? Seriously. If somebody grabbed my camera and took off, they might be surprised to find that they had just stolen the camera of the former captain of the high school track team and school record holder in the 1-mile race. Granted, that was a long time ago, and I'm not in that kind of shape these days, but I think I would prove surprisingly fleet-footed if chasing someone who just stole something of mine that I wanted. Sure, I might die of a heart attack two minutes after catching him, but I would have the satisfaction of clutching my DSLR while they applied the defibrillator and yelled "CLEAR!" Have a fun, safe trip and don't worry too much.

Posted by
73 posts

Stewart
I take 2 camera one is for my use, good one. Then I take one for people on the street to use. So if they do take off with it they get a cheap camera and I don't have a great loss.

Posted by
26 posts

In addition to all the excellent suggestions for having yourself photographed, don't overlook the possibility of photographing yourself in any number of reflective surfaces: water, shop windows, shiny aluminum building fronts, and mirrors. Even shiny sculptures (like the Cloud Gate in Chicago, a blimp-sized kidney bean in chrome) can make a fun photo. You can capture local features in your photo if you're creative. And of course your shadow is easy to photograph and can be arty. You'll end up with shots that are more fun than the "me-in-front-of-cathedral" standard.

Posted by
576 posts

On our recent trip to Berlin, we used a hand held photo extender that worked out great. You just have to practice a little beforehand to know how to set up the camera angle. Since it was cold and snowy, we often found ourselves in beautiful locations without any other people in sight (the joys of off season travel), or any surface to put the camera on. We originally bought the extender since we love to backpack. On remote mountain trails the only other creatures we see have no thumbs and can't help us take pictures. I'm surprised most people don't have this device. It was fairly inexpensive, lightweight, easy to use, and always handy when we wanted a picture and had no available fellow tourists.

Posted by
1136 posts

We used the hand held extender that the previous poster also suggested. Just practice a few times so you can position yourself as you want in the picture. I must say, sometimes we got lazy and just used the good old take your own picture trick (practice aiming with that too!) or we just asked someone. Ask a couple if you want their picture taken and they are happy to reciprocate!

Posted by
2127 posts

Check out the XShot camera extender. It will cost you around $14 and compresses to about 6-7 inches. Your camera screws or pops on to the top, and then you "extend" the handle on the Xshot extender to where you hold it out maybe 3-4 feet in front of yourself and add to that the distance of your hand/arm, etc. and take a shot. We first saw one in Rome, when two other tourists were using it for their photos..........we were amazed. It is also great for taking a photo over walls, crowds, etc. Perfect for couples who travel together and always find themselves taking a photo of one person, then switching to photograph the other. Now they can photograph themselves. As the other posters mentioned, it does take a little practice to learn to "steady for hand," but it is not that hard. Keeps your camera safe and secure in your own hands. But, expect other people to ask you about it, as they may be just as amazed as we were. And, with digitals, if you mess up a photo or two, no big deal.

Posted by
56 posts

Thanks all for the very helpful suggestions!

Posted by
9110 posts

The unattributed quote above is from an opinion expressed in another forum. It is not a statute. Nor does a quidebook constitue law. Tripods and flash are banned in any number of museums all over the world. On any given day you can see a zillion tripods in use in the public spaces of Paris. The only time I've seen a tripod become an issue was the French fuzz vs a French citizen (wild guess - - the whole conversation was in French). Being a snoop, I eavesdropped - - the discussion was not about the tripod, per se, but about the obstruction/trip hazard the mechanism and associated equipment were causing. In the typical French manner, the discussion lasted for seven evers. The fuzz won.

Posted by
76 posts

You're in the wrong place to be trashing Rick's book!

Posted by
76 posts

If you are serious about a tripod, be sure to check the local laws in each destination. Paris, for example, prohibits tripods. The use of one there requries a license and fees to be paid. (Professionals only).

Posted by
9110 posts

'Paris, for example, prohibits tripods.' Doubtuful, unless the statute can be cited.

Posted by
76 posts

The "statute" is clearly cited in Rick's Paris Guidebook. It's also common knowledge of anyone who has ever been to Paris. All the major monuments and public spaces are "copyrighted." It's also crystal clear to anyone who has ever googled photography in Paris. One Example: "L'utilisation du trépied est interdit sur la voix public et dans les lieux culturels type musée, car cela peut être dangereux et genant la circulation du public. De plus l'utilisation du trépied ne contraint pas lephotographe a etre derriere son appareil. " Break out your petit trépied and you are sure to be jumped by a gendarme toute de suite!

Posted by
4411 posts

Mon Dieu! I'm going to be tossed into the Bastille for using my tripod in Paris!!! Of course, it's shorter than a pencil and I don't make a huge spectacle of setting it up, etc...And unless gnomes are running around (you DO have to watch out for THEM), prolly no one's going to trip over the legs.

Posted by
1 posts

THANK YOU for all of your comments on the Xshot - I just ordered it on Amazon (cheaper than the Xshot site & no shipping fee); it's on the way!
Got the bigger one, since I have an SLR - tiny one looks great for smaller cameras!