This is a guest post by Nick about photography. And while he does take many of the photos for this blog, this post focuses on a specific kind of photo: the ones that he also appears in!
While photography may be an art, getting a stranger to take a good photo of you is a science. And like many of my high school science experiments, it can go horribly wrong. You know the scenario. You’re traveling with the hubs, the lady, friends (or by yourself, more power to you) and you want a photo together to preserve the moment. So you flag down the first person who doesn’t look like a convicted felon and hand them your phone.
You expect to get this:
But in reality, you get this:
You may recognize the style of this particular shot—it’s the work of The Sun Worshipper. This person believes direct sun on your face = best photo. And they’re just one of the many challenging breeds of photo-takers you might encounter on your travels. Some others include:
The One-Shot Bandit
*Clicks once before you’re ready* “Oh it’s perfect! Here ya go!” *Puts in headphones & runs off*
The Artistic Visionary
(look out for their exhibition next month at MoMA)
The Razr Lovr
(this person still uses a Motorola Razr and has never operated a smartphone before *ahem* Dad)
The guide below will help you navigate these murky, blurry, blown-out, stranger-filled waters with a few simple tips that have yielded us some nice couple shots from unlikely sources (I’m looking at you, Carl our 4.1-star Uber driver). The techniques might seem obvious at first, but as with any good photo, the difference is in the details.
The Ask-A-Stranger Method
The trick is to take all decision making out of the stranger’s hands. Their only job should be to hold and tap. In fact, don’t even think of them as a person. For these 60 seconds, they are your human tripod (Editor’s Note: do not look up “human tripod” on Urban Dictionary).
Before you ambush an unsuspecting tourist, take some test photos. Frame it exactly how you want it. Then position your travel buddy in the shot, making sure they leave a space for you. Soft, even lighting is optimal, so look for an evenly shaded area if it’s really sunny out.
(Gear Tip: Stick with a smartphone. Asking a stranger to use your DSLR rarely works out.)
2. Scouting (aka harmless stereotyping)
Remember, you’re not looking for an artistic visionary. All you really need is someone with a functioning finger. But it also helps if they’re not in a hurry, younger, have a smartphone or camera of their own (indicators of technological competency), and are not insanely tall. I also avoid the guy who looks like he’s on a photo safari. Sometimes tourists with the biggest cameras know the least about good photography.
Bonus Tip: Scout for people struggling with their own selfie or couple photo, offer to take it (of course, impress them with your technique), then nonchalantly ask them to return the favor.
If your only option is someone way taller, ask them to hold the camera lower. Or else, this:
Once you’ve spotted your prey friendly volunteer, lure them in by struggling to take a selfie while loudly cursing your ancestors for your short t-rex arms. Or, just politely ask if they’d mind snapping a quick photo.
Once they’ve agreed to help, show them the exact framing of your shot on the screen. It’s best to use fixed objects as clear reference points to help define the composition (i.e. “keep this tree in the upper left and this chair in the lower right”).
Or, leave the framing up to them—if you want to discover chins you didn’t know you had.
4. The Hand-off
This seemingly simple step is the most critical. You don’t want to just hand them the phone. Instead, gingerly pivot your body out of the way, keeping the phone stationary with your shot still framed. Let the person come forward and take the phone right where you’re holding it. It helps solidify the importance of the framing.
5. Tap Like Crazy
Ask for several shots. To some people “a lot” is two photos. So to get your point across, wildly gesticulate like you’re playing Candy Crush (Editor’s Note: Nick has never actually played Candy Crush and has no idea if this analogy is accurate). It also helps to say, “Please take a bunch. We’re going to try different poses,” so the person knows why you want them to keep snapping. Because if you’re like me, you only look acceptable in 1 out of every 25 shots.
6. Try Again
If the photos are just a little off, don’t be afraid to ask them for another round. But if it’s beyond hope, wait for them to leave, then go back to Step 2 and try harmless stereotyping scouting again.
Setup and scouting time—the opportune moment to practice your poses and duckface.
The Old-Fashioned Tripod Method
Sometimes there’s no one around or you just don’t feel like asking others. Thankfully, someone invented this non-human camera stand thing called the tripod. And there are many super-compact ones, or selfie sticks that double as tripods, available with bluetooth remotes. The phone tripod kit we use is compact and versatile, however the bluetooth remote disconnects sporadically (but it does work for Boomerang, which not all remotes do).
A Few Tripod Notes:
– The downside of a light, compact tripod is it can also be unstable, so even a slight breeze can knock them (and your phone) over. Weigh it down with some clothes or prop it up against a tree if it’s windy.
– The combo of bluetooth and having your camera app on for extended periods of time is a huge power suck, so definitely bring a mobile phone battery. We like this one with the charging cables built right in.
Simple Photo Editing
So you’ve managed to get 100 photos of yourself, and a handful of them aren’t terrible! Don’t get too excited and go on a posting frenzy just yet. There’s a good chance your pictures could benefit from some light photo editing. VSCO is a great free app for mobile editing (Jean likes adding just a little bit of the C1 filter). And even the Instagram editing tools have gotten pretty good.
Easy edits made within the VSCO phone app
Since you weren’t able to control the brightness of the image when it was taken, you’ll at least want to play with exposure, and maybe the highlights and shadows. Add a little contrast, clarity, and sharpening if you’re feeling adventurous, but don’t overdo it.
And there you have it. With just a little awkward social interaction and some causal ageism, you can get strangers to take better photos of you. Good luck and happy snapping.
We hope you enjoyed the read! Let us know in the comments any requests for future guest posts!