Tips & Tricks: How to take good photos together while traveling

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:

travel tip how to take good couple selfie photos while on vacation

On Nick: J.Crew chinoslobster shirt, Sperry shoes (similar)
On Jean: (found a similar bow-back peplum top!) full outfit details are in this post

But in reality, you get this:

how to take great photos on vacation4


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*

how to take great photos on vacation1

The Artistic Visionary
(look out for their exhibition next month at MoMA)

how to take great photos on vacation3

The Razr Lovr
(this person still uses a Motorola Razr and has never operated a smartphone before *ahem* Dad)

how to take great photos on vacation2

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).

1. Setup
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:

how to get others to take good photos of you

3. Instructions 
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.

how to take great couple photos dont

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.

how to take good couple photos on vacation

Setup and scouting time—the opportune moment to practice your poses and duckface. 

nantucket ack airport couple cape cod travel outfits

On Jean: blouse 00p, skirt xs c/o (fit review), sandals sz 5, purse, sunglasses, suitcase
On Nick: old JCP sweatshirt (very similar), J.Crew chinos, Sperry shoes (similar)

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).

lightweight selfie iphone tripod for vacation photos

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.

best free photo editing iphone app vsco

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.

how to edit photos on the iphone in vsco app

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!

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Leave a Comment


  1. Valerie wrote:

    Really helpful (and funny!) post! Good to know even photogenic people need many shots to get a good one.

    Posted 9.30.21 Reply
  2. Monica Mundra wrote:

    Hey, Thanks for sharing these tips! It’s always a struggle to click pics while on travel mode. I will surely be using some of the poses and tricks.


    Posted 2.23.21 Reply
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Lighten up! If I read this post correctly, the point is do all the prep work yourself so a passerby just has to tap the phone a few times.

    Posted 6.13.17 Reply
  4. Alvina wrote:

    HAHAH! This post was awesome! Possibly my favorite one (sorry, Jean – your clothes one are lovely too, haha). I particularly liked the "sample" photos of who you might asking to take your pics or how it can go wrong! 🙂 Have experienced them all!

    Posted 6.9.17 Reply
  5. ruth wrote:

    Love this post! And thanks for the VSCO love…nice to know you enjoy our filters!

    Posted 6.8.17 Reply
  6. ruth wrote:

    Loved this post! And thanks for the VSCO love! Awesome to know that she uses our filters.

    Posted 6.8.17 Reply
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    You take beautiful pictures! I think if someone stopped me on the street and was this particular, though, I'd ask them to find someone else. Or get a tripod. It would be intimidating to work with someone so particular, and if you're stopping me on my trip to take shots of you in several poses… I wouldn't be into that.

    Posted 6.4.17 Reply
  8. This was such a fun read! I love the double chins hahaha

    Posted 6.2.17 Reply
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    Yes! I second this! Tips on posing would be great!

    Posted 5.29.17 Reply
  10. Anonymous wrote:

    Wish I had read this before getting every "what you don't want" shot this afternoon in Mexico City. But, thanks to these tips, I have hope tomorrow will be better!

    Posted 5.26.17 Reply
  11. Thanks for this, loved the tip on searching human tripod! 😉

    Posted 5.26.17 Reply
  12. This post was hilarious…loved it!

    Posted 5.26.17 Reply
  13. Katie wrote:

    Great post! I'd love a little tutorial in photo editing whether on VSCO, or a different app. I've downloaded and then deleted so many because I didn't find them user friendly.

    Posted 5.26.17 Reply
  14. Karen Shek wrote:

    So informative and funny! Love it! Look forward to more guest posts in the future!

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  15. This post was so useful! It never occurred to me to take a few minutes to frame the photo and make it as easy as possible for the stranger that we enlist. My hubby and I don't have enough photos of the two of us but hopefully this will change. Thank you!

    xo Elizabeth

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  16. Jae wrote:

    Bahaha this was such a cute, funny, helpful post! Thanks for sharing your tips!
    Jae ||

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  17. Haha this is so cute, I love it! I don't have anybody to take picture with so yea… But I will have to get myself a trip pod for sure, thanks for sharing <3

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  18. Haha I always like Nick's posts. They're funny! Thanks for the tips. 🙂

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  19. Haha! This was just what I needed! <3 I doubt only 1/25 looks good for you! Probably only 1/25 doesn't look good. Oh silly you!

    XOXO //
    SINCERELY OPHELIA | NYC Petite Fashion Blogger

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  20. chibi wrote:

    This post was hilarious and helpful. Thank you so much. Will have to look into a tripod for the phone.

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  21. Yen Lee wrote:

    Love the expectation vs reality photos =D =D =D and that bonus tip under scouting… makes me think about one particular time when my husband and I were in Maui for our honeymoon. We were on the beach and I took an amazing photo of a couple who fit the "couple struggling with their selfie" situation. They looked at it and loved it. They were reciprocating the love for us and I was expecting the pic to look amazing as well, but… didn't quite look the same. Haha

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  22. Sahony wrote:

    Great Tips! Thank you.

    xo. SN

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  23. Anonymous wrote:

    Love love love this post! These are some awesome tips. Fiance and I barely have any pictures together because of this reason. We aren't exactly the photogenic type so having the right angle and lighting is essential for us. We will definitely try these. I would love it if you could also share some tips on posing and editing. Thanks Jean and Nick. You guys are so cute and awesome together

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  24. Linna wrote:

    100% agree 🙂 Thanks for sharing – helpful tips and it was hilarious to read!

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  25. Debbie F wrote:

    Loved this post! So helpful and also funny at the same time. Very well written!

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  26. Great tips! I travel/explore Japan solo quite often so asking others to take my photo has become my specialty. I agree that not everyone with good cameras knows how to take good photos. On the other side, it's also a better bet to give them your phone vs. DSLR, people instantly get scared of mine 😀 Snapseed is another of my favorite apps for editing, especially for food photography! xoxo, nano |

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply
  27. Ellie O wrote:

    I made the mistake of reading this post at work and I got some funny looks for giggling at my desk. This was informative, funny, and brilliantly written. Thanks Nick! You guys are very lucky to have each other.

    Ellie x

    Posted 5.25.17 Reply

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