Part of the fun of travel is taking photos, especially photos with us in them. Whether you are looking to take travel photos for Instagram, to have for your own memories, or even just to send home to mom to prove you are still alive, having travel photos of yourself is, for many of us, somewhat important. But the dilemma is always figuring out how to take better travel photos of yourself and, perhaps even more worrisome, how to pose for them.
For a long time, the go-to pose for many travellers, especially female travellers, was to face away from the camera and look off into the distance so you just see the back of the body. Like this one:
There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, it’s easy. You don’t really have to worry about actually posing. But it was more than just that. This ‘look off to the distance’ pose was actually believed to be better because it allowed the viewer to imagine themselves as the man or woman in the photo because there were no faces shown.
Now, that probably works really well for a tourism marketing campaign but it’s not the goal for personal photos. We want our photos to be about us, to show our personality, and to show off what a good time we are having. While I definitely have my share of those view from the back photos, I’m a big believer in showing my face. After all, my brand is very personal and, if you are a regular reader/follower, you already know I’m a dork so really I have nothing to hide.
Let me be clear in stating I am no model. Far from it. I am beyond awkward and I have more than enough photos to prove it. So, why is the awkward one writing a guide on easy and natural poses for better travel photos? Well, needless to say I’ve had a lot of practice. Plus, I’ve worked with a few photographers in the past couple of years, including during a few travel photo shoots, and I’ve learned a lot.
While I still definitely take some awkward shots, I’ve also learned how to pose naturally for photos. Enough so that I at least have a pretty decent looking Instagram feed and have been asked many times for tips. So, here we go. From me to you, here are some easy and natural poses you can use to take better travel photos.
Choose Natural Poses That Create Lines
Creating lines with your body is a) more flattering and b) gives the viewer’s eye something to follow. Remember, leading lines is a common trick used by photographers when composing photos. Long lines and angles add more interest but also make you look better. They help create space so you look longer and leaner.
So, how do you do this? Easy.
Stand with your hand on your hip so your arm creates a triangle.
If you look at the photo above, the space I’ve created by bending my arm and not holding it right against my body highlights my ‘hourglass’ shape and is much more flattering than if I just stood with my arms down to my sides. Pretty simple.
With your legs, however, you do need to be a little more careful. You don’t want them to face the camera straight on- that will actually make them look shorter. If you are facing straight forward, swivel your hips a bit to one side so your leg is a bit more angled (like I did above) and stretch one leg out to create a longer line. Or, if you bend at the knee (you can cross your legs too) to create more of a triangle shape, then take the photo from a side angle like below.
The same applies when you are sitting. Try to prop one leg up to create a triangle or, bend them both. Again, away from the camera, not directly facing it. You can also cross your legs/ankles. If you cross your legs while sitting, try to extend your feet towards the camera (heel up, toe down) again so your legs look longer.
Create Movement While Taking Travel Photos
If standing and posing feels weird, then just move. Walking is one of the easiest ways to get better travel photo. Walking is easy and natural so you’ll automatically feel more comfortable since this is something you naturally do. Plus, since people explore by foot, it fits the travel theme and gives it an authentic feel.
If you want to get a bit more fun with it, you can also run, jump, or spin.
The added bonus to these types of photos is that movement adds interest to photos. When you move so does your hair, your clothes, your accessories etc. Which can make photos a lot more interesting. In the photo below, I was just walking slowly up the stairs, but it was windy and that, combined with my walking, added movement to my hair and the skirt of my dress.
Even if you don’t move your body, you can still add movement to your photos by flipping your hair, taking on/off a sweater or jacket, or swishing your skirt or dress.
Tip: For movement photos, your best bet is to take photos on ‘burst’ mode OR take a video then take a screenshot of the moment you like best. The tulip photo below is actually a screenshot I took from a video.
Where Do I Put My Hands when I Pose For Photos?
Hands can be super awkward in so many situations. We all have them but we never seem to know where to put them. Especially when we are getting our photo taken.
As mentioned above, putting your hand on your hip is an easy position with the added benefit of creating angles. If you are a man, put your hand(s) in your pocket(s) instead of on your hip.
Another easy, natural move is to play with your hair. This is common for women but men can run their fingers through their hair too.
You can also touch/hold the brim of your hat if you are wearing one or even a pair of sunglasses you are wearing. Again, this works well for both men and women.
Hold something; food, flowers, an umbrella, a drink. Or play with a piece of jewellery. If you are a man, adjust your collar on your jacket or shirt.
You can also lean against things; a wall, a handrail, a tree etc. Again, keep in mind: long lines, angles, create space.
Some people also suggest touching your face or resting your hand under your chin. Personally, I think I always look awkward as hell when I do this so the closest I get is tucking my hair behind my ear. But, it’s worth a trying- it might be something you feel comfortable and look natural doing.
What About Facial Expressions?
Facial expressions are up to you. Generally, I like to smile. I don’t do the sexy pout thing. Again, I’m too awkward. But, smiling is sometimes easier said than done. I’ve ‘smiled’ for photos before and it actually looks like I’m in pain. That or a deer stuck in the headlights. Neither option is cute.
So, I try to think back to my teenage years watching America’s Next Top Model and listening to Tyra tell all the contestants to ‘smize’ aka smile with your eyes. It actually works.
When it comes to smiling, I sometimes like to make myself laugh. I learned this from another blogger a few years ago and have tried it since. It works out pretty well, especially if you are looking for more fun/candid type photos of yourself.
Where Do I Look when I Pose for Photos?
Looking towards the camera is normally the most obvious option. You can look over your shoulder or face the camera straight on.
However, looking straight to the camera can get pretty repetitive. Especially if you want shots that look slightly more candid.
Looking up and to the side is easy, or down and through your eyelashes. Just make sure that your eyes follow the line of your nose so you see your entire eye in the photos- not just the whites of your eyes. That’s creepy.
If I am taking my own photos, I sometimes end up looking at the screen of my camera (where I can see how I would look) and not at the lens itself. I’m getting better at remembering to look at the lens, but it’s still sometimes an issue. Also, I have blue eyes so if it’s bright and sunny outside I end up getting pretty squinty. This is why I often wear sunglasses in my photos. That way it doesn’t really matter if I’m looking the wrong way or squinting- you can’t tell!
Let’s Talk About Angles When Taking Travel Photos
Another quick thing I want to mention is angles. When we take typical selfies or even talk on IG stories, we always lift our cameras higher so we don’t risk the dreaded double chin look. However, lower angles can actually work really well for taking better travel photos of yourself. Obviously, you don’t want the camera right underneath you, composition is still key, but low angles tend to be more interesting. Especially in narrow spaces like city streets if you are trying to incorporate buildings into the photo. Shooting from a lower angle is also an easy way to get rid of some of the unwanted objects (potentially even people depending on the angle) in the foreground. In the photo below, I was actually standing in front of a trash can, but because I aimed my lens higher, you can’t see it.
Final Tips for Posing for Better Travel Photos
Posing for photos can feel super awkward. Especially if you are alone and trying to take self-portraits. It’s easy to feel self-conscious. However, it’s way more common than you think and often the people looking at you are trying to see if it’s worth them stopping to get the same photo. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been casually followed by other travellers who hop into spots after me to get their own version.
Additionally, it will get better with practice. I promise. Don’t trust me? Go check out my Instagram profile and scroll back. I really only started getting comfortable in front of the camera in the past 2 years and it is painfully obvious.
Finally, just keep shooting. Set your camera to burst mode, keep pressing the clicker on your remote, or set your camera/phone to video and just keep moving around. You will always have more bad shots than good ones but that’s ok. All you really need is one so take plenty to make sure you get it!
Hope these tips help and have fun!
PS: Looking to up your travel photo game? Consider signing up for KelbyOne photography classes. I’ve found lots of helpful tips and tricks for self portraits, landscape photography, photo editing and more from these classes. Learn more here.