Thanks to our way of traveling, we often find ourselves alone. Our trips bring us to dirt roads and dead ends, mountaintops and riverbeds, vibrant lakes and sandy deserts — and often we find these places empty. So what are two photographers to do when no one else is around to take the photo? We decided to start taking them ourselves, of course. It’s been a different kind of journey learning the art of self-portraiture. We’ve learned a lot, and with that in mind, here are some of our favorite images — and our best tips too.
1. January in Korakukan Jigokudani, Yudanaka Onsen, Snow Monkey Park, Japan
Early January, a 40-minute bus ride from Nagano station and a 40-minute walk through the snow. This natural hot spring, deep in the mountains, was the most rewarding prize after a long trek through the snowy woods. While it may look like we are freezing, the water is perfectly warm. After about 15 minutes, we were sweating while snow and ice were solidifying in our hair.
Tip #1: A few years ago, we found a camera remote on Kickstarter that allowed us to control our camera from a smartphone, we backed it immediately. This is where our self-portrait journey began, and we have been perfecting it ever since. That remote was the Alpine Lab’s Pulse remote. Our most used setting on the Pulse is the time-lapse setting, where we can set the camera to take photos every 3 seconds for a minute. This way don’t have to run into the frame and can try various poses and compositions at ease. Combine this with a tripod so you can safely walk away from your camera, and also to get eye-level (no one really wants to be photographed at an upward angle from the ground). We recommend a wide lens to capture the whole scene — we love a 35mm lens, which also works well in low light.
2. July in Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada
The warm summer air turns chilly as the sun slides behind the mountains. Only a sliver of light is left at the end of the valley, but in that moment, Banff revealed its secret to us: right at twilight, the water turns from a reflective blueish green to a vibrant green turquoise.
Tip #2: Style your clothing. It doesn’t have to be formal — hiking boots, t-shirts, and jeans are just as cute. Just be sure to take the time to coordinate your clothing based on the style you are going for — it will pay off in the end and look like a proper photoshoot. (If you were paying someone for photos, wouldn’t you dress up a bit?)
3. March in Glencoe Highlands, Scotland
The mountains looked majestic from the highway, but the path leading up to it was a marshland of mud and melting snow. We placed the tripod, then worked our way around a small river to a small hill. Feet squishing into the ground, we threw caution (and clean clothes) into the wind for an epic shot in the highlands.
Tip #3: Prepare for various circumstances. Rain? Get our rain cover packed away. Cold? Bring a jacket that you can throw on in between shots. Hiking? Tuck your dress into some leggings (yes, that is exactly what I did to hike up for this shot).
4. June in Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand
“I can tell you of the ocean, of its waves and the tides, but you will not truly understand it until you are surrounded by nothing but ocean on all sides.” -Kvothe, The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. That quote played through our heads constantly as we drove down into Milford Sound. An ancient sound with mountains and waterfalls too plentiful to name. Then we got to the coast, and as we stood at the feet of giants, we felt that spark of adventure and discovery all travelers crave.
Tip #4: As serious as the above photo looks, be ok with looking ridiculous. Yes, people will stare. And yes, you will feel a little silly running back and forth between posing and checking the photos. Though a time-lapse option will really help with that, there will be some running around.
5. February in Bear Valley, California, USA
“God rays,” as we like to call them, or sunbeams are a somewhat rare sighting – only appearing in the perfect moment of the sun shining through a dense fog. These moments are even more fleeting during golden hour, so when we were driving down the road and we caught a glimpse of these rays, we immediately pulled a U-turn, blasted the stereo, and chased the light.
Tip #5: Rent a car — or better yet a campervan — and just drive. Tour companies and public transport can be difficult to get to really rural places and to get there for the best light. It also doesn’t afford you the luxury to do things like turn around, forge ahead, take a left instead of a right, and so forth.
6. December in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
The hardest part about taking photos in the middle of a field of cactus was looking natural as we were both tensing up, trying to avoid being pricked by one thousand tiny needles. Winter in the desert means warm days that quickly fall into chilling nights, and we remember rushing to get our shots before the cold swept over the valley. Before long, we lost the light and had to navigate the death maze with only our wits to guide us.
Tip #6: Plan for the best lighting based on the weather. You’ve likely heard of golden hour, which is that magical time of the day for photos. If you know it will likely be sunny, avoid harsh sunlight by either shooting before sunrise or sunset. But don’t wait until golden hour to get to your location — you’ll find that you’ll need time to set up the shot and reframe it. If it’s cloudy, you can shoot at any time of the day.
7. March in Isle of Skye, Scotland
When taking campervan photos, make sure the parking brake is fully on when parked on an incline. Our car may have rolled back about 10 feet before Keith dove into the driver’s seat to stop it…. I was too busy setting up the camera to notice that the very car he was sitting in was slowly sliding down the road. But hey, it made a great story and the best memory.
Tip #7: Document your experience, not just the landscape. This is your adventure. We drove our very first campervan in Scotland — it was a bit rusty, run-down, and didn’t have water for the first few days, but it was our van. It was that rusty old van that we cooked meat pies in as we watched the sunrise over the fairy pools, cuddled up in with just enough room for our legs, and rolled down the windows to chase the sheep off the road. It was as much a part of our trip as the land, the people we met, and the places we saw, so it seemed right to include her in a portrait.
8. December in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA
We didn’t expect to find a quiet place of solace and natural beauty so close to a place like Las Vegas, but even the campgrounds were incredible! Right in our own backyard, we caught not just shadows of the fire, but the fire itself.
Tip #8: Look for a different perspective. Before you go, look up different photographs, and also research the time of year as to what to expect. But don’t just copy a photo you saw on Instagram; use it as inspiration to tell your own adventure.
9. October in Yosemite National Park, California, USA
This photo brings back so many memories for us. It was the first time we went to Yosemite and the first trip we took with the Pulse remote. Every time we set up the tripod to take a photo, we saw a better spot – until we found this perch. We sat there, shared some breakfast, and enjoyed the sunrise.
Tip #9: Be in the moment. Savor it, marvel at the landscape, take in the colors and light. Compose a nice shot, sure, but then just enjoy it. What’s the point of an epic self-portrait if you didn’t actually embrace the moment, the place, and the experience? It should be so much more than a couple likes on Instagram. Relax with each other, talk to each other, and forget the camera is even there.