The awkward self portrait

Scenario. You find yourself in front of something memorable, and you want a photo. But you’re alone with your camera and what could be a crowd of hundreds (see: Eiffel Tower) or a crowd of two (see: side street in old town Prague). The question is .. can you drum up the courage to ask someone to take your photo or do you suck it up and say cheese for a self-portrait?


photo credit: Matthew Turtell

I travel solo pretty frequently. I’m ultra independent, I know what I want, and I prefer not to have anyone in my way. Coffee at 8 pm? Yes. Three gelato stops? You got it. Sit in the same seat at this café for two hours? Don’t mind if I do. But you know what’s hard when traveling solo? Photos of self.


this time, with the peace sign

I saw an outstanding self portrait a few weeks ago in Chicago. Morgan and I were people watching at the Bean and this highly comical Jersey Shore look alike was posing .. and posing .. and posing in the reflection of the sculpture with his iphone. Glasses on, glasses off, pouty face, smile, peace sign. I was SO engrossed in his decisions that I literally stopped to watch… and snapped his picture. I can only assume he was traveling alone, and was without a picture taker (or a real camera).

Asking someone to take a photo is probably one of the most universal gestures in the world, next to the peace sign, the middle finger and the thumbs up (in that order? who can say). You hold up the camera in question, gesture forward like you’re going to offer it to someone, and gesture back at yourself. The answer is usually “yes, yes, yes, photo” with copious nodding of the head. See? Everyone speaks English.

Travel is full of awkward moments.

The end goal is to laugh at them, and yourself .. eventually.

I shoot with a Nikon D-60. It wasn’t cheap. This is part of the reason I am sometimes hesitant to hand off my camera to others. It’s also proven to be a social experiment. I seem to gravitate towards fellow Nikon users, although this is certainly not always a) an option, b) a sign of a good photographer. Check out this awful photo taken of me on Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.


what exactly is she photographing?

I took a photo for a pair of women, and thought it would be a good time to ask for the return favor. The minute she started angling and pacing with my camera I thought that it was headed for the cobblestones or that this picture was going to suck. Check out the guy next to me, even he knows it’s going to suck!

Thankfully, the next woman took the request far more seriously, and shot what I wanted. And she even took the courtesy second photo, for the win.


oh look, scenery!

I have been known to walk up to people with their arms awkwardly extended in front of themselves, just to relieve them of their predicament. I could have made a business out of this on the Triana bridge in Sevilla, sabes? Countless people in strange positions, trying to execute a photo from arm’s length away, and simultaneously not fall into the Guadalqivir.

Has someone done that for you? Pay it forward, please. I can only take so much.


4 thoughts on “The awkward self portrait

  1. I’m more of the extend-my-own-arm kind of man. Great post though and something I’ve been wondering about a lot as a solo traveller. I definitely will pay it forward Haley Joel Osmond style the next time I get a chance! You’ve certainly influenced this little guiri…


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