Travel Selfies: 8 Ways to up Your Game

With Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass delights still dancing in my memories I began to follow the signposts to its neighboring sight-seeing giant, Notre Dame. Reflecting on the unwelcome prospect of wading through the forecasted crowds I quickly found myself sending out a ping on the Distraction Radar. There! The glint of a small brass object shook my sight from the windows of an animated cafe and I found myself inspecting a beautiful bicycle bell. Enamoured with how it shined it was an easy decision to photograph it. One shuffle for a different angle through my lens revealed that it was observing me just as intently! Laughing at the discovery I gleefully captured our impressions of each other.

As a frequent scrapbooker via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram I like to update my profile a lot! It’s an easy way to let my family, friends and followers know where I am or what I’m experiencing at the moment and a great method for keeping track of what I’ve been up to over the years. Like the projects where people photograph themselves every day for years, I enjoy the idea of documenting my personal evolution.

But a box-framed face can become a bit monotonous and life is so much more than a line of smiles! So I began to explore how to add a little spice to these little spaces. Here is what came up over the years:

1) DON’T BE AFRAID TO BECOME SMALL

While it’s a joy to see your smiling face, you’ll start to get lost in the repetition. People know what your beautiful face looks like! What they DON’T know yet is what your surroundings look like! They wanna know where you are! What do you see? How are you experiencing it? What is inspiring you right now?

Take twenty steps back from the lens and play level one Where’s Waldo. Everyone will love seeing how you interact with the exotic scenery! Plus, letting the view take over is often the best way to share the sense of wonder, playfulness or solemnity you felt in that moment. Let what inspired you, inspire them too!

2) DROP THE SHUTTER SPEED

From expressing serious motion to stretching out light like play dough, leaving your shutter open for a full second or even a few provides ample opportunities for some fun selfies! These won’t be quick snaps because you’ll get caught up in the thrill, but I promise you’ll love the time you spend on them! And as far as “more advanced” techniques are concerned this is one of the easy ones.

For starters you can aim for one of these two effects:

A) Motion Blur

It helps to have a tripod or sturdy perch for this technique. Drop your shutter speed to 1″ or 2″ and adjust your other controls accordingly (or let the camera do the adjustments in Shutter Speed Mode). Set your camera to timer – like you would for a family portrait you have to jump into – and step in front of the lens. Then it’s all about experimenting! What happens if you walk and then pause? Or walk pause walk? What if you hold still, but move your hands?

B) Light Play

Same idea as motion blur, but instead of throwing yourself around in bright conditions these work best in dark spaces. Find a light source of some kind (sparkler, flashlight, glowsticks, etc) and again slow your shutter speed and pop on the timer. Then, as countdown commences, hop in front of the lens and bring the light to life by waving it around into any shape you fancy!

On a side note: You can also use this technique for instant, club-style photos. You don’t even need a tripod! Just repeat the above and include the flash option. While the flash freezes your face in place the lights around you will be flexed and extended by the long exposure! You will need a friend of course so it’s not strictly a selfie anymore!

   

3) BECOME PART OF THE SCENE

Somewhere, some time ago on the vast and mysterious Internet I read a post recommending this tactic. And I absolutely adore it. Reflecting yourself off of sculptures, sunglasses, buildings, pools, bells, ANYTHING really, literally brings you into the scene and the experience.

  

4) JOIN THE DARK SIDE

I seriously love projections because they provide the perfect opportunity for some shadow play! Things start to get wacky when you are reduced to a shape!

       

5) THROW IN A LIMB

In a way I find throwing in a leg or hand oddly empowering. It’s like, hey! Guess what I love today. My hand!

6) GIFY THAT WALK!

I’ve used online GIF generators, Final Cut Pro and Photoshop to create these fantastic little animations and they never fail to amuse! I especially love that you can basically make a GIF type profile easily in Facebook now.

7) CULTURE CLASS

This is off-topic when it comes to techniques, but a big deal when it comes to improving your selfie scrapbook.

Nothing is worse than meeting a nice local, becoming friends and connecting with them on social media—only for them to find you hovering over, pinching or kicking off one of their sacred, iconic national symbols or monuments in your profile. A lot will humorously let it go, because silly tourists right? But wouldn’t you like to be a positive role model? I’d definitely invite you back if you do! A lot of monuments and sites make it easy for you. They’ll tell you if it is time to put on your cultural-awareness glasses!

One prime example is the photos taken at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe in Berlin. While I totally understand why people have a lot of fun goofing off in their captured interactions with the monument (it is terribly entertaining and aesthetically intriguing) it is unfortunately meant to allude to mass graves. In his photo-editing work, Yolocaust, a German-Israeli named Shahak Shapira showed that seemingly harmless selfies can be interpreted as deeply disrespectful to survivors of the Holocaust.

If it makes you feel any better about previous photos at this memorial, the architect of the monument, Peter Eisenman, raised a distinction between sites of real burials (cemeteries and the Auschwitz Concentration Camp for example) and sites reflecting on events.

“It’s like a catholic church, it’s a meeting place, children run around, they sell trinkets. A memorial is an everyday occurrence, it is not sacred ground,” he said in a BBC interview.

Your view of a certain monument and how you respond to it is ultimately up to you.

    

8) FIND A SUBSTITUTE (AM I CHEATING HERE?)

Sometimes you just need to throw in your inner animal. Or furniture. Or weather. Or plant. Or vehicle. It brings a bit of spice to the game! My favourite substitute seems to be pesky birds! I wonder what this means about my personality?
Plus, bring on the pop art! In these images I just used Photoshop to shift the Hue to these funky colours!

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Selfie Survival

Budget: from expensive cameras to smart phones, it all depends on what you have at your disposal. I used my Canon EOS Rebel T3i accompanied by my standard 18-55mm and fixed 50mm lens for most of these shots.

Age group: Can you hold a camera?

Clothes: Whatever you want! I once wore a painting!

Culture: Be adventurous. People are cool.

Food: I’ve certainly seen a lot of food photos.

Transport: Remember to not be the driver!

Time: 2 seconds to forever.

Pro Tip: fuck selfie sticks. They are the most obvious, restrictive (and therefore repetitive) tools out there. Plus they hurt and distract people.

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