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This post isn’t for everyone. I’ll admit there are a fair number of outgoing, gregarious extroverts out there who have no problem walking up to anyone in any country and asking for help. For those of you who fit that mold, you might want to consider skipping this post and forwarding it to a more shy friend. I know this may seem painfully obvious to some readers, but I have been asked this very question enough times to let me know others out there will benefit from a quick read.
For everyone else, this post will outline some simple tips to help you overcome the hesitation to hand your camera to someone to take your picture. Arm-length self portraits are fine up until a point. Even when traveling with someone else (otherwise known as your personal paparazzi) there comes a time when you both may want to be in a photo together. If there is nothing around to set your camera on for a self portrait, it’s time to ask for help.
Step one: make things easy for the photographer. All cameras have some type of auto feature, usually highlighted by a big green rectangle. This mode will be the easiest on an unsuspecting photographer because there is nothing they have to set. Further, if your camera has some type of face detection feature, turn it on as well to help insure your smiling face is not over or under exposed.
Next, look around for your likely target. Some good candidates include:
Personally I get asked to take many photographs because I am lugging around professional gear. I look like I know how to take a photo and that is who you ideally want. The mere act of holding a camera in your hand and scanning a crowd will help point you to someone willing to help.
Do you know how much easier life in general is when you follow this rule? Be open and friendly and make eye contact, good eye contact. The type of eye contact where you actually remember the person’s eye color. Why is this important? It helps weed out those who really don’t care to engage you or want to avoid you. It also makes you more likable.
All there is left to do is ask. “Excuse me. Would you mind taking my photo, please?” I know, horribly easy. If you don’t speak the language, consider learning the phrase (and others) before you leave. Google Translate is a good place to start although I can’t vouch for how accurate it is for each language listed. Or, if you really don’t know the language, sign language is your best bet. Raised eyebrows with a point to your camera is all it usually takes. Oh yeah, keep smiling. If your camera has a plethora of buttons, be sure to point out the shutter release when you get a taker.
Some people fear everyone while traveling. They hear the horror stories and that is their impression of any given location, even though they take the time to visit. While I’m not a fan of paranoia, it is important to trust your instincts while selecting a photographer. Not every stereotype out there is true, so I can’t even begin to list who to avoid. If you have even the least bit of hair standing up on the back of your neck, move on to someone else. Trust yourself.
Sure there are a number of societies out there where thanking someone is not custom, but for the most part, a kind “Thank You” is always appreciated. Again, learn the phrase before you go. Here’s a fabulous list with 465 listed ways to thank someone.
For you introverts out there who despise asking for anything or disturbing others, I hope this post gives you a little push to get yourself in the photo the next time you travel. It really is this easy, just go do it!
March 30, 2011 04:06 pm
I find that asking someone with a DSLR especially those who aer alone always works best.
It sometimes helps spark off a good photography talk
March 28, 2011 11:29 pm
If you want to have full control over your shot it is always better to use tripod :)
Sometimes I ask my wife who know me and my type of photography, so I have full trust in her abilities:
March 21, 2011 11:13 am
I've long since learned that it's beneficial to bring along a cheap point-and-shoot camera for this very reason. Ideally, one with a decent fixed-focus lens; though these are getting increasingly difficult to find these days. I'm glad I kept my Finepix A201, but after 10 years of use and abuse, it's not going to last for much longer. I bought an XP10 to replace it, so when it's dropped, it shouldn't hurt it like it did the A201. If only they could build the A201 in the XP10 body, we'd be one step closer to living in a perfect world...:)
March 18, 2011 12:45 pm
When I see a couple or a group taking their picture, and one of them is behind the camera, I generally approach and ask them if they would want me to take their picture together. Of course, it helps when they see a DSLR in my hands as well.
March 18, 2011 12:15 pm
One other approach is to use an "X-Shot - pocket telescopic camera extender". I have one and find it quite useful. Here is a link to the product on Amazon -
March 18, 2011 09:57 am
Good one. I am sometimes asked to take a photo for someone, and sometimes I offer - for instance when I see a couple taking photos of each other and I might ask them if they'd like a photo of them both together. I never mind doing this, and I don't think other people do either.
March 18, 2011 05:35 am
I only ask someone who I can outrun. ;)
March 18, 2011 04:13 am
Great article and comments!
One more tip of advice (from experience)...always put the strap of your camera around the neck of the person you just asked to take your photo. Or - ask them to do so. Several years ago - I handed my Nikon D50 to an older man who offered to take my photo. As he backed up to take the shot - he fell backwards - arms extended my camera smacked the concrete. Granted, I was much more concerned about him at that moment than I was my camera - but had the strap of my camera actually been around his neck, I think it would have just bounced on his chest/stomach and I might not have needed to replace my camera... :( He promised me he was fine - just shaken. It was, however, a great excuse to purchase a new D300! :)
March 18, 2011 03:46 am
Recently retired, I have been doing a lot of sightseeing around the globe. I often travel on my own and have solved the problem of having myself in some of my pictures in the following way. I have a wonderful gadget called an "XShot Camera Extender", purchased at a quality camera shop. The extender is lightweight and extends to 30 inches or 77 cm. It won't work for DSLR's but I travel with my fabulous Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS6. (Soon I will have the new ZS10....the ZS series have been the absolute best cameras I have ever owned!) If I had a nickel for every comment I've had about the camera extender while using it, I'd be rich ;-) Check it out at http://www.xshotpix.com/
p.s. The extender tends to make airport security people nervous, so put it in your checked luggage or take it out of your carry-on so security can have a good look at it!
March 18, 2011 02:33 am
For me I always set my DSLR in Live View for that person whom going to help me to take my photo.
March 18, 2011 02:25 am
The Best things in life are free. I love this article for its simplicity. Thanks :)
March 18, 2011 02:03 am
From my experience handing over my camera to someone else who's a non-photographer (whether it's a dSLR or P&S compact) setting it on Auto is the (al)most foolproof way of getting properly exposed images. Full Auto mode also overrides certain settings like slow sync flash, which requires the person handling the camera to wait until the shutter fully closes.
The only thing that can't be controlled is how they press the shutter. More often than not, blurry shots are caused by the way these people jam their finger on the shutter button, causing camera shake. I would observe the way they press the shutter. If I notice my camera moves a bit when they take the first shot, I'd politely ask them to grip the camera firmly and press the shutter gently for the second or third shots. Works for me. :-)
March 16, 2011 08:36 pm
I remember being on a dinner cruise circumnavigating NYC when I asked my soon to be wife to marry me. It was a beautiful sky and I was scanning the crowd to find someone to take a photo of us with my camera. I saw a few people with film SLRs (It was 1981) and of the ones I saw I stereotyped and chose a Japanese couple. Stereotyping doesn't work in this case. Both pix showed a beautifully sharp NYC skyline with our very blurry selves (f2.8) in the foreground. Live and learn.
March 16, 2011 03:07 pm
I went to Vegas a few weeks ago and I had strangers take pictures of me and my friend quite a few times. My biggest pet peev though: even though I scouted out people that had already taken photos and looked like they knew what they were going, the photos mostly turned out terribly. For the most part, just bad framing. Like why wouldn't they have moved 2 steps to the right to get the angle straight on, or when we were on a bridge in front of the Paris hotel, why wouldn't they have made sure they got the "eiffel tower" in the background? I was quite frustrated a lot of the time!
March 15, 2011 04:51 pm
Somewhat similar, but Jenn asked Me to take a shot with her camera. I guess it is the same question. She was super polite and waited until I looked finished, then gave a charming smile...could not resist!
Kerstenbeck Photographic Art
March 15, 2011 06:41 am
I would add: pick a person that has a similar camera, and if you have a DSLR, explain the concept quickly (i.e don't look at the display screen but in the viewfinder).
March 15, 2011 05:56 am
Great article! And it reminds me of many occasions I had on my trip across Europe.
I'll share a couple tips I used along the way.
1) look for someone with an SLR who is snapping away in your direction. you might get some interesting results
2) you'll make friends along the way and they'll usually be more that happy to take camera duty
3) people will always ask you the same question if you are at a touristic area, just ask them to do the same for you :-)
Here are a couple interesting shots people have taken of me with my camera along the way.
And I definitely agree with the last point, always say Thank You! You probably won't remember the person who took your photo but you will sure be glad to have the memories when you get back home!
March 15, 2011 03:37 am
In popular tourist spots, I try to find someone with a similar camera to mine (fairly available normally, a lot of Rebels/xxxD and D3000 out there). Such a person is not intimidated by an DSLR, know how to compose through a viewfinder (as opposed to the LCD), and probably the best bet for safe handling.
I set to P mode, and select only the middle focus point. And ask politely to get me in the middle of the frame. I also compose the shot before giving it to the the person to get the distance to the subject (me) correct. I then hand the camera to the perosn on the spot where I would like him to stand.
March 15, 2011 02:14 am
I'm reluctant to hand over my SLR, not because I'm worried about something happening to it, but because I've customized the settings for my preferences and most passers-by would probably not be able to get a great shot out of it (or atleast I just don't trust they will), but its mostly because I'm nitpicky. I suppose I could switch it into auto, reset the default settings and let the shoot away and not really care about the result, but if ever the situation arises its usually impromptu and I don't want to keep someone waiting as I prep my camera, plus then there is trying to instruct them on the composition, framing, proper holding technique etc, its just not worth the trouble. I know these kind of shots are more just a visual record that you have been to a particular place with a particular someone, so I guess I'll just hand them my phone and let them use that camera if it ever comes to that.
March 15, 2011 12:12 am
I second Jason Grear's comment... look for a couple (I prefer couples with small children, so they have their hands full and aren't thinking of taking your camera) and offer to take a picture of them. Usually they're so happy they offer to take a picture of you without you needing to ask! :)
March 14, 2011 11:56 pm
Great article - It got me thinking about the times I have been asked to take someone’s photograph. Do you always say yes?
For me I do occassionally say no - if the area isn't too crowded and I have my camera on a strap then of course I will usually say yes.
However if I am in a very busy area and have my camera set up on a tripod I am not going to step away from my expensive gear to take someone’s photograph, in that case I do say no due to the security of potentially walking away from my gear. I could take the camera off the tripod and then take their picture but I may have just spent 10 or 15 minutes setting up a shot for them to interrupt me.
Perhaps I am too security conscious about my equipment.
March 14, 2011 11:37 pm
there is always a tripod and a wireless trigger if all that fails!!
March 14, 2011 09:54 pm
I look for a couple in the same situation, volunteer to take their picture, then ask them to do the same. Works every time. I also make sure the center focus point is active!
March 14, 2011 04:11 pm
Thanks Peter, I loved this article. One more tip I would add is if you're up for an adventure look for a student photographer, someone who looks like they're shooting strange things and taking notes systematically. If you're not up for a little excitement and conversation, avoid students like the plague!
This poor guy asked a friend and I to take a picture of him last weekend. We're both photography students so we spent a lot of time ooo-ing and ahh-ing over his Nikon and fiddling with the settings and flash.
He had borrowed the "good" camera from his photographer wife who was not with him, so he was a good sport about the whole thing but I don't think he was prepared for our enthusiasm :) He ended up with some really nice photos but the whole process took almost fifteen minutes!
March 14, 2011 03:09 pm
I don't have any problems asking people to take my picture, but 9 times out of 10, they take a picture with my face exactly centered in the frame. I have a picture of my buddy and me standing on top of Devils Tower (Wyoming), not the easiest place to get to. You can see us from the knees up, the tops of a few sagebrush bushes and about two-thirds of a frame full of featureless sky.
Any tips (besides Mandeno's #2) on how to get people to compose the shot properly?
March 14, 2011 01:38 pm
I always just look for someone with an SLR... preferably someone alone or with only one other person. Works like a charm. Don't need to speak the same language... just smile, point at your camera and then at them... I have LOTS of super pics of me and my hubby without lugging around a tripod. I always set up the camera and the shot first...
March 14, 2011 11:05 am
Timely article. I'm traveling solo and attended a Khmer dancing performance last night. There was a time period to get your photos with the dancers. Based on this experience, I can't stress the Scan the Crowd point enough. I stepped out my shell and asked someone to take my photo with the dancers, I didn't think about who I asked. I got back a horrible photo with someone standing pretty much in front of me.
March 14, 2011 10:59 am
Really, "low f-stop"? Do you have nothing better to do?
I think this is a very nice article!
Though... I don't know if I can yet let someone else hold my $700 camera... lol. I can barely let my husband play with it!!
March 14, 2011 10:57 am
another tip is to change your SLR setting to single-shot mode, if you normally set it to multi-shot mode.
this is because many people are used to point-and-shoot cameras, where they know to depress the shutter button for an extended period because point-and-shoot cameras take that long to react. Many times, handling over my SLR on multi-shot mode to others has resulted in them taking multiple shots.
as well, tell them to use the viewfinder, not the screen on the back
March 14, 2011 10:16 am
I always volunteer to take pictures of a couple or a family if I see one person taking the picture. No one has EVER said "No, thank you". In fact they always ask if they can do the same for me. So if you are shy about asking someone to help you, volunteer to help them.
March 14, 2011 09:43 am
Great post! It's always awkward to watch people struggle to take photos of themselves in public... so whenever I'm in a high-tourist area, I offer to take photos for people. I think it's appreciated. If I'm looking for someone to take a photo, I always give a quick demo, AND searching for fellow photographers works well too.
March 14, 2011 09:26 am
I have this all the time. I always take photos when were on a trip for my girl scout troop, and only one person knows how to semi know my camera. and so i barely get photos of me.
March 14, 2011 09:08 am
Being always behind the lens, I was afraid that my young twin boys would never be able to look back at pics with thier Dad. I started asking people hey can you take our picture. I normally look for a person who has a camera or doing the same and often offer to trade. Hey let me take your picture with you all in and and then can you take ours ?
But its been a running joke that some how even if I pick out a person who looks like that have some skills I get cut out of the picture. So now I figure if I ask more I am bound and determined to get at least one good pic.
Carrying a decent camera bag, when I see someone "being left out of a group shot" I have often asked hey would you like to get in the picture and most of the time people take me up on the offer. While I may use thier camera, I have taken a pic or two with mine and offered to email it. I havve made a few email pals that way.
March 14, 2011 08:28 am
I love the advice, and I think it is alway polite if they have a camera to offer to take their photo in return....
March 14, 2011 07:50 am
Great post and an unusual perspective on photography (that was too good to resist).
I have had a similar experience when wearing two cameras: two young ladies were scanning the crowd, looking for someone to take their photo, and their eyes lit up when they saw me.
3 further ideas:
1) Set the zoom so that your borrowed photographer doesn't have to do this.
2) You could take a photo that shows your desired framing before choosing someone to take your photo. Note a point of reference that will remind you where to stand, eg "beside that pink rock". Then show it to to the person you choose: "Just like that please, but with me in it".
3) DSLRs are intimidating for many people and you really don't want someone to drop it: asking them to put the strap over their head is another imposition on them and may be impractical for people who are wearing a hat.
One possibility is to have a small point and shoot for situations such as this, and it would double as a back up if anything happens to your good camera. If the borrowed photographer drops it the loss is relatively minor and you can say "Don't worry, it's just an old spare".
3a) Some of the Canon A-series are very good, and cheap second hand. They also run on AA batteries which you can buy almost anywhere, so you don't have to carry a charger (disposable batteries are only practical for a backup/occasional use camera).
Eg the Canon A590IS has image stabilisation, full auto, face detection (mentioned in Peter's article), an optical viewfinder for sunny days that make the LCD invisible, and it can keep a "serious" photographer happy with shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual.
March 14, 2011 07:06 am
I really dont like having people take pictures of me, I prefer to stay behing the lens, and usually I have my wife take shots of me. However, when I do ask strangers to shoot, I politely ask and always set my D90 to Auto Everything as most snappers are point and shooters (nothing wrong with that)...and I have gotten some very unusual and surprisingly good results!
March 14, 2011 06:45 am
Always make sure they put the strap round their neck or hand. I asked a guy to take a picture of me and my family at Cape Augulas, the southern tip of Africa. After he took the picture he dropped the camera and the lens snapped off. It was pretty awkward but what can you say!!
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