Mastering the art of the ‘professional’ selfie

This article was created for The Travel Project by Shuo Hang, an intrepid visual storyteller plotting to conquer the world one country at a time...

From people who don’t know me, the first question I often get asked after going through my travel photos is: “Who takes your photos?”

I regard it as a fair question to ask, because I am usually in the photos myself. I do find it surprising, though, that most people do not automatically assume I’ve used a tripod. The tripod is a vital component for taking the ‘ultimate selfie’. Not only are the photos sharp but you can also create HDR selfies. Most purists believe that a selfie should be taken hand-held, but all that gets you is your big head filling the frame!

I take selfish selfies because it’s just me and Mother Nature and no one else. I want to add a human element to the scene so the viewer can visualise the sense of scale, and marvel at the wonder of nature. The feeling of insignificance in the universe in which we live is powerful and evocative. It allows the viewer to live vicariously in that two-dimensional slice of time and space.

And besides, it is the ultimate holiday photo! Who wants the same photo like every other photographer who stood next to you? You want to be able to point and proudly proclaim to your children or grandchildren: “That’s me, I was there!”

My tripod has been my travel companion for many years, whether I travel solo or not. I’ve tried to use GorillaPods and bags as makeshift tripods, but have found I can never frame the camera in my ideal position. There is the option of asking a stranger to help you take the shot, but I find that however much you explain how to take the photo they will invariably have a different creative outlook than you do. They won’t care about what seems to them like trivial elements, such as whether the horizon is horizontal or whether the pose should be ‘King of the World’ or ‘Explorer’!

Sometimes, especially for the sunrise shots, you really are alone and the tripod will be your only aide. You are the director, the model and the lighting technician in your own world. A tripod specifically designed for travel is therefore essential. A good travel tripod will unfold to chest height and fold to slot in most day packs.

Many premium tripods are made of carbon fibre, which is relatively lightweight compared to aluminium. I purposely used the word “relatively” because if you are on a multi-day trek, hiking 8 hours a day, you will notice the weight difference! Trekking with a tripod is burdensome but once you get THAT shot it’s worth every bead of sweat and blister, as not many other people would be stupid or adventurous enough to do it!

When attempting to take the ultimate selfie with a tripod, the timer function is key! The automatic self-timer generally gives you about 10 seconds before the camera is triggered. That’s 10 seconds to run to position and strike a pose! Repeating the process over and over again can be time consuming. If I’m not too far away from the camera I use my remote timer which only gives a 2-second delay before the shot is taken thereby making the process a lot quicker.

Remember most of the time you only have a limited window of time in order to take that golden sunrise shot before the hordes of tourists arrive, so make each shot count!

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