How I take all my travel self portraits with just a smart phone, compact camera and tripod

posted on: Wednesday, 19 June 2019


{Yes, all of the above pictures were taken without a photographer, just me, a tripod and a camera}

At least once a day I'll be asked about my pictures and who's taking them, specifically when I'm travelling, and my response is always met with a sincere look of surprise. You see I take all of my own pictures on the go. It's just me and my tripod. I have a photographer that helps me about once a month in London with various campaign images (and I'm lucky that he's one of my best friends), but the rest of the images you see are all mine...taken with one trusted camera, two lenses, a travel size tripod and the help of a few iPhone app editing suites. Every bathtub shot you see, every Lowcountry bike ride, every outfit in situ on a balcony, it's all just me. And since I find myself answering this question daily, I thought it was about time I explained how I do it. I haven't been keeping it a national secret, I just haven't had the time to sit down and properly explain it all. But now I'm making the time, because I think what I'm about to share might just blow your mind a bit and give you the confidence to perhaps try it yourself. I think all too often people think there's this massive support group with creating content and more often than not, it's just the content creator and their craft left to their own devices. In reality, I prefer it that way. I feel I can be a lot more free with my photography when it's just me, myself and I. Ask anyone that's ever worked with me and they'll tell you I'm an entirely different picture when there is an actual human being working behind the camera. When it's just me and the tripod, you get the real me, no inhibitions, just solid entertainment. So, without further ado, let's get into it.


Let me give you the edited version of what you're about to dive into, because I need to start with the kit I'm using, in order to explain the technology behind how it all works. Here's the scenario - I'm taking a bathtub picture. Proof:


So, for this picture, I attached the camera to the tripod and set up the shot from across the room, I got my frame aligned just perfectly and setup the camera settings exactly how I thought I wanted them to be. After switching on the wifi in the camera, I then crawled into said bath, with my iPhone in tow. From there, and thanks to the amazing app with the camera, I could see the image on my phone's screen. I made a few tweaks to the programming (screenshots for reference below when we get into this), setup the focus and pressed go! I went back and looked at what had been taken, made sure I had a shot I could use, before I crawled out of the bath, and job done. From there, I downloaded the images I was going to edit, ran them through two or three photo editing apps on my iPhone and finally chose the image you see above. Sound all too easy? I swear I'm not leaving anything out. The technology is there. All you need is the creative vision. So, ready to learn?

Let's kick off with what you're going to need to make this happen...

This is the most important part of this entire post, because no camera, that I've been able to find, can do what the Olympus Pen can do, and you'll see why as we move forward. For now, just know that this is the best money you will spend if you are looking to take self portraits moving forward. The technology here is so advanced and so incredibly useful that I haven't had my head turned once by any other camera. Full disclosure: I worked with Olympus years ago, but have not in years and I still buy new Pens as they come out. I could not live without this camera and recommend it to all. 


The Portrait Lens

While most people will find that the kit lens included, a 14-42mm, is just fine for your day to day photography, some of you may want to get more advanced with your portraits. My lens of choice for portraits (and food) is the 25mm lens. Now, this is an investment. Lenses of this nature are not cheap and if you know any photographers, you'll know they often say their lenses are more expensive than the camera themselves. 


This one, if you treat it nicely, will be in your life forever and is worth every penny you'll ever spend on it. The results are flawless portraits that are magazine level quality. I adore the portraits I take with my 25mm - more so of other people than myself, but I'll always love taking pictures of other people! Here's one of the self portraits I took with it recently, using all the tips I'm about to share:


The Tripod:
The Manfrotto tripod has been my weapon of choice for years now. I can't tell you how I tripped onto this brand, but this little three legged piece of trouble has never let me down, not even once. It's lightweight, fits into any travel bag and has seen more parts of the globe with me than anyone else over the years. Find a tripod that works for you. It doesn't have to be this one, but it's been good to me, so I feel confident in recommending it. 


So that's your equipment done and dusted.You ready for the real magic?

For the rest of this tutorial you'll need to have the following on you: a smart phone and a creative mind. That's it. That's all that's missing here.

Now I'm going to write this for amateur photographers, like we're all newbies here. There's no need to know anything about photography at all, really. Although, it's always good to have a working knowledge and I cannot encourage you enough to take a class locally or learn as much as you can from books or youtube tutorials. Every bit of knowledge will help to make your end result even more fantastic.

So, back to the bathtub picture. I'm assuming I don't need to tell you how to set up a camera on a tripod, so let's skip ahead. Once you have your creative target acquired and an idea for how you'd like to step into shot, turn on the wifi on your camera. Witness:

When you turn on your camera, a wifi button will appear in the upper left hand side of the camera. So far, so easy.

You'll get a prompt that says it's connecting with a password option and a QR code (I've blacked mine out for security reasons). You will only need to set this up once. 

Now, grab your iPhone and head to your settings to connect to the camera Wifi. Hopefully I don't have to tell you where to do this, but just in case you're at a loss:

Make sure you've downloaded the Olympus Image Share app on your iPhone before you attempt the next step. Note: it doesn't magically appear when you connect to the camera. You need to download this from the app store. 

So, the app is on your phone, you've connected to the camera wifi and it's time for you to get that magical photo. So click onto the beautiful blue icon for the Olympus Image Share and off we go. This is what will pop up:

From there you will be given a few options. For the purpose of this post, we are going to concentrate on the remote control. Tap on Remote Control....

From here, you see what your camera sees, on your phone. Wherever the camera is pointed, that's what will be reflected! Your phone screen will look like this:

Now, when this screen pops up, you have a few options. In the top right hand corner, you will see that you can choose which setting you'd like your camera to operate in. You can switch between an auto setting or an aperture priority, shutter speed priority or other. In the bottom centre, you can then control things like aperture, shutter speed and ISO. These are all things you can change according to your skill level with photography. To make this easy, let's leave things on auto and focus more on how you are going to use this camera to take pictures of yourself.

So, in the bottom right hand corner of the screen on your phone, you'll see a rectangular box. Tap on this box to setup your self timer. This is where things get interesting!

When you tap on the icon that looks like a timer, and then tap on the cog to the right, in the same box, this screen will make an appearance:

This is the power play right here, folks. This is where you can tell your camera how to shoot you. For me, I set my camera to take ten frames, with two seconds pause between each frame so I can change poses. If you're confused, here's the simple translation. After I've adjusted my settings, put myself into frame with the camera, liked what I've seen with phone in hand, I press a button and my camera takes shots of me in ten different poses so I have a variety of pictures to choose from for my final pictures - instead of just one! 

When you've selected how many frames you wish to take and how many seconds pause to wait between each frame, tap the screen to show the camera where to focus, then tap the camera button and you will have three seconds to put your phone down, in a pocket or behind a hat (I often do this or put it in a bag). Then it's time to pose like the beautiful supermodel that you are. You will hear the camera shutter close and you can easily count how far along you are, or you can leave the phone in a place where you can see it and check the frames, between takes, to see how things are looking so you can change up your approach to the picture. It's completely up to you. This is what the screen looks like while it's shooting:

I have been doing this for so long that I usually get the shot I want without 2-3 tries. That means about 30 pictures. Here's a look at the last portrait series that I have in full from when I was home last week. You can see there are just subtle changes between each frame, but it's enough to give me choice on what I might want to share. 

Simply download the pictures from your camera onto your smart phone and then it's time to edit them. You can also email or post to social straight from the app. Thought I'd throw in a little Boomer moment for you here to showcase your options:


Now, hopefully that was helpful. There are a lot of cameras out there that have wifi capabilities with smartphones, but none that I've found that have this setup where you can take self portraits, see them as they are being taken and adjust accordingly. It's a pretty unique setup and a very desirable selling point for those of us in a world where we have to share self portraits quite regularly. Although, saying that, I acted as family photographer for my entire six person fam last week and took some amazing shots of us all together, all on tripod with this app doing all the hard work. So, this is a useful too for absolutely anyone! 

Now, just before we go, let's talk editing apps. I use two.

First up is Snapseed. This I use above all else. I think it's one of the best editing apps out there. It's completely free and it's easy to learn. You just need to play with it. I edit almost of all of my portraits in here with lighting and colour tools. 

The second app I use is Lightroom. This is not free. In fact, this is rather expensive, but I use it enough to warrant the cost. This is used not only to store my travel photos, but also to edit them in bulk. It's a wonderful tool for presets, applying the same edit to multiple pictures and communicating between phone and laptop computer. This is a more advanced tool and not at all needed. I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to this stuff, and used to work in design, so I prefer this tool, but that's just me.

So those are my editing apps. 

For those of you that are on social media and working as professionals, I also recommend using a planning app for your photos. I use one called Planoly and have done for a while now. It just allows me to keep a plan in action for what I'm going to post. While 65% of what I post isn't planned, there are things that need to be posted at certain times, whether they are sponsored, announcing a special something or just plain scheduled to coincide with something as cheesy as national pancake day (why can't that be everyday?). 


I think that's just about everything. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a DM over on Instagram and let me know how I can help! Discovering this whole setup really has changed the game for me and I'm hoping it might for you as well. The freedom of being your own photographer, especially for self portraits, is somewhat addictive. So, proceed with caution. But, I can't wait to see what you bring forward to the world as a result!