Why I Started Taking More Photos of Myself–
And Why You Should, Too

Let’s start this article with an important disclaimer: I HATE photos of myself. You’ll never find me spending hours taking endless selfies. I’m self-conscious and self-critical. I always find something wrong with myself, even in the best photos. Everyone else looks great; it’s just me. So, I avoid photos. I volunteer to take them of others or I focus on taking photos of my surroundings, but I don’t suggest people take photos of me, and I don’t take them of myself.

Or, at least, I didn’t.

A few years ago, I had a change of heart when I realized I hardly had any pictures of myself—and I’m not talking about random, everyday selfies; but rather, travel photos. I have extensive photographic evidence that I’ve journeyed to some amazing places but rarely am I in that evidence.

It made me wonder: was I truly experiencing those places or was I living through my lens? Was I immersing myself in the destination or was I just seeing it?

Don’t get me wrong—I think taking photos of your surroundings is absolutely something you should do. But it’s also good to put down the camera, truly experience wherever you are, and live in the moment. For example, I personally do not understand people who take photos or video of fireworks. Most of the time, these people are looking at the camera—and missing out on the wonder of the live event. And, be honest, are you really going to rewatch that video of fireworks? And if you do, what are you actually remembering about that moment?

It’s important to be—to take in what’s happening, put down the technology, and live what’s actually happening. Those memories will be much more important to you.

But this is also where I think taking photos of yourself is actually beneficial—you’re actively putting yourself in the action. And it’s good for you in many ways.

 

Nicole in front of the monument to William Shakespeare, located in Lincoln Park - Chicago, IL.
Hanging with William Shakespeare in Lincoln Park – Chicago, IL.

It helps you be more present in the moment (it’s proof you were there!)

When I first noticed that I was hardly in my photos, I told myself on the next trip I would do better. But I still had a hard time remembering that particular resolution. It wasn’t until my first solo trip, to Chicago, that I really pushed myself to make it happen. I always take photos of my surroundings but I started to realize that when I looked around, took in the sights, and then actively decided where to place myself in those selfies, that I was taking it all in rather than only snapping photos of what was around me.

Placing yourself in the photo helps you immerse yourself a little more in your surroundings so that you’re truly experiencing the destination, not simply documenting it. It’s an announcement saying “Hey, I was here!” which gives your photos greater context. We all love seeing photos of skylines and architecture and other sites that make a location special. Those photos have a place, but we also love photos with people in them—after all, photos with faces are more popular on social media. It makes sense too because, while we love looking at the beach or mountains or skyline, when we see pictures of our friends or family or even people we don’t know in these photos, it provides a greater context, and we can see how happy or engaged they are. It personalizes the photo and adds emotion. It’s the same when looking at travel photos you’ve taken with yourself front and center–you can see how happy you were when you were there.

 

Nicole surfing for the first time in Waikiki - Honolulu, HI
Surfing for the first time in Waikiki – Honolulu, HI

It helps you recall specific memories

The photos I gravitate towards when looking back on old trips are the few I end up in–either because they were candids taken by someone else or because I was reluctantly included. My favorite photos are those that include me, friends, family, and the locals. I look at those photos and am immediately drawn to specific memories and what was happening around me as the photo was taken. They help to recall more than the location, such as the emotions at that moment and the specific experience.

Photos can take you back to your trip in a way other souvenirs may not be able to, and when you are in those photos with your destination in the background or with other people, it helps to put that memory into context. Maybe you’ll remember a conversation you had or how it was cold that day or the way you felt happy or at peace or maybe even bored.

Two travel photos I absolutely adore are from over a decade ago while I was studying abroad in Hong Kong:

Nicole and her friend with an old woman in Donsol, Philippines
The Old Woman of Donsol – Philippines

One is a picture of me, my friends, and an old woman in Donsol, a small town in the Philippines. I don’t remember much about the town because my friends were off doing something that I didn’t want to do (I think I didn’t have the money for it), and I didn’t leave the hostel that day because I wasn’t as adventurous as I am now and I was apprehensive about my surroundings and not knowing where I was. But when we were at the bus stop, waiting for the van that would take us to our next destination, there was an old woman that came up to us. She didn’t speak any English, but she saved that day for me. When I look at that picture, I remember the way she held my hand the entire time, the way she seemed genuinely interested in us even though we couldn’t verbally communicate, and the way she didn’t want us to leave until we all took a picture–sadly, a picture that we had no way to get back to her, although she did get to see it on our primitive digital cameras.  

 

Nicole with school children at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam
School children at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam

The second is a candid shot that my friend took of me while we were visiting the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam. There was a group of school children there on a field trip that day and though we didn’t share the same language, they gravitated towards us and our digital cameras. They wanted to take photos with us and then see themselves on the cameras. My friend captured me showing a group of children one of the pictures while another kid gives the camera a thumbs up. The photo helps me remember how great that day was and how the sun was so bright that we had trouble seeing the screen on the camera, but the kids didn’t care. They just enjoyed hanging out with us as we did with them.

Not only do both of these photos help me recall the specific memories associated with those days and trips, they remind me that I was there and I truly experienced some of the cultures, making meaningful connections with the people, even if short-lived.

 

Nicole up in the mountains of Davos, Switzerland
Up in the mountains of Davos, Switzerland

It’s a Confidence Boost

As I mentioned, I hate looking at myself in photos. I’m instantly drawn to what I perceive to be imperfections–my smile being a little lopsided, the way I sometimes have a double chin, and other little things that no one else really notices–but all things I don’t really see when I look in a mirror. This self-critical view and these insecurities are not limited to just me. It’s a common issue and one that causes many people to skip out on photos, find ways to hide, or volunteer to be the one behind the camera; which means, in some ways, you’re missing out.

So, why do we hate seeing ourselves in pictures? So much so that if we do take pictures, we become obsessed with beauty filters, apps, and other mechanisms that help photoshop your face in real time. There’s actually a scientific reason for having a visceral reaction to how you perceive yourself in pictures. Known as the “mere-exposure hypothesis,” the fact is that we’re most used to seeing ourselves in the mirror, which means we see ourselves in reverse. And this mirror image is what we are most familiar and comfortable with; it’s what our brain has accepted as how we look. So, because very few people have perfectly symmetrical faces, when we see ourselves in photos, we are seeing the opposite of what the brain knows. Because you’re not familiar with seeing yourself this way, your eyes are drawn to all the things that are “different” about your self-image and your brain doesn’t like that.

So, how do we combat this? Take more pictures, so many pictures that you grow used to seeing yourself the way others see you. The more you see yourself on camera, the more familiar the image will become, and the less you’ll see all those “imperfections,” so you can start seeing how beautiful you really are–especially with that genuine smile on your face. It’s also the perfect way to document yourself through the years, so you can see how you’ve changed. You’ll grow more comfortable with who you are and your confidence may even get a well-deserved boost.  

 

Nicole riding a camel in Marrakech, Morocco
Riding with Lulu the Camel in Marrakech, Morocco

Once I made the decision to take more photos of myself, it became a question of how. If you’re traveling with someone, that’s a little easier because you can just ask them to take the photos. But what if you’re traveling solo or out on your own for the day? Well, you have two options:

Ask a Fellow Human

I used to hate when someone asked me to take their photo—not because I didn’t want to but because I would always be worried I would mess it up or it wouldn’t be what they wanted or some equally anxious reason. Now, I try to remember they just want to document their experience, too. I push past my shyness to ask what they want and help give them something to look back at. This then becomes the best way to get your own photo. Once you take a photo of them, ask if they would mind taking one of you. Usually, they are happy to reciprocate. If you are worried about handing your phone or camera off to a complete stranger, this is also a good way to alleviate those fears. They just trusted you with their technology, so there’s usually no reason you can’t trust them with yours.

Another way is to be proactive and notice the people around you that may be having trouble taking a selfie, or for friends and couples taking turns to photograph the other. Seek them out and ask if they would like you to take a picture of them. Most people will be happy for the assistance, especially if they want a picture together. Sometimes, though, they may be wary about handing over a phone to a stranger and decline. In this case, don’t push them; just smile and move on. But if they agree, spend some time taking their photo and then make your move and ask if they can take one of you, too.

Get Really Good at the Art of the Selfie

Despite the likelihood that most people will be willing to help, I have a harder time asking strangers, just because I am so shy and I don’t want to bother people. So, most of the time, if I’m on my own, my go-to is the selfie option. This is where trial and error may come into play. Learn some tricks on how to look your best and how to capture as much of your background as you can. Take your selfie from different angles. Play around with the options on your phone and you may be surprised by settings that can help widen your lens and showcase more. Don’t worry about what others may think, just focus on putting yourself in the picture, so that when you look back one day, you’ll see yourself there.

Taking photos, a selfie or not, is an art form, and you can find a lot of tricks out there for making your pictures the best they can be. Here are a few articles I’ve found helpful for taking better selfies:

 

Wherever you go or whatever you’re doing, it’s important to immerse yourself in your surroundings and live in the moment. Of course, you want to make memories, and then have something to evoke those memories years from now. The best way to do that is to put yourself in the action. So, go ahead! Ask someone to take your photo. Or take a thousand selfies until you get it right. Your future self will thank you!

 

So, what about you? Do you like to take photos when traveling? Why or why not? And, if you have any tips for taking the perfect selfie, let us know below!


 

Pinterest Image - Nicole in Central Park - New York City, NY

2 thoughts on “Why I Started Taking More Photos of Myself–And Why You Should, Too”

  1. This is a great piece and the very reason why I take selfies. My late mom used to say, “one day you’ll regret not having pictures of yourself in all the beautiful places you’ve traveled.” So hence the reason why I focus on the views with just a bit of my face. I just wish you used some of the pictures Zhanna took of you during our excursion to the 12 apostles. They are stunning!

    1. Thanks, Jill!! I appreciate you reading and your comment. I always love your selfies, and that’s a great way to think about it. I definitely will have to use Zhanna’s pictures at some point, maybe in a future post on Australia!

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