These tips assume you are opting to use your phone for photos. Because, let's face it, as great as real cameras are, they can be bulky and expensive for the average traveler!
Long story short: Get comfortable being uncomfortable or accept that you won't have the photos you want.
I know what it's like to feel to self-conscious about looking like a tourist. But, I got tired of feeling disappointed in my travel photos or regret for not taking them when I had the chance. So now, my desire for capturing my travel moments outweighs my fear of looking silly.
It also helps to remember that to other people, you're just not that important. People may look, or you may have an awkward encounter, but they'll go about their day and you'll fade from their memory, if you ever had a place in their memory to begin with. Get the picture? (Haha that pun was unintentional, but it works!)
Onto the Tips!
Each option has its pros and cons:
1. Hire a local photographer
Pro: Best photos possible!
This is, obviously, the best way to get amazing photos! Who can beat a skilled photographer? Of course, this is the most expensive option, BUT you'll be surprised at how affordable this can be. For my trip to Lisbon, I booked two photographers through Airbnb Experience, each at $70-100, AND I saw ones for as cheap as $40 an hour.
Con: Can be pricey
However for more popular / unique shoots, like the flying dress shoot in Santorini or the clear kayak drone shoot in Turks & Caicos, you will be looking at a couple hundred dollars (max I've spent is $220 +tax).
Totally understandable if it's not worth it to you, but it definitely helped to think of these as excursions. We all have our priorities when traveling, and this is one of mine! However, staying in a posh hotel is not, so it balances out!
For cities with multiple sites and attractions you may be interested in, pick a few places, and let the photographer know before booking in order to set expectations. It may take more time and therefore, more money. Or book two different photographers to get two different aesthetics!
2. Get a tripod
Pro: Affordable and you are in control (mostly...)
There are plenty of Bluetooth remote-controlled tripods for phones on Amazon. This is a great way to get great phone shots without asking anyone and without using the front-facing camera on your phone (because it SUCKS)!
Con: Glitchy connection / Risk of phone theft
Just be careful where you choose to do this to avoid theft, perhaps not in a crowded area. Also I've found for the tripod I have, the remote disconnected a lot especially when I was trying to hide it. Others seem to have better luck with it. I end up doing a lot of #3 which is....
3. Ask a passer-by
Pro: FREE and better than a selfie!
I'm an introvert aka "I hate people!" (That's a joke, sort of). Anyway talking to people sometimes gives me anxiety, but when traveling, asking strangers for photos is usually easy because they know you are a tourist and are usually happy to help!
The BEST people to ask are other tourists. You'll find them in the process of taking selfies or exchanging places as photographer in a group shot - offer a photo for a photo!
If no other apparent tourists are around, choose someone approachable i.e. who looks unintimidating (so you can chase them down if you must) and who doesn't seem to be in a rush or preoccupied (i.e. don't ask someone who's reading or holding a baby).
Con: Strangers are generally NOT seasoned photographers / Risk of phone theft
Now getting a good photo from a stranger is a hit or miss. I've had the "one and done" shooter, and I've had a man kneel on the ground to get ALL the angles (third photo above)! I generally try to frame the photo for them with my phone and say "You can stand here, and I'm just going to move within the frame. No need to move or zoom!" Or I may say "I want to capture my full body and the top of that building!" Some quick direction is harmless!
Even better, if it is another tourist, I do their photos first, let them see it, love it, and then show them how to do the same for me! Worst case, if the photos suck and they don't OFFER to take more, don't ask. Just ask someone else once they've left!
4. Book a Private Tour
Pro: Kill two birds with one stone and justify the costs!
Now not only do you have a private tour guide, you have a private photographer! If the tour isn't private, well now you can use tip #3 easily and don't have to bug the same person over and over. Or maybe you two become each other's photographers!
Con: Still pricier than DIY or asking a stranger.
5. Take a selfie
Pro: Easiest and free option
Just stretch your hand out and shoot! Or, similar to the tripod, you could opt for a selfie stick for slightly better photos.
Con: Lowest quality photos
This does unfortunately mean a lower-quality front-facing camera photo (or you can aim using the back camera and hope for the best!). Hey, it's better than nothing - if not good enough to post, good enough to look back on and say "ahh good times!"
SO what is your go-to method of getting vacation photos? Any other suggestions? Comment below!