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Taking self portraits – tips from a pro

Photos © Peter Jordan

An interview with London newspaper photographer Peter Jordan

In 2013 Peter spent 5 months cycling through France and afterwards he published a photo book titled “Me, my bike and a compact camera. France”. The book preview can be viewed here and Peter’s facebook profile here.

Q: during that trip you carried a canon G12 compact camera with an optical zoom of 28 – 140. why did you choose that instead of carrying multiple lenses?

A: I would have to carry 4 prime lenses – a 28mm-50mm-85mm and a 135mm – plus a camera body to put them on, to have the same range as I get from the compact I carry. That’s a lot of weight. Yes, you do get better quality pictures from a prime lens but I have no complaints from the quality of my photos taken on the Canon G12. I have A4 size prints on my walls at home that look great and could have been bigger if I wanted. I even had a 13×11 inch photo book made and it looks superb. Why would I want to lug around such heavy equipment when I can do the same job with a small lightweight and easily accessible camera? A lot of people seem to think (understandably) that you have to have top of the range expensive gear to take great pictures. I think that’s rubbish.

Q: you also carried a Gorilla Pod tripod – how did that work out for you?

A: The Gorilla Pod is a great bit of kit. They have different sizes to fit a variety of cameras and lenses. The one I have fits in the front bar bag alongside my camera. You can put it in places where a normal tripod won’t go. Because of its bendy design you can wrap it around almost anything. I’ve used it on tree branches, fences, sign posts, rocks and even my bike handle bars. The only advantage I can see from carrying a tripod is that you can use the camera at different heights but even this isn’t an issue if you think creatively about how to place the tripod.

Q: Peter you travelled solo yet your photo book preview is full of self-portraits. how did you manage to get all of those shots?

A: I almost never ask a passer-by to take a picture of me. That’s because I’m always disappointed with the results. Taking good selfies takes time and effort, most of the time. I love taking them and will spend a lot of time getting it right. Once I’ve seen what I think might make a nice picture I will look for somewhere to put the camera and then do some test shots. I will change the angle and move it around. I look at the back screen and think how I can make it better, maybe under exposing the pic depending on the circumstances or shooting from ground level looking up or from above looking down. Some people can see a picture straight away in their mind before they even take it. I can’t. I cover all the possibilities until I see what I like. I sometimes take dozens of shots until I’m happy with just one. When I am happy with the result, I will dump the rejects to free up memory space. There’s no point in keeping pix you won’t use.

Q: In the book forward you write, “there is no rhyme, reason or theme to the pictures. If I saw something I liked, then I would stop and take a picture of it.” yet when I view the book preview – it’s full of a variety of images ranging from a fence gate to a pan of pasta. did you make a list before the trip of subjects that you wanted to shoot or is it just all of your years of newspaper experience that helped you photographically document your trip so well?

A: I never make a list. I sometimes have an idea but most of the time I just bump into pictures along my route. I’m always looking as I ride along. If I see something I will stop and take it. People say to me “I saw a great picture today” but they never took it. You have to stop. It does take effort and time but for me it’s part of the whole cycling experience along with the camping, cooking and being free. It also gives you great memories too. I like taking pictures of the food I cook. If I’ve spent time preparing something nice then I want to show it off to others. It’s a pride thing too, I don’t want all my Facebook friends thinking I live on Pot Noodles all the time, although I do like them too. Working as a press photographer is an advantage but our eyes are the same. Just think pictures and it will fall into place eventually.

Q: In the future – would you carry the same photography equipment or is there something you wish to change?

A: I love the combination of the Canon G12 and the Gorilla Pod. No, I would not change anything at the moment. The camera did start playing up towards the end of my trip. I have had it repaired now but I know it has a shelf life. If I had to replace it then as a lover of the Canon G series it would be one of the newer models. The Gorilla Pod is a great bit of lightweight kit and would also stay, no question.

Q: Any last words of advice?

A: You don’t need a big expensive camera with the biggest sensor to take good pictures. Try looking for a decent compact with a zoom lens (you don’t need the longest zoom either). The camera should have a few different settings on it. I would look for one with a Program and Manual setting, exposure compensation, the ability to focus at close range (macro setting), to take HD videos and the option to turn the flash off. My G12 has a few fancy settings which I hardly ever use but they’re fun when I do.

Learn about the camera. Read the manual inside out until you know what all the settings and buttons are for. The more you know how to use the camera, the more comfortable you will be about taking pictures with it. Experiment with it to see what it is capable of. A spare battery is a must. Keep it charged up. Two memory cards was fine for me. I never used the second one as I edited on a Mini iPad along the way and dumped the rubbish pictures to free up space. If you intend to edit after your trip then take several cards with you and go through your days pix on the back of the camera deleting any that don’t make the grade.

Take time out for your photography. Look and think all the time of what might make a nice frame. When you see one, do it properly. Take lots of different pictures, not just landscapes. There are loads of nice images out there waiting to be taken; you just have to find them by keeping your eyes open. Don’t worry about the weather or if it’s day or night. Think silhouettes or expose for just the highlights of something. Maybe use a slow shutter speed and pan a moving subject for a creative blur effect. The macro can produce some stunning close ups. Make sure your pictures are sharp and well-focused, if not do it again and get it right.

Thanks Peter for taking the time to answer the questions. Check out his picture book of cycling through France for some photographic inspiration.

Tips and info for female touring cyclists

As Amaya Williams of points out, “More and more women are exploring the world by bicycle. They’re riding up remote mountain passes, crossing continents on two wheels, and camping wild in the middle of nowhere.”

Why not join our ever-growing tribe? It’s a great way to see the world. So, we’ve put together a handy list of links, bicycle touring tips, safety info and resources for females to help you get started.

Advice on what to wear while cycling through conservative countries. And a small hint, it’s not short shorts or form fitting lycra…

For periods – goodbye bulky pads and tampons and hello Mooncups! The cup is a small, foldable, reusable device made from silicone. It collects the menstrual blood when inserted into the vagina. Quite a few long-distance female cyclists are big fans of them.

Some women even carry a peeing device in their panniers such as the WhizAway. It’s a small rubber funnel that fits against your crotch and allows you to pee while standing up or into a bottle.

Have questions about bicycle touring, gear or you just want some encouragement for your upcoming trip? Then check out the Bicycle Traveling Women facebook group. It’s also a great place to share your travel experiences.

Heike Pirngruber aka the Pushbike Girl has been cycling around the world since 2013. Her website contains numerous interviews with other experienced female solo cyclists. Plus an informative article on wild camping safety tips from other solo women.

Emily Chappell and a panel of women explorers answer the most common questions she receives on cycling as a lone female.

Olivia Round interviews a cross section of women cyclists, even one traveling with her baby.

In the BIG WOW E-Book from Loretta Henderson you will learn the tips and tricks of successful bicycle touring from over 100 accomplished women from around the world who travel solo by bicycle.

For all cyclists, including males, the biggest danger comes from motorized traffic.

But what about being hassled or attacked by men as a solitary female?

As Emily Chappell’s article On rape and racism points out:

…Shall I tell you of all the times I have been groped or flashed in my home country, in the course of my day-to-day life, in motorway service stations, in parks, in crowded bars, on public transport? (I think most women will have similar stories.)

For god’s sake, let’s stop painting our own society as a haven of peace and safety, which it most definitely isn’t, and by the same token, let’s stop turning the rest of the world into a no-go zone, full of dangerous criminals…

Emily’s right – there’s nowhere on earth where females are 100% safe.

Solo females often make a risk assessment on the countries they wish to ride through. Many countries are just as safe or safer than your home town. But there are a handful of countries that aren’t so.

How can you find out which countries have a dodgy reputation?

It’s easy, just e-mail a number of solo females who have previously pedalled through the country. You might skip contacting elderly women or females who travelled with a male partner since they probably won’t have experienced  any harassment. For example; Iran is often a favourite country of ‘couple’ cyclists – but not single females. And for a very good reason.

Visit a couple of bicycle touring facebook groups such as Bicycle Travelling Women and Bicycle touring and Bikepacking. In the group’s search field type the country’s name and the words  ‘sexual harassment’. Then read any results that might appear. Women will generally write about an incident directly after it happened since they seek sympathy and reassurance from like-minded people. If you do read of an incident – you can then contact the individual who wrote about it. 

Asking for general safety advice in a Facebook Group or on forums may not give you an accurate picture of the safety situation for solo female bicycle travelers. That’s because many women don’t feel comfortable writing publicly about harassment or assault years after it happened. Others have kept silent in order not to be seen as sullying a country’s reputation.

Plus, asking a general question such as; “Is it safe to cycle in country X as a solo female?” attracts comments from women who have never pedalled through that country but are more than willing to write “Follow your dreams!” and advise you to go there.

Most countries are quite safe. By checking the facebook groups and e-mailing women who have been there before – it will help reassure yourself (and your mother!) that you aren’t doing anything foolhardy or dangerous.

An excerpt from Olivia Round’s interview with Alissa.

Q: When people expressed concern / fear for what you were doing, how did that affect you?

A: Sometimes I get defensive and feel determined to prove them wrong. I’m not actually a risk seeker; I’ve done my research and wouldn’t be doing these things if I thought the risk was unacceptably high, so it’s frustrating when people question my carefully-made decisions. I also get frustrated when people feel more concern and fear on behalf of women, which unfairly holds us back from so many great experiences, despite being well-meaning.

As Juliana Buhring writes in bikepacking advice for solo female cyclingGranted, the world is not as dangerous as many believe it to be, but there are some things the solitary female cyclist can do to increase the likelihood of coming home in one piece”.

For even more information:

Alissa from Exploring Wild – her safety tips for adventurous travellers.

World by bicycle – a subjective guide for women from Ewa Swiderska.

Lonely Planet forum – On your bike’s thread on safety for solo female bicycle tourists.

Julie Keller’s Final Thoughts & A Note on Being a “Single Woman” on the Road.

Safety tips for solo running which are also applicable for cyclists.

Loretta Henderson’s WOW wall is a community of more than 200 pioneering women (mainly soloists) who have cycled in almost every country around the globe.

Women Cycle the World is a collection of blogs and resources showcasing women who ride bikes in the remotest corners of our planet. Whether they cycle solo or with a partner, you’ll find scores of female bicycle travelers featured here.

The best bicycle touring destinations and blogs page features a number of solo females and couple cyclists.

India – Museum

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The Central museum was a step back into the period of grand colonial architecture.

Combined with an eclectic range of exhibits, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Another Jaipur impression:

Back to India

India – Jaipur

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Pink city

Jaipur is gorgeous! With its Moghul palaces and terracotta coloured architecture, it’s become a favourite destination for Indian tourists. The shopkeepers know this and their hole in the wall stores are an Aladdin’s cave of expensive fabrics, carpets and intricate handicrafts.

As for the touts, they ignored us. They probably (rightly!) figured, “those two dirtbag cyclists, they won’t be willing to splash out on silk saris.”

Another Jaipur impression:

Back to India

Nepal – architecture


Temples in the Kathmandu Valley are overloaded with golden statues and ornate woodwork.

In the West, these elegant sculptures and carvings would be locked away in a museum, but not here!

More Kathmandu impressions:

 Back to Nepal

Morocco – architecture

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Moroccan buildings blend in with the scenery to form an Arabic fairy tale landscape.

At times we wondered if it was real or just a Hollywood film décor.

More on tour impressions:

Back to Morocco


Morocco – bicycle touring


Some cyclists think you have to fly to the other side of the globe to experience a completely different culture.

But that’s not true. You can go to Morocco.

And why not? The country has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world.

Combined with gorgeous architecture and hospitable people, it’s a winning combination.

Back to Morocco

Morocco Marrakesh

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Evenings in the Djemaa El Fna, are pure street theatre wherein everyone has a role.

Musicians play, snake-charmers entertain while restaurants fire up their grills and beckon strolling tourists to come taste their fare.

More Marrakesh impressions:

Back to Morocco


Morocco evening


As night falls, the lights go on in Taddert’s main street.

There’s an air of expectancy as everyone waits for the busses to arrive.

The town is the favourite meal stop of people traveling over the Tizi n’Tichka pass.

More Tizi n’Tichka impressions:

Back to Morocco


Morocco cycling


From the summit of Tizi n’Tichka we took the backroad down to Aït Benhaddou.

The route is stunning, especially the contrast between the verdent green valley floor and the surrounding mountains.

More Tizi n’Tichka impressions:

Back to Morocco


Morocco – view


Taroudant comes alive in the evening, when the heat has subsided.

From our hotel roof, we sat for hours watching the view below.

More Taroudant impressions:

Back to Morocco


Thailand parade


To celebrate Loi Krathong, the Thai place floating baskets in a nearby river or lake.

But to get there, they don’t just take a taxi…

More festival impressions:

Back to Thailand


Royal barges


Thais were gathered on the river banks, waiting for something. But we couldn’t find out what.

Then the Royal barge procession began.

More Bangkok impressions:

Back to Thailand

Malaysia – Tioman

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On a hike across the island we gaped at the lush, verdant jungle foliage.

But we hadn’t considered how ‘tropical’ the rainforest can be. It was a sweat-a-thon. By the time we reached the other side, our cotton shirts were drenched. We should have worn bathing suits.

Another Tioman impression:

Back to Malaysia



India – Belur


Just north of Mysore lies the Hoysala temple of Belur. It’s filled with intricate carvings of dancers, elephants and scenes from the epics.

At times, it’s completely peaceful. Then a group of pilgrims would arrive…

Noise! Chaos! A pandemonium descended as the Indians rushed around the grounds, taking selfies and running every which way.

Shortly thereafter, they left. The tranquillity was restored.

More Mysore impressions:

 Back to India