A Weekend in Athens (& Selfies vs Self Portraits)
Back in the beginning of February I took a weekend trip to Athens for some much-needed sun in the middle of the Irish winter. I did the basics: saw the Akropolis and Parthenon and Hadrian’s Library and a bunch of other ancient sites that I don’t remember, ate my weight in baklava, and wandered through the tiny winding streets. (I accidentally trespassed and crashed some sort of party. I thought it was just another passageway through a residential area but it turned out to be the walkway to someone’s house. Everyone turned to look at me and I slowly backed away and off private property.)
I also rented a car and drove down the coast to watch the sunset over the Temple of Poseidon. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to drive on a highway with the windows open, sun on my arms, wind in my hair. It was weather I desperately needed.
While I did my three week trip backpacking around Europe during Christmas and New Years (blog post about this trip still hasn’t been written and also probably never will be sooo…sorry about that) I was just learning how to use my new camera, the FujiFilm-XT2 (which I am obsessed with, by the way.) When I was in Greece, it was another opportunity to play around with my camera away from the city streets of Dublin.
I’ve been obsessed with photography since I got my first camera at age 5. I took darkroom classes in high school and what was originally a hobby became one of my majors in college and I graduated with a BA in Art Studio with a focus on darkroom photography. I know how my film camera – an Olympus OM-1(n) – works inside and out. I know exactly how it ticks and sometimes it feels like an extension of my own body. However, my experience with digital is pretty limited and I’ve never produced images that I’m extremely proud of like I have with my Olympus. However, shooting with my XT2 has instilled within me a passion for digital photography. I’ve also been teaching myself Lightroom and Photoshop. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Greece…
While in Athens, I spent a lot of time experimenting with my camera. I met a Greek street performer named Adonis who told me about growing up in Athens and how the city has exploded with tourism in just the past decade. After speaking for a few minutes, I asked him if I could take his portrait. He told me I had to pay him one euro per photo. I’m 85% certain he was joking but I was happy to drop a few coins into his guitar case. I have never taken portraits before. It wasn’t a requirement in high school or college, more a suggestion of a possible path to follow. Despite having no idea how to angle or frame a face for a proper portrait, I’m pretty happy with how they came out. I know I still have a lot of learning and experiencing to do with portrait photography (and all photography) but it felt cool to try something new. And it didn’t end there.
The following morning I woke up before sunrise and walked to the top of a hill with the perfect view of the Akropolis. The sunrise itself was slightly disappointing – no clouds to reflect the sun and create those perfect streaks of orange and pink, but still beautiful. I used the opportunity of sitting alone at the top of this hill to mess around with self-portraits while there was no one around to see/judge me.
A few years ago I was living in Australia and was adamant about not taking pictures in the places I visited. I figured there was no point in taking pictures of places that there were already a million pictures of on google and my time would be better spent appreciating being there and soaking it all up. I especially didn’t like taking pictures of myself in those places. The only pictures of me in Australia are those taken by other people on their own cameras and phones. I loved being able to appreciate every single moment of where I was but six months later I found myself wishing I had photos and memories of the places I went while abroad. While living in Thailand last year, my picture-taking habits completely flipped to the other end of the spectrum. I spent so much time taking pictures of the places I visited that actually being there is a bit of a blur. I had this epiphany a few weeks ago while at Stonehenge where I was so focused on getting the perfect shot that I had to actively remind myself to put down the camera and appreciate where I was. But again I’m getting ahead of myself…
In the early hours of my last morning in Athens I took countless photos of myself, not just artistically posing, but actually looking at the camera, smiling, maybe even tried some smizing. I’ve never been one for taking selfies with exotic or famous backgrounds. (But don’t get me wrong, I love a good selfie. When I wake up feeling body posi, you better believe I’m taking flattering nudes up the wazoo. And when my makeup is on point? Oh yeah, five photos from each angle.) Taking these photos in Greece, though, was awesome. I now have photos OF ME with the Parthenon in the background and I didn’t have to ask anyone else to do it for me. I even turned one of them into my profile photo on LinkedIn, which is something I could never do with a selfie.
Selfies are good and fun and all that jazz, but being able to frame yourself in a precise way, knowing how to angle your head, how to compose and balance an image – it gives a certain element of power to your photos of yourself. So, regardless of whether or not you have a fancy camera, here’s my suggestion, next time you travel, take a self portrait. Don’t just take selfies with your phone’s front facing camera, but use the front facing camera to frame your image. Figure out exactly where you want to be in relationship to everything else behind you or in front of you. Set your self-timer (or get a Bluetooth remote – I like this one) and get into position. (Tip: Find somewhere private or quiet to take these photos. It’ll definitely relieve some pressure if no one’s around.) Take as many as you need until you find one you’re happy with. It’s an awesome skill to have!
Here are some of the photos I took in Greece with the wireless remote on my phone: