February, before heading off on my post-study-abroad 6-week backpacking trip, I took the plunge and bought a GoPro. I justified this purchase by telling myself that I didn’t want to lug out the ol’ DSLR while in Morocco, drawing more attention to myself as a tourist than necessary.
But honestly? While skiing during the winter, I’d gotten my hands on my friend’s GoPro and became addicted. It was astonishingly simple to use; just strap it onto any mount, strap that to somewhere stable on your body or on the stick, and head off! There are only three buttons: one that enables wi-fi, one that acts as the trigger, and one to set the mode you wish to shoot in. The modes vary from time-lapse, one shot, burst, and video. The catch is that there is no way to see what you’re capturing with the camera… until you take the micro-SD card out (or use your phone’s wi-fi).
Now, the features that I’ve touched on above… everyone knows about. GoPro advertises themselves pretty well and as a fad item. However, there are definite perks that exist for travel bloggers and travelers in general, even when used as a normal camera rather than an adventure/extreme camera.
If you’ve been following along pretty regularly, you’ll know that I’ve been ranting and raving about Morocco. If you check out my recent post about the Sahara, most if not all of those are shot with the GoPro. I think the GoPro was a large part of the reason I enjoyed Morocco so much.
THE GOPRO FORCES YOU TO GIVE UP PHOTOGRAPHICAL CONTROL.
I don’t know about you, but countless times when I’m traveling, I’m more focused about getting the right shot, the right angle, instead of living in the moment. I find myself asking how best to document the experience for my blog rather than how best to enjoy the moment. If it were up to me and I really wanted to focus on photography a certain day, I could stand in the same spot for up to an hour trying to find all the best shots.
You can’t do that with a GoPro. The only thing you can do is strap or hold it somewhat close to eye level and hope that it catches what you’re seeing… and most of the time when traveling, what you see is—dare I use this cliché—amazing.
Sometimes it works out the way you want it to. Most of the time, it works out in a way you don’t expect, giving you an angle that you couldn’t predict.
IT IS AS DISCREET AS IT CAN BE
Usually, when I pull out the DSLR, it’s with an air of embarrassment. Yes, I’m going to be that girl. Yes, I’m going to take photos of everything. Depending on the country you’re in, photographs can be upsetting to the local culture if you don’t ask for permission. You may know that the person just happens to be in the shot, but to them, they feel as if you are using them as a focus point.
With the GoPro, however, a lot of people still don’t know what it is, and it’s very easy to conceal behind a hat or a backpack. And, since you’re not using it like a camera and just hold it casually, people may not even notice that it’s there.
There have been moments when I go back through the shots I took that day and realize that I accidentally turned it on in my backpack for a period of time. Now those are funny to see.
YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF A PART OF YOUR TRAVELS
Solo travelers are generally ecstatic to be traveling by themselves… except for one thing: travel buddies take photos of you. As a solo traveler, there are generally two options: ask someone or unashamedly take a selfie. And while it takes a brief week to get to that level of selfie, it’s almost always only your head and shoulders. Never a full-body shot, never a shot of the scene with you in it to give it perspective. As for asking others? When I ask for a photo of myself while traveling, I’m not asking for an up close. I’m asking for something that proves I was someplace.
With the GoPro, you solve all these problems, barring the annoying stick that will forever haunt all of your photos. Want to show how large a cave is? Stick yourself in the shot. Want a strange artistic shot of you looking over some cliffs? Pull out your stick
The only time this fails me is when I put on my I’m-being-filmed face. It’s weird and stupid. I try putting on this thoughtful look-how-contemplative-I-am-when-traveling face on and it comes out really stupid.
This is one of many many many serious driving selfies. I was going through GoPro footage with my friend and she asked, “Why aren’t you ever smiling? This is ridiculous!” And then we found one. I don’t know about you, but I think the serious face trumps this smiling one.
Side note: I realized how my hair is never down when traveling. Does anyone else travel strictly hair up? It just gets in the way of things!
YOU REALLY GET TO FOCUS ON THE EXPERIENCE
Probably the most important part of using a GoPro is that you really get to experience things. You’re not worried about what the photos will look like because that’s out of your control. I wasn’t looking at my experiences through the lens of a camera and therefore I didn’t miss anything that happened. Because of this, I was able to notice instead of just see—notice how this particular part of the city smelled different than another part, how the sun, while bright, didn’t offset the harsh winds of the day. These things, while little, not only allows you to fully ground yourself in the present, but also helps you become a better writer. Writing, after all, depends on all the senses, not just visual.
So, in some ways, having the photographical control taken away from you lessens the burden of needing to get the perfect shot. Needing to share this with the world. If you aren’t able to get at least one good photo while browsing through your batch at home, at least you have the experience to remember, which is more than what some people can say.