When GoPro first hit the market, I didn’t flinch. It took years for me to adopt one into my kit. I was busy wrestling with full size DSLR’s in underwater housings while everyone else was sticking them on the front of surfboards and kayaks. My photos were of a higher quality, had better contrast, and handled tougher lighting situations than those taken on a GoPro, but I would put weeks of effort into getting a single image. I spent so much time building crazy contraptions and rewiring my underwater housing so that I could use wireless triggers, or reach down into dark murky river water to photograph wildlife from a safe distance.
This image of Pat Keller I took in the Grand Canyon took over a week of experimenting before I was finally successful. When I preset my exposure correctly, there would inevitably be a drop of water in the center of the frame covering his face. When it wasn’t the water droplets, it was my exposure, or the rig itself would start to break loose from the kayak and Pat would have to rush to shore before we lost everything.
Meanwhile, people were beginning to experiment with GoPro’s, at the time, they couldn’t stand up to the quality of this image, but over time they started to catch up. More important than their quality, which is still a work in progress, is their flexibility. People can just stick one on the front of their kayak and forget about it. It’s rendered this image virtually obsolete.
I finally picked up a GoPro this year. Out of the box I don’t have much use for it, but in combination with a KNEKT trigger and dome port, it really becomes useful again. The dome port lets me shoot over-under shots, and the trigger lets me keep ahold of it even when swimming through big waves on the North Shore of Oahu, or more realistically, when those waves are rolling me across the reef.
Now there is a new buzz in the air, drones have hit the market, and amateurs are a step ahead of the professional once again. I used to fly ultralights to get arial photographs of surfers and jungle canopies in Costa Rica. It’s not entirely practical, or safe considering how often my instructor crashed.
I made up my mind, this time I’m not going to be left behind. As soon as the cameras reached an acceptable level of resolution I bought my first drone. A DJI Phantom 3 Professional, (pro tip, if you’re not shooting 4K video, just get the regular Phantom 3, it’s the same quality) For about a grand, I can stand safely on the ground, and put a camera in places that even a helicopter couldn’t get me. I’ve been experimenting with photographing rock climbers, and have found that sometimes the best angle isn’t necessarily at the limits of the drones capability, but from just beyond where I could place myself with ropes and rigging.
Soon enough, drone shots are going to be commonplace, there will be no wow factor anymore. That is not to say though that the technology is going away. It just means that it will be integrated into every photographers tool kit, just like digital cameras. Adopting new tech can be extremely frustrating, especially now when there is something new grasping at our wallets every day. Staying ahead of the curve is hard enough as it is, but adding these tools into our workflow is less about change, and more about making what we do easier.