36 Hours of Adventure: For the Gram

It all hit me at a Starbucks in San Jose, California. I was hammering away on my keyboard, happily sipping my latte while writing a story, when I noticed a group of five girls in the corner. Every single one of them was alternating taking photos of their drinks with taking selfies in the sun. There was no conversation, or even communication of any kind, except their postings, which were likely already on Instagram. I cracked a smug smile and thought how silly it would be to miss the point of an activity with friends just to post a photo on some pointless account. Then, like a Mack Truck rolling down Interstate 40, the thought broadsided me that I’m exactly like those girls. Well, minus the UGG boots and duck faces, but I have definitely missed out on my fair share of camping experiences because I was too busy taking photos. One trip in particular came to mind, a recent adventure with some good friends from Southern California. Many of them are far better photographers and grammers than myself, and while the trip was good, the laughs we had at our own expense were nothing short of fantastic. Here’s a brief look at our weekend, and the “critical” shots we captured.

The Highway Shot

Even if you’re running an off-road Instagram account, you’ll want to throw in a highway shot now and then. They’re usually taken when nothing significant is really happening, but you still need to feed the gram.

Since this journey was hot off the heels of my Australia trip, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to shooting these types of photos. I wanted to relax a bit and enjoy the weekend camping, but as the cameras came out, and the Sierras began to glow, I couldn’t resist grabbing the Fuji. I was in good company, thankfully, as all of my companions were intent on capturing their own shots. As the sun set, we rolled into a hidden campsite between two crystal-clear ponds.

The Campfire Shot

No Instagram account worth its salt would be caught dead without a campfire shot. We needed to build a fire quickly, and it needed to look adventurous. Brian from Goose Gear did the legwork, while the rest of us meandered about trying to look too busy to help. (Sorry, Brian.) I was “working” at prepping our cook surface, a Front Runner spare tire braai. The plan was to cook pizza on it, which would hopefully taste as good as it would look. I carefully tossed the dough, spread the sauce, and chopped the vegetables for our fire-roasted masterpiece. Not really. I actually unwrapped a frozen pizza and tossed that sucker on the braai, but shhhh.

The Mud Shot

Mud shots are another vital card in the Instagrammer’s deck, but they’re tricky business. Too slow, and there’s no drama or interest. Too fast, and you risk causing trail damage and not treading lightly. Of course that balance doesn’t scare most grammers away, and sure enough, we all piled out of our trucks at the first sign of water to grab the shot. It was a shallow crossing with a firm bottom, but you would have thought the Camel Trophy was in front of us by the whir of shutters.

The Close-up Shot

One of the most vital, if not THE most vital shots in the overlander’s repertoire is the vehicle close-up. It’s best to have some epic landscape in the background, usually just enough out of focus for people to know the photograph is about the gear and not the destination. This is not required of course, and you can just shoot in the parking lot or wherever you happen to be. Fortunately, we were in an ideal location for a mountain backdrop, and I was sure to take all the appropriate photos. I even tried to get the standard grammer on their roof rack shot, but it didn’t work as well for me as for other accounts I’ve seen. I can’t imagine why.

Photo above by Justin Pitcairn

The Food Shot

A good friend of mine once said that overlanding is driving out into the wilderness to cook, and in some ways he was right. Cooking has become a very popular aspect of what we do, and thus it’s an equally important thing to have on your Instagram. Brian can be seen here enjoying a finely balanced combination of flaked corn that has been coated in a light sugar glaze and then paired with cream—exquisite.

The Nature Shot

Camping is about escaping the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoying the serenity of nature, so it would make sense that we try to capture that feeling. Of course, it’s hard to enjoy the beauty and silence of what’s around you while running back and forth trying to capture the next best angle. In all seriousness, make sure you put down the phones and cameras to just take it all in now and then.

The Dust Shot

What looks more adventurous than a vehicle trailing a long cloud of dust through the desert? I’d say, not much! That means this shot is especially important, and you might need to make two, three, or even five runs through a single dust zone to get that one photo you need. Remember, try to bring multiple drivers so you can each capture shots of your own vehicles. Just be sure to tag them with “professional” driving skills provided by (your buddies Instagram account here). Speaking of which, my Excursion was driven with finesse and style by Jon Burtt.

The Squad Shot

SQUAD GOALS! If you and all of your friends have smaller Instagram accounts, nothing can help bring you recognition like a squad photo. Simply tag every single one of your friends in the photo and watch them reshare it. Then when they post their own squad photo, you can reshare that one in a confusing, convoluted loop until magically more followers appear. I was sure to capture plenty of these photos on the trip, as the other drivers had much larger Instagram fan bases than my own!

The Cute Shot

If you’ve got a significant other, it’s time for them to earn their keep! Pose them doing something adventurous like walking off into a jungle or desert, or performing some camp activity. If you can work the four-wheel drive into it, then you’ll receive even more likes! Frank did a fairly good job here and checked most of the boxes, but he didn’t nail the hip clothing aspect. Clearly, he needs a flannel shirt and a trendy blanket to give this photo that extra reach. #campvibes

The Hero Shot

One often overlooked aspect of the overlander’s Instagram account is the hero shot. You’ll want to be looking just off into the distance, but slightly back at the camera so as to capture your profile. Its also best to look serious and thoughtful, like you’re steeling yourself for the arduous journey that lies ahead. Brian is doing an excellent job here, but had no idea I was shooting photos. His look might be perceived as frustration that he was once again preparing the fire alone while we were all taking photos, but I prefer to think that he has the mark of a true grammer; he’s always prepared for “the shot.”

The Night Shot

No camping trip would be complete without a night shot. This can either be a long exposure of your vehicle or tent beneath the stars, or you standing out in the wilderness staring at the sky above. I chose to capture a vehicle, which fortunately had red interior lights for an additional tactical feel.
Pro Tip: If you’re taking a photo of yourself looking up at the sky, be sure to turn on your headlamp. It will look awesome, even though you won’t see any stars because of the light glowing on your head.

The I’m Going to Stab You With a Spoon if You Take Another Instagram Photo Shot

Although rare, this photo is an exhilarating and terrifying look into the grammer’s true camp life. If you do capture this shot, consider yourself lucky to have survived, and put the camera away. I did, and my medical bills thank me for it.

Everything Else

Truthfully, we had a great weekend escape and came back with hundreds of fun photos and experiences. Here’s a quick look at a few more photos from our journey to the Sierras.

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Senior Editor while living full-time on the road.