As the autumn leaves fall gently by the wayside and winter sets in, I would like to share a few personal thoughts about why flying small drones to take your photography to new heights is something photographers should consider. The time of year you choose to learn can most certainly add to the attraction.
My colleague, Scott Strimple and I spend a few weeks a year teaching drone flight during our ‘Earth to Sky’ workshops at the Maine Media Workshops and College. With the birth of the Part 107 rules, we can be very specific about the regulations, and help point our students down the right path to passing their Remote Pilot Certificate. This naturally involves some fairly intensive ground school training prior to even touching the controls of the small drone. These lessons are quite overwhelming for someone who has not had any type of pilot training, but there is nothing like opening the door of the classroom and setting off to embark upon your first flight. Most students with no experience are a little nervous, and anxious to do as well as their compatriots. What is especially exciting is when the first flight is above the astonishing Maine beauty with the colors of fall at their peak. The images displayed were taken on the DJI Phantom 4. the link will provide you with all the information on the machine, along with camera specs.
This image was captured by one of our students with our help. He was amazed to see what can be achieved from a small camera lens attached to a flying machine!
Once everyone feels comfortable flying, the next step is to learn to operate the camera and combine flying with photography. The camera on virtual sticks enables the photographer to obtain stunning images from the campus lawn! The concerns and thoughts emanating from a considerable amount of negative press melt away as you capture a bird’s eye view of the beauty surrounding you, and you are ensconced in an explosion of color.
Part of our class involves preparing our students to answer questions, and deal with unhappy bystanders. Even within the drone community, there is generally a huge amount of debate surrounding the legalities. When images are posted, there is always someone who wants to either question the authenticity of an image or pose the thought that the aforementioned image was taken while violating the rules of engagement. It is easy to consider throwing in the towel and moving on to a different form of photography. So what are we to do? Firstly, don’t give up! If you are at all cautious (and it is good to always be cautious) consider what it is you can do without sending your small drone too far away.
Top down, or nadir images are becoming extremely popular (and are among my favorites) as well as panoramas – all of which can be taken from where you are standing. This way you maintain the maximum amount of control of your drone and can easily land if you feel the weather conditions are changing, or you simply don’t feel comfortable anymore. I rarely feel the need to compete when I am flying and will concentrate on my end goals, frequently ignoring any strong suggestion that I should become a little more adventurous. When I learned to fly a Cessna 182 I soon found out the limits of my flying ability, and because my rear end was strapped to the seat, it was easy to comply with my inner voice!
If all you feel compelled to do is use a small drone to hover above you as a tripod in the air, or virtual tripod, you have done more than most. Think about it, when we go out with our cameras, we are limited to the lens we choose. The lens dictates what it is that we see, and how we compose our photograph. The drone enables us to take our images to new heights. While we are still restricted by our choice of lens in the air, we are seeing everything from a new perspective. How adventurous you become is up to your confidence, your flying prowess, and your photographic vision. Remember not so long ago, Photoshop shocked the world with the ability to manipulate images. Photoshop is a powerful tool in the right hands, as is your small drone. Don’t get discouraged by scaremongers – go out and discover what you can create using this wonderful technology.
Nowadays, people generally don’t tend to question a photographer. There is no assumption of impropriety unless the lens is particularly long and the photographer is hiding in the bushes. The same does not apply to those using drones to capture aerial images. It is likely that you may be questioned, and even if there is little doubt about what you are up to, the question will frequently be asked: “what about privacy.” Given time, I believe the curiosity will die down, and there will be less fear involved. While there are many questions and assumptions of nefarious behavior, I would suggest overcoming the obstacles and at least finding a local group of flyers with whom you can spend a bit of time.
I am equally as obsessed with all methods of capture when it comes to taking images. I love experimenting with IR as much as I enjoy flying my small drones. I simply love the flexibility these many forms of creative expression offer me and encourage everyone to keep an open mind when it comes to new technology.
The wonderful thing about attending a photographic workshop is full emersion in one area of choice. Our drone workshops enable our students to learn so very much and by the end of the week, we are able to present an example of the work completed and the challenges overcome. Scott and I will be running several workshops at MMW next year. The dates will be announced in January. We will also be teaching for the first time at Madeline Island School of the Arts, located on the largest of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, from September the 18th to the 22nd of 2017.
To sum up, it has been quite a year for the drone industry, with technology tripping over itself to be released. Flying a small drone is becoming simpler, and the rules are becoming more clearly defined. I want to encourage those of you with an interest, to try your hand at flying and letting go of the anxiety so that you can simply have fun. Find a mentor in the industry if you have questions. To that end, I am happy to chat with anyone who wants to explore the possibilities. The end goal does not have to be to make money, although I highly recommend taking the remote pilot airman certificate so that you have the flexibility to sell your images or work commercially should you so desire.