How do I get started in aerial photography?
With the rise and rise in popularity of drones this is one of the most common questions I’m asked. In an attempt to provide some insight I thought I’d share the story of my journey followed by a few tips on where to start.
STARTING OUT IN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY – MY STORY
Aerial imagery captured using drone technology is a passion of mine and has been for over a decade now. The freedom the medium provides, the technical challenges involved and the ability to view seemingly everyday scenes with a fresh perspective are all factors which make it a core pillar of my artwork. I love it!
It all began for me over 10 years ago when I was approached by a friend looking to sell some of his equipment – an electric heavy lift helicopter and camera cage. The camera mount frame was made from scrap metal and there was a rubber bungie cord affixed to cancel out the vibrations. It was a pretty simple contraption with no video downlink which meant I could not monitor the shots I was taking whilst in the air, and the camera remote I was using to activate the camera only worked within 200 meters so it was a challenging exercise to get the shot.
A few years later drone technology started to take off and the units were starting to be more reliable with the ability to carry heavy DSLRs. It was then that I invested in a hexacopter (six engines). It was a breeze to fly compared to the remote helicopter as it could hold its bearing without me touching the remote allowing me to compose my frame. Back then long distance video downlink and a 20 minute flight time was only a dream. I can actually remember visualising this feature which is now reality for everyone.
As the film industry became increasingly aware of the drone revolution there still weren’t a lot of operators and I was fortunate enough to start getting a lot of work around the world filming for the USA division of Discovery and the Travel Channel.
In 2014 my image Life and Death (pictured below) became one of the first drone images in the world to win a major photography award, taking out International Landscape Photo of the Year (2014). For more information on this image and story behind the capture visit HERE.
As drone technology improved so did the camera technology, a parallel development which made obtaining decent set up more affordable and accessible.
GETTING STARTED IN AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY – A FEW TIPS
Image (above): Verge | Pacific Ocean
If you’re starting out and just want to have some fun to see where flying a drone takes you I suggest investing in a DJI as they seem to have the drone system pretty nailed.
You can get great images from these drones however it is worth noting that their in built cameras don’t deliver high resolution images and the files are very difficult to upscale to a large print beyond 60 x 40cm without losing detail. So whilst awesome to use to refine your flying skills and capture content for online mediums the camera isn’t suitable for professional gallery style photography. For this you’d need to step up to a heavy lift drone customised to hold a DSLR. Hopefully in the near future we’ll see a drone and integrated camera system that allows professionals and enthusiasts alike to capture images beyond 30 megapixels which will give you the ability to create fine art prints at a professional level.
Image (above): Coconuts | South Pacific
Given the nature of flying a drone its imperative to familiarise yourself with the relevant rules and safety regulations from your local aviation authority. Within in Australia this is CASA. This will inform you of simple things such as where you can and cannot fly, safety distances etc. I have personally undertaken several UAV training courses which enable me to fly professionally and if you are looking to build a career in the field I highly recommend this as safety is everything.
If you’re looking to get creative I cannot stress enough the importance of experimenting and finding your own style. This will set you apart from the pack and define you as an artist.
To check out some of my favourite Aerial images, visit HERE.