How do I get started in aerial photography?
In an attempt to provide some insight I thought I’d share my journey and some tips on where to start.
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 and the ability to view scenes with a fresh perspective are all factors which make it a core pillar of my artwork. I love it!
It all began over 10 years ago when a friend pproached me looking to sell some of his equipment. It was an electric heavy lift helicopter and camera cage. The camera mount frame was made from scrap metal and a rubber bungie cord to cancel out the vibrations. It was a pretty simple contraption with no video downlink which meant I could not monitor the shots. Therefore, the camera remote I was using to activate the camera only worked within 200m so it was a challenging exercise to get the shot.
A few years later drone technology started to take off 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. 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.
Life and Death
In 2014 my image Life and Death became one of the first drone images in the world to win a major photography award, taking out International Landscape Photo of the Year.
As drone technology improved so did the camera technology, a parallel development which made obtaining decent set up more affordable and accessible.
Aerial Photography Tips
You can get great images from drones, however it is worth noting that the in-built cameras don’t deliver high-res images. The files are very difficult to upscale to a large print beyond 60 x 40cm without losing detail. So, whilst awesome to use to capture content for online mediums the camera isn’t suitable for professional photography. For this you’d need to step up to a heavy lift drone customised to hold a mirrorless camera. Hopefully in the near future we’ll see a DJI drone have an integrated camera system that captures images beyond 50 megapixels. This will give you the ability to create fine art prints at a professional level.
It is 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. If you are looking to build a career in the field I highly recommend this as safety is everything.
Your camera settings are super important and if you take one thing away from this it is to have your shutter value high, try not to go below 1/400 sec this will give you a sharp image.
So 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.