I’m sure we all have many guilty pleasures, mine, photographically at least, is drone photography. It’s something I only tend to do whilst away from home and typically only early in the morning. There’s exceptions of course and in fact I bought the drone specifically to photograph a location very close to home.
The drone I use, a DJI Mavic Pro, is the only example in my photographic history where I bought the right tool first time and avoided the pecuniary losses associated with upgrading within a short period (or twice in nine months as happened when I bought my first DSLR). It was top of the range at the time and whilst rather long in the tooth these days still gives me what I need. I’d gone in to the store, which specialised in drones of all types, and was looking at a mid-price model as that fitted my budget nicely. However, after a long and useful chat with the salesman I came to the conclusion that I might as well go for the better model from the outset. Not wanting to rush in I thanked the salesman, drove home and rang the wife. An hour later I was back in store, card in hand and was soon the owner of the Mavic Pro, three batteries and a fast charger.
As I mentioned above, my interest in a drone was raised by a specific location – the lock at Woodside Mill. I had photographed the lock in all seasons, all weather and from all angles … apart from above. Since then I’ve photographed that section of canal many times from the air as I also used the flood plain alongside the lock to learn how to operate the drone and its camera and also practice flying before venturing further afield.
I don’t use the drone enough to claim to be expert but I do have sufficient proficiency to capture some pleasing results. I usually fly it before breakfast as there are fewer people around but have been known to try sunsets on occasion. Mornings though are best as fewer people tend to be around plus I’m more of a morning person so am often back in the caravan or B&B in time for breakfast with the wife knowing I’ve got something “in the bag” for that day already.
If I’m totally honest I have been tempted recently to upgrade as some of the newer models have far better cameras on board but have always resisted. If I used it every week I wouldn’t hesitate but it’s a guilty pleasure so not something I do every week.
One thing that I like to try is putting the drone up through low lying mist or cloud. It needs to be done carefully and for me at least preferably somewhere I’ve flown before so know where the obstacles are. Watching the greyness on the screen suddenly burst into life as you rise above the mist is always a treat.
The drone is great for creating abstract views or patterns too as the image of Ringstone above demonstrates.
One of the advantages of buying a better spec’d model was the built-in features that help you fly safely and with confidence. Remove your hands from the controls and it simply hovers where it is – great for us photographers. Some have a “return to home” feature and I found this very useful on at least one occasion early on in my drone journey. When I first bought the drone there were very few restrictions and it was possible to fly the drone well out of sight and pretty much as high as it would go … I avoided doing so for obvious reasons but on one occasion got so absorbed in making images that I completely lost sight of the drone. Slightly concerned I pressed the RTH button and scanned the sky anxiously. Several minutes passed before I heard the buzz of the motor and glancing at the screen realised it was now above my head and starting to descend. Finally I could see the drone by which time the low battery signal was sounding. I was extremely careful after that and indeed legislation since that date has, sensibly, brought in a requirement to always have eye contact with the drone.
I’ve finished this post with an image from Scotland that means a lot to me. The image quality isn’t the best but the conditions were not very good for photography that afternoon and after struggling with cameras and tripods for an hour or more we decided to pack up for the day. There was a persistent drizzle, it was blowing a hoolie and we were totally fed up. We dumped our wet gear into the van and sat in the cab with a coffee and biscuit before heading back to our holiday cottage when suddenly the sky lit up. It was still drizzling and the wind was still blowing away but we jumped out of the van. Dave grabbed his camera and for some reason I grabbed the drone.
Above 100 feet the wind was even stronger and we watched as the drone was buffeted and blown but I persisted and managed a couple of quick “snaps” before the rain returned with a vengeance and I brought the drone down for safety’s sake. It had been blown about thirty feet off course and I ended up bringing it down to just a few feet above the loch to fly it back without it being blown even more off course. Hair raising, adrenalin pumping but I felt alive!