According to Moore’s Law, every two years the smartphone you are carrying, the computer or tablet you are using, and the camera in your hand gets twice as powerful while the cost of the device dramatically reduces over that time. For anyone interested in aerial photography, we have seen this law dramatically impact the drone industry in the last few years. The availability of high quality cameras on affordable quadcopters has truly changed the game.
Learning to Fly
I wouldn’t say I was entirely avoiding aerial photography over the last few years. There were several trips to the local RC Hobby stores, the specialty drone shops, and hours upon hours of internet research. Still, I couldn’t justify the cost for a camera I wasn’t even sure I would use. Inevitably, technology and price point found a happy medium and it was time to make a purchase.
Which Drone is right for me?
From everything I had learned, I chose to go with the DJI Phantom platform. It isn’t the most compact drone out there, but my interest was strictly in camera quality. The Phantom provides the best camera available for a drone that is still relatively easy to carry on to an airplane. My back pack is the size of a typical rolling carry on, but I can pack the Phantom and all the necessary accessories. My particular bag also fits my Canon 5D Mark iii and two lenses. Over the years I have come to the discovery that travelling with more than two lenses is cumbersome and I modify my composition to the equipment I have available.
As much as I love my Canon, aerial photography has always intrigued me. I studied satellite imagery extensively in college and have always enjoyed gaining perspective of my environment from above. The most impressive aerial photography requires one extra skill than the basics of photographic composition and exposure. You have to learn how to fly! A few trips to the neighborhood park and down to the beach solved that problem.
The technology in the DJI quad copters is incredible. Because there are so many safeguards built into the platform, flying with confidence is quickly achieved. After getting comfortable with the controller and the basics of remote controlled flying, it is relatively simple to navigate yourself to great photographic opportunities. After a few quick shots of some local scenery, it was time to pack up and head off on our next adventure.
Up Up and Away
There are few places in the world as beautiful as The Philippines. We were originally drawn to the country for the world class diving and quiet surf resorts. Little did we know we would fall in love with the food and the people and make our way back whenever we had the chance. From the palm covered islands, to the pristine reefs, The Philippines is a traveler’s dream.
Our latest trip to the Philippines took us to the incredible islands of Coron. For scuba diving enthusiasts, Coron Bay is famous for the sunken WWII Japanese fleet. This was why we chose Coron. The wreck diving was absolutely incredible and I was thoroughly looking forward to writing about it. Unfortunately, a camera malfunction prevented me from taking the photos I had been dreaming about for months. That disappointment was outweighed by the quality of the dives, and the following day was filled with island hopping and the first real test of my aerial photography skills.
Gotta Start Somewhere
Our day of island hopping was spent on an outrigger and began with a stop at Kayangan Lake. To access the lake you tie up in a vibrant blue cove and hike up and over the steep island’s coastal walls. Upon our arrival, the small cove was full of other outriggers and I knew I was looking at our first opportunity for an interesting aerial photograph. So now I’ve got this drone, that I’ve barely flown around the neighborhood park, and it’s time to fly it off the bow of our outrigger, with rigging lines, surrounded by sheer cliff faces. My underwater camera is shot at this point, so why not risk losing another camera to start the day?
Truth be told, it wasn’t that big of a deal. The drone has obstacle avoidance to keep it from the cliffs and other dangers, as well as a return to home feature that all but guaranteed it would land back on the deck in spite of my limited skills. Everything worked out great and the first photos were officially in the books.
After a hike up over the ridge and a quick dip in the lake it was time to pack up head off to Twin Lagoons. This was one of the highlights of the entire trip. A short ride from Kayangan Lake, the entrance into the Twin Lagoons is a narrow waterway surrounded by impossibly steep rock formations. Eventually we reached the first of the twin lagoons where we tied off and grabbed our snorkels. The lagoons are connected by a narrow land bridge, but for the more adventurous, there is fun little swim through that gets you to the other side. Surrounded by sheer cliffs in warm crystal clear water is something I will never forget. As you can see from the aerial photo, this place is simply magical.
Another successful flight from the boat deck and it was off for a free dive on a small wreck followed by lunch of fresh fish and fruits from the main island of Coron. We were able to take a nice walk along the beach and buy some handmade jewelry and the requisite cold beer or two from the local vendors. With our bellies full, it was time to head back to the Two Seasons. Upon arrival, I was so excited that the drone survived the day, I put it back up for a few more pictures of our resort and surrounding islands.
Join the Club
If you are considering purchasing a drone, I could not recommend it highly enough. I will be the first to admit I was intimidated to try, but with little to no experience, I was able to take off and land from the small deck of a catamaran. The biggest revelation to me was how incredible it is to get some perspective on your environment from above.
Composing photographs takes some experience, however getting the exposure correct is no different than your current camera. With a little flying practice, I would even say it is actually easier to compose great photographs. I say this because of the freedom of movement the drone provides. Focal length is easily solved by flying closer or farther from the subject and the ability to change altitude with the flick of a flight stick opens up an infinite number of angles. The possibilities are endless.
Aerial photography isn’t new, but with the new affordable platforms, the discipline is exploding in popularity. Some of the best photographers out there have fully embraced drone photography and the internet is full of tips and tutorials. So please reach out if you have any questions regarding aerial photography. If I don’t have the answers I can always help to point you in the direction of somebody who does. Go grab a drone and happy flying!