We chat to three professional drone photographers who share their two cents on this rapidly growing hobby. It’s fun, it’s dangerous, and the legality is murkier than a Bondi shore-break.
We’ve all been there. Sprawled out on a beach somewhere peachy. Deep breath. Muscles relax, eyes flicker shut; consciousness dripping away into a blissful state of sleep.
VVVVVVVVVVVVVRRRRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM!! All of a sucking fudden a UAV (Unmanned Aeriel Vehicle) roars into life with a wallop that rivals a slap of across chops. Is arma-f**king-gedoon upon? Is there truth in those Tom Cruise movies after all?
Nope. Just a dude with drone.
Every man and his dog has one in his is cupboard these days. They’re cheap, they’re ruddy good fun to fly and they’ve opened up opportunities for mind-bending images reserved only for helicopter riders 2 years ago. Whilst Instagram is becoming cluttered with drone shots, there are a handful of photographers who have embraced the technology to create truly incredible shots.
We gathered 3 of our favourites to find out their take on the drone scene; they share tips for newbies, their top locations to shoot in Australia and other useful nuggets. Introducing Aaron from The Vertical Project, Matt from From.Miles.Away and Bruno from Le Cut Studio.
How would you describe your style and approach to aerial photography?
BRUNO: I try to give an angle, to tell a story. I pay a lot of attention to the music, I want to give emotion to people watching my videos. A lot of people tell me my videos are dreamy, that make me happy.
MATT: I’d say my style of aerial photography was simple but artistic and seems to be constantly evolving. Living by the ocean I’d say that more than 95% of my photos are taken along the coast, as I love the soothing and idyllic vibes that water brings to an image. I usually spend quite a bit of time in post production to give my images a vibrant and painting like effect, and although it varies with each photo, my shots are usually high in contrast but still soft in their feel.
AARON: Our approach is probably slightly different to other aerial photographers due to our careers as professional airline pilots. As a result, I think we’re more aware of the rules, regulations and restrictions in place by CASA and tend to play it a bit safer than many others that we have come across. But a huge perk is that we’re also privy to a lot more travel and photography opportunities than the average person. We’re in a different location every week! We love the ocean and beautiful coastlines, and that translates through our photography. You see a million different shades of blue from all around the world in our images.
Any top tips for people starting out in drone photography?
AARON: Practice with a smaller drone to get a feel for things first, to avoid crashing your new expensive drone! Be careful of strong winds and be mindful of the people around while you’re flying. Finally, if you’re travelling with a drone, do some research before you leave into the rules for each destination. Each country has their own set of rules, and some will confiscate your drone upon entry!
MATT: Know the rules!! Dont just buy a drone and fly it however and wherever you like! Over the last 12 months I’ve seen a massive increase in the amount of drone users and I’d say the majority of them have no idea about the safety restrictions and regulations or simply don’t care! Eventually this will impact on all drone users in a negative way.
Photography tips. When you’re starting out, it can be hard to chose what to include and what not include in an image so id suggest keeping things simple. Follow basic photography principles like ‘the rule of thirds’, use ‘leading lines’ and have an easily identifiable focal point in the image, and just build from there.
Practice also makes perfect. Don’t expect to be a pro drone operator straight away. Take the time to develop your skills flying the craft and using its functions and if you get stuck, ask another drone user or watch some video tutorials.
BRUNO: Choose the time you shoot, the light is very different throughout the day and the impact will be different. Choose an altitude, a camera angle and don’t overuse effect. Oh, and don’t forget to check the weather!
Who are your favourite Australian and New Zealand drone photographers, or have inspired you in your work?
MATT: Salty Wings. These guys get it spot on everytime and are dominating the Aussie drone scene at the moment with idyllic coastal shots of WA. Also Gab Scanu. This guy has blown up over the last year on Instagram and has developed an awesome post processing style that is unique in Australia at the moment.
AARON: We are inspired by the amazing photographer Darren Jew. He captures some truly incredible things in nature and in the ocean, and now uses a drone photographer in his crew to add a new perspective to his films.
Where’s the most epic place in Australia or NZ that you’ve taken your drone and why? Any dream destination in this region?
AARON: Esperance and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia really standout. They’re both so isolated and have the perfect mix of nature and crisp blue ocean.
MATT: My drone has accompanied me on numerous road trips in Australia, most of which were here in the North-West, but the most epic place I’ve droned so far has got to be Cape Le Grande National Park in Esperance, Western Australia! This is a coastal photographers dream location. The national park is abundant with rugged cliffs that drop down onto pristine white sand beaches that have the most icy blue water I’ve ever seen…. just thinking about it now I’m dreaming about being back there!
How do you find/research/plan awesome drone locations?
BRUNO: The previous year my goal was to shoot daily in Bond Beach and around, it was kind of a challenge, I’ve done it. So my location was not even an issue, I knew I had to shoot in Bondi. But I will suggest to use google map to find the perfect location.
MATT: Living in Broome means I have to put a lot of preparation if I’m planning a specific shoot due to some dramatic changes in nature’s conditions.
Broome itself has the 4th highest tidal change in the world with over 10m of tidal depth change, so you have to plan how much water you want in your shot. If you turn up to a location at low tide, the ocean might be so far out that you can’t get in in your shot, and the opposite, if it’s high tide, the subject you wanted to photograph might be underwater so you have to plan things right to get the shot how you want it, but the good things about this is that you can shoot each location multiple times and come away with some very different looking images. 🙂
AARON: We don’t have a say in where we’re going half the time. Our respective airlines decide where we’re going each month, but we’re lucky that most of our destinations for work are close to photogenic locations.
In terms of holidays and international travel, we both have parts of the world that we’re yet to discover so we spend time researching the best beaches in each country, the ideal times to travel and look into the local drone rules.
What do you think is the best drone for a beginner to buy right now?
MATT: The best beginner level drones on the market at the moment have to be the DJI Phantom. The Phantom 3 and 4 have a range of models that specialise in different things, from photography, videography to a hobbyist who just wants to fly a drone.
They are so easy to fly, having numerous functions to make it easy for beginners including a GPS lock system that keeps them hovering in the same place even in wind, and the awesome return to home function in case anything goes wrong mid flight, the drone comes back to the exact spot where it took of from (so don’t take off from under a tree)!
AARON: A phantom 4 pro is a great drone to start with. It’s easy to operate and takes fantastic images!
BRUNO: Dji Phantom4 Pro. Period
Any apps you recommend to help take better shots?
MATT: I only use the DJI GO app on my tablet to help me with my photography. It works well to let you know everything about the drone and flight as it is happening ie, battery levels, altitude and location of the drone and has numerous functions to aid your photography, by adding an on screen grid to help compose your image and a function that lets you take manual control of the camera’s settings, like shutter speed, iso and white balance to help get the exact pre production look you want, before moving onto post production.
AARON: We don’t use apps to take better shots. But we do use an app called Oz Rwy that has all of the relevant aviation charts on it.
Which accessories do you use and recommend when you go out shooting?
BRUNO: I’m very lucky to be sponsored by PolarPro and they provide me with filters for my Dji Phantom4 lenses. Theses filters are fantastic when the light is very bright, especially when shooting over water.
MATT: I’ve bought numerous accessories for my drone including a bunch of extra batteries and a hard shell backpack, but some of the more game changing accessories for me was when i started using the PolarPro polarized ND filters on my camera. This massively reduced the glare I got from the surface of the water and allowed me to try out aerial long exposure shots with the darker ND filters. The other big game changer was upgrading from using my smartphone to an iPad Mini to view the live camera feed. All of a sudden everything seemed like it was high definition, making it a ton easier to see exactly what you’re getting in your shots!
AARON: We use our iPad as our tablet, rather than an iPhone as we find the screen too small to see the details of what we’re photographing. We use a set a PolarPro filters on our camera lenses to reduce to glare off the water, and enhance the natural colours.
Any tips regarding the legal side to drone use?
AARON: Always check the legality of where you’re going to fly before you get all the way there and waste your time. And read over all of the rules when you first get your drone to familiarise yourself with everything.
BRUNO: Safety is a serious thing for me. Drones can be very dangerous, we go high and fast and we are only humans, mistakes happen. I never fly over crowded places and I always keep an eye on my drone. Today there are a lot of drones out there and collision with other drones are possible and highly dangerous.
MATT: When it comes to the legalities of flying drones, don’t just listen to what other people tell you about the rules, find them out for yourself as there are some hefty fines and even prison sentences for breaking the airspace regulations!
Be safe, use common sense and have fun with your drones out there folks.
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