So it turns out drone photography is an absolutely ‘liberating’ experience! As a long-term photographer becoming a first-time drone user with the DJI Mavic Air 2, that’s the word that sums it up for me.
Photographers across the spectrum, from landscape to travel to journalists to everyday enthusiasts, will all understand the obligatory and somewhat obsessive quest for different and interesting angles from which to shoot pictures. From hill tops to roof tops, to climbing trees, ladders and lamp posts, and any other protruding object strong enough to hold our weight, most of us have taken a calculated risk or two for that ‘better’ angle.
But almost overnight it seems photography with drones has, pardon the pun, changed the landscape, in every sense of the expression. Now that Sharon and I have one of our own it’s hard to believe we took this long to get it.
LEAVING THE GROUND BEHIND | By Darrin Henry
Next month (Nov 2021) will make a year since unpacking our neatly folded DJI Mavic Air 2 drone and cautiously taking to the sky. From that first moment, fascinating new sides to St Helena are constantly being revealed to us every time we ‘go up.’
One of the most surprising aspects of taking pictures with a drone is just how fast and accurately this tiny machine is able to whizz into new positions on demand. I’ve seen YouTube reviews that clock the speed of the Mavic Air 2 at 35mph, and although we’ve not tested that particular performance aspect, it still takes some getting used to just how quickly a camera can be repositioned across what would normally be unpassable terrain for us.
You can see why I’ve described drone photography as liberating. Albeit, 34 mins freedom at a time from the usual earthly shackles.
Chasing The Sun
Photographers often joke (or complain) about ‘chasing the sun,’ that oftentimes frustrating experience of finding ourselves on the ‘wrong’ hilltop or piece of landscape that’s unfortunately subjected to stubborn cloud cover. Whilst in the just-out-of-reach distance, a beautifully lit area bathed in warm sunlight; sunlight that we know will be gone by the time we manage to get there.
But no more!
Now, with just a flick of the thumb on a joystick we’re able to zip through the landscape as if browsing through some virtual CGI tour. None of this huffing and puffing up a steep slope with a heavy bag and tripod.
To be honest, after all the effort it took previously to achieve new angles, flying the drone does feel a bit like cheating.
YouTube School Of Flight
Conscious of the cost of this new piece of kit and the numerous stories of crashes and lost drones, which everyone seems eager to recount when you mention what you’re doing, we were extremely careful getting started.
Francis Plain sports field played host to our first flight trials. Very basic exercises to begin with, no Top Gun antics! Just gently getting a feel for the responsiveness of the controls and tentatively testing out the limitations of what could be done.
Interestingly, although it was just Sharon and I, we had both watched a whole bunch of YouTube tutorials before receiving our drone, so even though it was our first time, the process felt somewhat familiar. How did we ever manage before YouTube videos?
Our self-imposed ‘training’ flights went on for almost three months. At least four or five times a week we were out practising, learning something new every time – manoeuvring techniques, handling and performance.
Boys With Toys
I should also add here that as time has gone on I’ve become our main drone operator. Probably as a result of my lifelong aviation geekiness finally finding an outlet, Sharon’s been happy (so she says) to let me hog the controls.
How Close Is That Branch?
Estimating proximity to objects via the video display on the controller, was, and still is, a big challenge. It doesn’t help that we only have quite a small display on the mobile phone. A tablet with its larger display would help here, but it’s yet another item to add to the always lengthy wish list.
During flight, visual alignment is everything. Trying to keep sight of the drone when it’s flying against a cloudy sky is much easier than when the backdrop is a rocky hillside or dense foliage. Manoeuvring near to objects is far easier when you yourself are close. This sounds obvious, but it’s not always easy to do.
Photography Skills are an Advantage
Being photographers already has definitely made it easier getting to grips with operating the drone. The essential principles of photography – lighting and composition – are just as relevant, which means we’re only having to learn to operate the drone, not how to shape a photograph. It’s a huge advantage I feel.
Ok, and I’ll admit that maturity (read, ‘age’ here) probably means we see the drone as less a toy and more a photography tool; an addition to our ‘kit bag’ rather than a plaything. It’s a theory anyway, one which I hope ensures the drone remains ‘airworthy’ for as long as possible.
The most important lessons we’ve learned about operating the drone is safety, patience and common-sense.
Patience I suspect is another attribute made easier with age!
As good as the technology is, and as good a photographer as I may think I am, I’m still super aware we’re ultimately flying a remote control aircraft so staying in control, and most importantly not causing injury to someone else is always the top priority.
Unsurprisingly, other people it seems are more concerned about a drone ‘spying’ on them rather than it falling on their head.
In reality the drone is actually the least intrusive camera lens we own, with its fixed and very wide-angle lens (no zoom capability). While the sound of the propellers might sound ominous, the camera view really isn’t.
Ironically, if we really wanted to snoop, the long telephoto on the regular DSLR camera is a far more effective tool, which no one ever gives a second thought to.
Celebrations and Early Mavic Air 2 Photos
So there we go, What The Saints Did Next is now a part of the drone photography community.
We’ve not posted on the blog for some time, but this is something we’ve wanted to share on here for a while.
Plus, today, 8 October 2021, is the seventh anniversary of the launch of our Facebook Page, which was the first phase back in 2014 of rolling out our blog. The last seven years have been a wonderful photographic journey for us, with this latest adventure quite literally taking us to new heights.
So, a good reason to celebrate with this post and a few of our early drone shots. Enjoy.