How To: Drone Insights from Graham Jones

Photography for me is a journey of discovery with so many interesting genres to discover. I first became interested in drone photography when checking out a site on Facebook specific to using drones for video footage however, having owned my drone for about 18 months now, my preference is for using it to capture stills with the ability to capture a birds eye view adding to the creativity that is photography.

By Graham Jones

It's important to remember that photographers come in all ages, sizes, and abilities. Some of us are not as mobile as we once were but drone photography can provide a new lease of excitement with the freedom to explore hard-to-reach locations from the air without having to trek up, around, and down mountains to get the shot!

I fly a Mavic Air produced by DJI. Purchased as a combo with controller, drone, 3 batteries (each giving a flight time of 15 minutes) battery charger, and spare rotor blades I also purchased some ND filters and a wrap around cover to aid with vision on my tablet screen when out in the sun.

By Graham Jones

When flying a drone you use either your mobile phone or a tablet via an app which is free to download. This app provides all your information shown on the screen eg camera settings, location, speed, height, whether you can legally fly at your location and finally the picture you are actually taking. Note - I use my tablet to have the biggest screen. The drone stores pictures on an SD card just like any camera. While still at your location you can download your photos to your phone/tablet and view them, giving you an opportunity with your last battery to launch again for a different (perhaps better) composition.

By Graham Jones

My workflow when shooting with the drone is the same each time I go out:

· Arrive at location, double check all 3 batteries are charged and set up the controller and drone.

· Once I have launched the drone I use my first battery (15minutes fly time) to check out the shot and get a basic composition. I try various altitudes also flying closer or further away to the subject to see what looks good.

· After landing and changing batteries I launch again knowing roughly where I should be. I then refine my composition and start shooting.

Two Of My Favourite Shots

Dawn at Castlepoint 1/8sec F2.8 ISO/100

Castlepoint is located 1 hrs drive east of Masterton and is a landscape photographers paradise.

In this capture the drone provided a unique perspective flying offshore where the ocean meets the coast. The composition attempts to define the layers and many colours of the cliff, while the leading line takes the eye down the coast to the barren headland and onward. I had an ND4 polarizing filter mounted on the camera to remove glare from the ocean whilst also under exposing the rising sun and took a 3 shot bracketed exposure which I later combined in Lightroom giving you the finished result.

The Rock 1/1000 sec F2.8 ISO/100

Captured at Ohope estuary in the Bay of Plenty, I had paddled my kayak 8kms to the island in anticipation of a birds eye view of the inlet. This composition shows the diversity of drone photography perfectly. This was a 3 shot bracketed exposure using an ND4 polarising filter to reduce glare. I could have removed the man and his kayak later in post-processing but chose not to as they provide perspective.

Points to consider prior to purchasing a drone:

  • There are numerous types of drones on the market depending on your budget. A half decent camera lens costs around $1000 with $1500 buying you a full drone combo with 3 batteries, a charger, spare blades, and a handset.

  • Possibly the most important consideration is size and weight. Most landscape photographers will trek kms to find that elusive shot carrying a backpack of camera gear including a tripod, likewise you need a drone that is compact and easy to carry.

  • Learning to fly a drone is not rocket science but as with anything new (learning to drive, learning what all the buttons do on your DSLR etc) practise builds confidence.

  • Wind and drones do not mix! I can capture quality frames in winds of up to 8knots but to capture panoramas you need a still day.

  • Like any machine, drones require servicing. I recommend purchasing from a reputable dealer whose only business is drones.

I've had a few learning curves along the way, one of my biggest mistakes was arriving at a location to find I could not legally fly in that area! This can easily be checked online before you leave. Some other pointers (learned the hard way!) include always maintaining a visual with your craft, always calibrating the inbuilt drone compass so you land exactly where you took off and not in a puddle of water and of course, always checking your gear before you leave the house to make sure batteries are charged, tablet or phone is charged, SD card is formatted, and you have your filters etc.

By Graham Jones

New Zealand is the perfect place for drone photography with minimal restrictions on flying and huge choice of places to discover. Just consider other people and use some common sense when flying.

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