Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Droning On

Droning On

I've always wanted to be a pilot but never had the time to learn.  Plus, it's one of those things that you can't just do every now and then.  You have to stay sharp or you become part of the landscape instead of flying over it.  I've also had many occasions where I wanted to take a photo from "right there" but right there was either a few feet off the edge of a cliff  or several yards out into the middle of the river or ... you get the idea.  Plus to be honest, Toledo is just not a photography hotspot and I need to find new and different ways to see it to enjoy my photography addiction between photo trips.

Enter the drone.  Or actually, the third drone.  I'm somewhat of an early adopter, so several years ago I bought a drone and a GoPro.  Realistically GoPros are not landscape photography cameras so the images weren't great.  But more problematically, the drone was just not right.  It had an affinity for trees or other obstacles and a two year old could hold still better that it could.  My 12 year old son who regularly embarrasses me playing against me in any video game couldn't get this thing to fly right and flew it into Lake Erie.  It's not a submarine either we learned.  So last year DJI came out with version 4 (my first was version 2) and the promise was stable, controlled flight.  I bought one last summer, and Eureka! I could fly it, it held stationary if necessary, and it could find it's own way home when I lost track of it.  That happened often I'm embarrassed to say.  Unfortunately, the camera was a 12MP wide angle affair which was decent but not awesome.  But still,  better than nothing so I started experimenting with drone photography.  And of course, as with all technology, I no sooner paid the credit card bill for that drone when DJI released the 4 "Pro" version with a 20mp camera and a 1 inch sensor.  This is clearly a Chinese plot to extract as many American dollars from me as possible but I went for it (my long suffering wife Chris said "quit whining and just get it already" bless her heart).  Now we're working on 90% awesome.  Great camera -RAW+JPEG, low noise and super easy to fly with collision sensors all around.  Only complaint is fixed focal length and no zoom.  I'm sure it's just a matter of time - and probably not long - they've got to keep extracting those dollars you know.

So what have I learned so far?  Aerial photography is a whole different perspective and even with Google Earth you have to just get the drone up there and see if there's an image.  I use Google Earth to scout out possible subjects and safe places to fly from to access my intended subject. Light still matters but so does wind speed and precipitation which never completely stopped me before when I was using an SLR and a sturdy tripod. People are suspicious of drones - especially if you are flying them near someone's home; which for urban images is impossible to avoid. I've been harassed about flying in public airspace, but my new German Shepherd will take care of that.... Air travel is a pain because the drone takes up it's own backpack and my personal Sherpa (Chris) doesn't always fly with me so a camera backpack and a drone backpack makes me wish I was a camel. (Mike Mike Mike Mike....)  I haven't tried night drone photography yet but will report on that later when I figure out a safe location without aerial obstacles to experiment.  And finally, drones are not allowed in national parks (I agree) so there will still be those cliffs where I wish I could be 3 feet to the right but never will.

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