You can get amazing results with your very own eye in the sky.
Recently, I attended an art exhibition in the Goldfields in which “Drone Photography” featured among the prize categories. The judge, when announcing the winner, mentioned her excitement at the possibilities drones offer for photography and art. And she is right.
I am not, of course, the only photographer with a drone by a long, long way — and I would certainly not pretend to be the most proficient of drone pilots.
However, I have found my new camera to be a perfect addition to my photographic armoury, allowing perspectives once only achievable by expensive helicopter rides.
Now it is possible to show clearly the scale of, say, a building in the desert, the expanse of a town, or give an idea of what it would be like to fly through a deserted village.
Choosing an affordable drone was not hard. Aware of much twitchiness among authorities at various levels, I approached the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) website for guidance. They have a whole section on drones which makes it clear, very early on, that if your drone is more than 2kg you are going to need to be licensed and certified by CASA. There are exceptions for pilots flying their drones over their own property, otherwise training and certification is required.
So my drone would need to be under 2kg. I would still be allowed to fly it commercially subject to permission from CASA whose simple red tape process is outlined clearly on their website.
Like thousands of others, I opted for a DJI Mavic Pro. It is cunningly compact, folding and fitting easily, with three batteries, into a medium-size camera bag. Its weight — well under 1kg — allowed for less-restrictive flying rules but it was the huge number of image-making options that swung me. A 4K video option, 4000x3000px stills from a 28mm lens mounted on a controllable gimbal was not a bad start.
The flying mode options impress me still: I have easily programmed the Mavic to follow moving objects, fly alongside them, guided it between buildings, positioned it exactly where I wanted it for stills. My fears of crashing it remain but are eased by the Mavic’s ability to detect obstructions (it stops dead, hovering, until I fly it around or over the object) and it lets you know in plenty of time how much flight time is left, heading for home (it logs its take-off point) itself or landing before the battery is drained.
Other modes include “sport” for rapid flight and agility, though I have mine set permanently on “cinematic”, which allows gentle movements and halts, perfect for videos.
Flying it takes a bit of getting used to but is a simple process using a controller, a mobile phone (check that your mobile phone is compatible with the app — not all are) and DJI app.
Joysticks, a touch screen and buttons control rotations, altitude, speed and direction as well as camera tilt and pan.
The drone can also be controlled directly by wi-fi from your phone, but I found this much less easy or satisfactory.
I was surprised by its batteries’ power, too. Each battery lasts about 20 minutes, which I have found is usually plenty of time to capture the images I want, though I nearly came unstuck trying to fly it back against a stiff wind: I watched the flying time diminish rapidly and landed it with five seconds to spare, glad I did not have to find out the hard way if the Pro’s emergency landing automation worked!
There are many rules to be aware of in Australia. Most are common sense, brought in for all when the few disregarded others’ privacy, safety and peace. Be aware of the need to maintain visual contact with your drone at all times, do not fly over or near people and do not exceed maximum altitudes (usually 120m). All details are on the CASA website: casa.gov.au.
The Mavic Pro came with a decent-sized micro SD card (it took a while to learn how to reformat after downloading images), charger for drone and controller and three batteries all for under $2000. For the vast array of options the Mavic opens up for keen photographers, it’s hard to pass up the value at that price.