Perspective. It’s a word I try to keep at the forefront of my mind when I’m going through a challenging situation (or year, right?). Perspective is also a word I emphasize in my pursuit of better storytelling.
Technology has endowed us with the benefit of capturing story with bold new perspectives. Smaller remotely triggered cameras and more compact and powerful lighting tools can now be placed anywhere. Out of all the advancements we’ve seen in the last 5-10 years, my hands down favorite is the use of drones.
My Drone Backstory
I first started using a drone for small documentary film projects around 2013/14. I helped tell the (continuing) story of Eli Reimer, the youngest person with Down Syndrome to reach Mt. Everest base-camp. We’re friends with his family and wanted to document his trip to the Summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. (Side note, Eli didn’t reach the summit-but he did get roughly ten feet higher in elevation than Everest Base Camp-a PR for him.)
While we did get a couple of usable video files from the drone, we also got to expend additional calories as we hunted for it throughout the bushes during one of its famous fly-aways. That particular drone didn’t have a proprietary camera and utilized a GoPro on an upgraded Zenmuse gimbal. It was messy, unpredictable, required a larger remote and a ridiculous amount of batteries that made it difficult to travel with.
And it was freakin’ awesome.
To say that drone technology today is better than that of 2013 would be an infinite understatement. Gone are the days of fly-aways, cases and cases of volatile batteries and now, smaller remotes work seamlessly with high functioning phone or tablet apps allowing you an assortment of flight modes. Drones are getting smaller with greater flight times and features-which makes them perfect to travel with.
Roughly four years ago, I decided to bring a DJI Phantom 3 drone to a ranch wedding in Oregon. My intent was to capture a few video clips that could be used on my website and, as I’m always looking for a new perspective, I thought I might try to grab some stills. Though the cameras in the earlier drones weren’t comparable in quality to my then DSLR, I found I could capture images for my clients that before then could only be obtained when they booked the “Helicopter Rental” package, which strangely enough, never sold…
Though not technically magnificent, I was able to capture the ranch at sunset with the wedding reception in glow, little girls twirling in their dresses from above and little details that perhaps everyone had seen, but not from this vantage point. Vendors were given images of their work they hadn’t seen before. The bride loved the perspective.
Major light bulb moment.
Now, the majority of weddings and engagement sessions I capture have a drone component to them. As I seek to continually push myself and become more creative with drone portraits, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned along the way. If you’ve not yet played with the bird’s eye view that drones offer you, I hope this information sends you over the edge to take flight and enjoy the new perspective. I just hope this gets you stoked.
Know your equipment and the laws in your country, state, county or city. Know where you’re allowed to fly and how high. Fly in spaces you feel comfortable and fly within your ability. If you’re a beginner pilot and a Windows user, you can take advantage of DJI’s in depth “Flight Simulator” software which helps you grow your ability while walking you through different intelligent flight modes and environments.
Fly creative, fly safe.
Concept + Location
Most of the time, I bring the drone and incorporate it into a shoot that’s structured around a typical session, such as a wedding, engagement or family portrait. Generally, I can find a pose or use of the land to make an interesting image.
As of late, I’ve been more intentional with creating images specifically for the drone perspective. I’ve found that using apps like Apple’s Maps or Google Earth can help me scout a location I haven’t been to in person to see if it’s a viable option. Sun tracking apps such as Lumos or Photographer’s Ephemeris 3D (TPE3d) are helpful in tracking the sun, and can show you where shadows may fall on your subject. Interesting landscape features, leading lines and uses of color will generally yield a more striking final image. Think through the client or talent’s wardrobe and how you might incorporate it into the color palette of the surrounding area, or, ensure what they’re wearing is going to “pop” against the background.(more…)