Monthly Archives December 2020

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. 

My first foray into drone usage at events proved to be an exciting way to help tell the story-for both the client and myself.

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. 

This image was taken at roughly 7,000 feet, in a high Cascade Mountain lake. The clients were down to jump in the water and perform the difficult “floaty/kissy maneuver.”  I love the transition of water color and showing a bit of the rocky beach lends some context.

Safety

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.

From time to time, I’ll capture an image of people I’ve just met and my wife will insist we hang it on our wall. It’s only awkward if they come over, right? This is one of my favorite “bird’s eye view” images. Also a great shot to utilize a walkie talkie on, screaming back and forth across the water takes some of the romance out.

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.

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Happy #TravelTuesday one and all! I’ve expressed it that way this week because I’m busy typing away from the Starbucks in Oslo Gardermoen Airport where I’m currently between flights, and I’ve just spent a couple of days in Arctic Norway shooting a class for KelbyOne. The problem is it was delayed because of the ‘rona so, unfortunately, I had very little daylight available. But, hopefully, the content I packed in actually makes enough educational sense to be worth putting out there. We’ll see!

Today, I want to tell you a story about that time when one of my photos was stolen by a travel company to market their product/service. The memory is still very vivid in my mind, mostly because it was last week!

It all started when I noticed I’d been credited in a photo. There are harder ways to find your images online I guess, but there are also services we can use to find our images, such as a reverse image search in Google, or Pixsy, which is a company that constantly searches the images you upload and notifies you when they’re found somewhere. This particular image was being used on Instagram, which makes the subject a little tricky to work out ethically, but it’s my copyright nonetheless.

That’s the post right there. As you can see, it’s clearly advertising the fact that this company can take you to Jasper National Park in Canada as one of their destinations, and whilst there, you can go to Medicine Lake. As part of the “bigger picture,” this image forms part of their “grid” on Instagram, headed by their name and a link to their website. Interestingly, when you arrive at their website you can pick up a package to Jasper National Park for £2,069 ($2,760/2,310) per person for eight days. That figure is just worth keeping in mind. The point I’m making here is that this is not a feature page sharing my photo for nothing more than the sake of art; this is a company using my photo as part of their marketing.

As the owner or marketing executive of a travel company, one needs a salary in order to get through life. Similarly, as a travel photographer, I need an income in order to afford such luxuries as rent, food, my phone, etc. My income comes from my photos and I keep a close eye on selling them in order to generate that income. When I saw this post on Instagram I decided to check my stock sales to see if this image had been bought (whilst secretly knowing I hadn’t actually uploaded it to any stock site, but better safe than sorry.) When I was sure that it hadn’t been purchased by this company I took the first step to right their wrong in the form of this comment: –

You see, I had to be slightly firm and get my point across, but I felt it appropriate to leave the door open for them to correct the situation rather than slander them (which is what I felt like doing), so I offered my e-mail address. Some time passed with no response and I learned that they’d hit the “restrict” button on my comment, meaning I could see it but nobody else could. This got my back up, so I hit them with a couple more: –

Let me explain: If this company had taken a moment to send me a short message along the lines of, “Hey, we like your photo of Medicine Lake. Do you mind if we share it?” I would have probably just said yes. This isn’t the biggest company, but I’ll refer back to income. When Lonely Planet, Time, National Geographic, Passion Passport, and countless others have used images of mine, they’ve paid me. When travel companies offering vacations use my images in their marketing material, they pay me. So, why should this company, using my image as part of their marketing, be allowed to do so for free?

A little while later (the next day) a message landed in my Instagram inbox: –

How would you have taken this? Would you have accepted the “sincere” apology and moved on with your life? My reaction was far from an acceptance. This message simply riled me up, and I’ll explain why: Firstly, I asked them twice to e-mail me, but instead, after some pressure, they sent an anonymous message on social media. The next point is that they seem to be implying that they know full well that they misused my image, and I expect their entire social media marketing plan is hinged around misusing people’s images. I have a feeling they simply post other people’s images in the hope that far more often than not they are happy that their photo was recognised and shared by such a company, which links to another thing I’m not happy about with this response: the credit. They pointed out that they credited me with the photo, like I’m sure they do as part of the plan I suspect, that I just described, but let me tell you this for free: credit doesn’t bring home the bacon! I’ve never got in touch with my electricity company and offered to pay my bill with “credit” or “exposure,” and I wouldn’t expect them to let me. There’s no real difference here.

Anyway, another couple of hours passed and I received an e-mail:

As I said before, I suspect this company relies on sharing images and hoping the photographer is happy with the “exposure” as a major part of their cost-effective marketing strategy. The response from the Senior Content and Affiliates Executive suggests this is the case and they know full well what the market value of a royalty-free image would be at this scale and for this usage type because look:

This is one of my images on Getty Images, a reputable stock library. Their price is a fair indication of the market value of such images. I decided to accept the offer of £50—it was a fair offer had it been made upfront rather than retrospectively, and I was no longer in the mood to argue with anybody. My response will be next, but I want to take this opportunity to remind you all that as photographers, the images you create are your intellectual property. There are different methods worldwide for attaining copyright on an image, but first and foremost, unless under contract that says otherwise, that copyright belongs to you. You are a professional and, as such, you deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with other professionals in equal stead. Just as a plumber sends invoices for their work, a photographer sends invoices for theirs. If their intellectual property is being used without permission, it is something that should be dealt with according to law. Realise your value and never let anybody steal your hard work.

For the record, I’m still waiting for the payment to be made, but here is my response:

It’s your copyright. It’s your property. If it’s stolen, don’t let anyone off the hook. We need to take a stand against image theft, and we’re all in it together.

Much love
Dave

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