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Time to Fly


My inception to aerial photography was through a drone. I saw some rock pools on Sydney's northern beaches on Instagram/Facebook. I was mesmerised at the angle in which the landscape had been captured. I was stoked, I was discovering photography all over. I could go back and re-discover old locations, discover new locations that you wouldn't consider photographing from a horizontal perspective. I began to scour through google earth and look for colours and patterns. I was obsessed!

DJI's Phantom 2 Vision was my first ever drone (UAV). It was revolutionary at the time. All though the camera on it sucked, it was still a way of capturing a different perspective at a fraction of the cost of chartering a manned aircraft. it was a game changer.

I distinctly remember flying the Phantom for the first time, I actually wasn't meant to be flying because it was so windy, and drizzling. I read the instructions, ran outside and got it up around 200 feet in the air. The cloud level was that low and it was windy, the drone disappeared! I couldn't believe it, I had the bloody thing for less than 5 mins and it was gone. I actually said my goodbyes and accepted that the drone had gone! So sad lol! I vividly remember this.

Reading the instructions prior to take off did have some benefits, I knew to hit the return to home button and with in a minute I could hear the drones distinct humming sound but couldn't see it. I manage to get it back to above the home point, landed safely and vowed never to fly in these conditions again. Ever since I've lost, crashed and sunk approximately $45,000 worth of UAV's (Drones) Most of it was insured so not too bad in the end.

After 6 months of honing my flying skills I dug a little deeper to see what the more experienced operators were up to. I found out that you needed a license to fly for commercial gain. So off to CASA I went. I had to sit a private pilots license minus the physical because there was no proper syllabus for operating a drone for commercial gain. I was having to learn about cloud separation at 30,000 feet. I was having to learn about katabatic winds, all sorts of information that wasn't really relative to a Drone ( UAV) pilot. Thankfully the syllabus has been amended since to be relevant to a UAV pilot. My practical went well. The assessor was impressed with my flying skills. Last guy I tested the CASA assessor told me almost took my head off when bringing the drone back in for landing. So the controls are opposite. All those video games paid off!

I've been pushing on now for around 5 years with the drones and the one thing that has always frustrated me was the capability of the stills camera on the drone. They are much better for motion so video than stills. Currently speaking the best turn key drone solution, so straight out the box for drone stills is a 20 megapixel sensor that is smaller than your normal 35mm full frame sensor. For abstracts this is ok where the printed image isn't detail orientated. For highly detailed images, the detail just falls apart to mush basically. What to do?

So through a lot more drone flying, trips, road trips and sunken drones I decided to charter a small aircraft, a Cessna 210. I'd seen a lot of guys and girls do it with amazing results but I always had a thing about getting into small aircraft with the door off. I was terrified to think that I was going to be 3500 feet in the air with no door on! I couldn't let this stop me from achieving the quality that I was after so I sucked it up and booked it in.

The first flight was a huge learning curve. You can only do so much theoretical research. Shutter speed consideration, don't lean against the airframe to avoid vibrations which directly effect the image clarity. The vibrations travel through your body and into the camera. What iso (sensor sensitivity) do I need to set in order to achieve a shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake/blur? Do I just set the camera to aperture priority? The list goes on. Through my years of experience through shooting weddings, I picked it up pretty quickly, weddings overtime force you to think and adapt quickly, it's not something you pick up overnight. it's a craft that's honed. I like to think that a print has all the years of experience a photographer has had to hone their craft , to build, make mistakes, assess, re-assess.

After my experiences in the plane, I can confess that I will struggle to go back to using a drone. Our 11 y.o son will be getting a few hand me downs me thinks. I would of loved a drone at the age of 11. We had peg guns but that's a whole other story.

Again, if you've made it this far you deserve a medal. Hope you enjoyed the post.

On a side note, my new "The Kimberley" collection  launching soon is all shot from a manned aircraft and will be available in an additional print size of 1.5 meters. If you have any special requirements, please don't hesitate to reach out. 

Stewart.