Droneography: The Ups and Downs of Aerial Robot Photography

Sci-fi has long anticipated the world we live in today, and the advance of drone technology comes as no surprise. Whereas in its beginnings it started as a military technology, nowadays, the use of flying robots is spreading to commercial and civilian uses, and of course, the video and photography sector have jumped at the possibility of developing the relatively unexplored perspective of aerial shots. As with any new technology, there are pros and cons to drone use, as well as ethical and legal considerations. So what’s the deal with drone photography? We explore the ups and downs of taking photographs with robots.

The Upside

Photo by Dirk Dallas

Photo by Dirk Dallas

One of the best things about civilian use of drones for photography is that it allows for an opening up of photographic perspectives. Although aerial shots are not new, they have up to now been very expensive and have mostly required photographers to get onto a helicopter or plane to take them. With drones, this point of view can be explored with the photographer safe on the ground, and with a lot more independence. The creative freedom that this permits is thus much greater, and can be related to ideas of an external eye cast upon the world, shots of the city as if the sun or the moon or the stars were the photographer, persepctives of Gods, ghosts, censors and more.

Another great aspect of drones is that they can get into nooks and crannies that perhaps humans would not be able to access so easily. Caves and volcanoes for example, or in the middle of a firework display.

Photo by Dirk Dallas

Photo by Dirk Dallas

Because taking photographs with drones makes framing much more difficult to control, there is a lot more scope for discovery and surprise. Think back to the anticipation of the pre-digital era when you developed pictures and had to wait to see how they had come out.

Of course, this lack of control also brings us to some of the cons of droneography.

The Downside

If spontaneity, surprise and discovery are on the upside of taking photographs with robots, the downside is that surprises are not always pretty! The shot may be aerial but that doesn’t necessarily make it good, which may mean you will have to make a lot of attempts before you get something you like, and that may require a lot of patience.

Photo by Kevin Baird

Photo by Kevin Baird

Drones are not that easy to manage and manoeuvre, and as a beginner you will want a cheap one to cut down on the cost of unfortunate accidents, but at the same time, the cheaper drones will be less reliable. This means you will have to be prepared to fork out a bit of money to get your robot to do what you want it to do rather than go all Frankenstein on your picture taking! It’s not only the drones you will have to invest in, but also on the adequate camera equipment, including lenses. Also, keep in mind that the drone has a short battery life of approximately 10 to 20 minutes.

Find a great guide to purchasing your first drone here. 

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Photo by Kevin Baird

Photo by Kevin Baird

A few of the ethical debates that droneography has brought about have to do with privacy, environmental and safety issues. Although lots of the legal aspects are still being debated, in the UK, there are already a few rules to abide by:

1- For the commercial use of drones, a permit from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is required, for which the applicant has to be considered “sufficiently competent” to fly the drone. 

2- Drones must weigh less than 20 kilos. 

3- Drones must be flown at a minimum distance of 150 meters from congested areas, and at a minimum distance of 50 meters from any person/vessel/vehicle or structure that is not under control of the drone pilot.

4-  The drone must be kept within sight, which is to say flown no higher than 400 feet and no further than 500 meters away from the pilot.

For more information on the subject check out this informative article published in the Telegraph in April.

More Resources:

Photo by Kevin Baird

Photo by Kevin Baird