I’ve been flying little quadcopter drones for a couple of years now and I’ve found them to be a wonderful creative tool. Being able to position a camera just about anywhere is a level of freedom that can ruin ground-based photography. How many times have you been out shooting only to have a tree in the way or find yourself on the edge of some great precipice only to find that the best composition is from thirty feet away in thin air?
While many drone operators use them for video and other motion-video projects like hyper lapses, I tend to use mine as a still camera. This past week found me in Central Oregon for the holiday and I went out with my “regular” camera a couple of times, but my best shots by far were taken with the drone. Take the panorama at the top of this post. I shot lovely Mt. Bachelor with his early winter coat on with my DJI Mavic Pro 2 drone. It’s a panorama of several images stitched together. Once I reached an altitude that gave me the perspective I was looking for I hovered the drone and made a series of still shots while panning the drone left and right. Just as I’d do it with a tripod-mounted camera, I start on one end of the panorama sweep and shoot-pivot-shoot-pivot and so on until I’ve covered the scene. It only takes moments and with the drone held in position with GPS, it’s surprisingly precise. When I get the images back to the computer, I simply batch process them and then merge them in Lightroom. I finish the toning in Luminar and export. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
I’ve shot hundreds of these aerial panoramas, and I will probably never get bored with them. But on this trip, I tried something new. I found a ridge up on the flank of the mountain that had quite a few weathered trees plastered with snow. Here’s a two-shot composite of the ridge:
Instead of sticking with the distant aerial approach I usually use with my drone, I got in closer to the trees… much closer. Moving very slowly and using the tilt feature of the drone’s camera to “look around” I nudged in just over ground level and moved amongst the trees until I found compositions I liked. Here’s one:
Keep in mind that I am about a half-mile away from this drone. I can’t see it as it’s over the lip of the ridge and my only reference is the image on my iPhone connected to the controller. It’s a bit unnerving to fly that close to the ground and trees, but the drone is covered in sensors that keep me alerted to the device’s proximity to obstacles. With my controller beeping proximity warnings, I crept the drone in and out of the trees looking for interesting angles. I felt like an undersea explorer poking around a shipwreck with an ROV, and in many ways that was pretty much the perfect comparison. I was standing safely and comfortably in a parking lot as my camera was taking the chances far away.
This form of landscape photography is unusual and I’m not sure how often I’ll use the technique, but I can tell you it was a lot more fun that trudging through the snow up that ridge to shoot the scene by hand.