[Feature photo: Sam Beebe]
Not long ago, the furthest I could get my GoPro (or any other camera for that matter) away from my body and still remain in control was about 4 feet – as far as I could hold it out with one of those extendable poles. Then I bought my first UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) aka Quad-copter aka Drone, the Phantom by DJI Innovations. Drone is the term the public and media are calling these nimble 4-rotor, camera-carrying flying machines, so that is the term we will use, with some reservations. Suddenly, that 4 foot reach was extended to 900 feet – a staggering leap to say the least!
Within the last few years, affordable consumer grade drones with cameras have taken to the skies by the thousands. For travel media producers like you and I this has huge implications. Now we can capture an environment or event from a bird’s eye view, affording massive views and sublime images to be captured with ease. If you want to see a recent example of an astounding travel aerial video check out Matador Network’s Creative Director Scott Sporleder’s film from the Philippines:
I have really enjoyed learning to fly my Phantom (gen. 1) and have taken it on several trips with me and utilized the aerial footage for paid clients and hobby videos. I have created aerial content for a sea-side resort, shot giant sculptures from the sky for the Visit California #DreamBig campaign and usde my drone in Alaska to film an environmental restoration site from the air.
Whether or not you want to seriously pursue commercial drone work or just want to play around with some hobby aerial videos, a drone is now a viable way to take to the air in your travels and at home.
9 reasons Drones ROCK for travel video and 5 reasons they can SUCK
1. Huge Vistas
Immediately the first reason to utilize a drone is the massive views, vistas, and landscapes you can capture. Ascend a few hundred feet in the air and suddenly the world unfolds itself and you can see for miles. I have shot footage over deserts, oceans, forests and mountains – it is still thrilling every time to fire up the drone and see what there is to see. Much of the time I am pleasantly surprised at the view from above.
2. Otherwise un-shootable scenarios
Simply put, drones let you shoot what would otherwise be impossible. You can capture a kayaker running a huge waterfall, or a climber climbing a tough route with a small drone whereas without one you would be confined to a grounded, fixed position. The most recent ‘unshootable scene’ a drone captured that positively blew my mind (and I was not the only one) was this vid where a drone pilot flew his Phantom 2 into a 4th of July fireworks show:
3. Iconic landmarks
Recently Matador CEO Ross Borden posted this pic of Christ the Redeemer in Rio he captured with his Phantom during the World Cup:
This is a great example of what an iconic landmark looks like from a drone and what can be captured easily with a aerial vehicle and a GoPro.
4. A whole new domain for travel video
Aerial videography marks a major shift in travel video – a whole new genre of media arrived as amateur and professional drone pilots began to publish their work. Prior to the advent of consumer grade drones aerial video was a costly, top heavy affair mostly dominated by helicopters and the occasional hot air balloon. The media space that drones have opened is still very new and thus represents…
5. A new market / media to specialize in
The new media domain that drones open up means that viewers are now expecting more and better aerial footage and drone piloting skills is a hot commodity. By getting into the drone media game at this stage you have the opportunity to specialize in this emerging media market while it is still relatively young.
6. Work with hotels and tourism boards
Hotels, tourism boards, and PR companies are taking notice of the kinds of footage drones can capture and they want it for their marketing materials. This is a great time to specialize in aerial and target the hospitality and tourism industry for work.
7. make more $$$
People are willing to pay for good aerial footage. And since it is a new and specialized media market they are willing to pay more than regular ol’ ground based video. I have shot aerial for a smartphone app ad, real estate agents, and tourism campaigns and was paid a very decent rate.
8. Capture multiple forms of media
This may be obvious to some, but using a GoPro or another camera in tandem with a drone allows you to shoot both photos and video in the air. I like to make sure I capture both forms of media if possible.
9. Flight imagery evokes a straight-up magical sense of wonder
I love flying my drone knowing that the footage is literally going to make me feel like I am flying. I shoot footage with the knowledge that aerial photos and video can have the magical quality of evoking the universal dream of human flight. This is what it feels like to fly over crashing waves on the California coast. And this is what it feels like to soar over a glacier in Patagonia. Aerial is a very special domain of media with the power to really arrest the imagination.
& 5 reasons drones can SUCK
Flying a drone and capturing great travel video footage is great, but the reality of the situation is that drones are in a very dubious position in the US. Being banned in National Parks and prohibited by the FAA to fly over 400 feet (as I said, my Phantom has a 900 foot range) are just two of the many issues and regulations facing drones and their pilots.
1. Dubious laws
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject but I do know that the FAA has vague laws concerning drone flight and have implied that commercial use of drones is illegal and in 2011, the FAA slapped Rapheal Pirker with a $10,000 fine after he flew his Styrofoam drone around the University of Virginia while filming an ad for the university’s medical school. The case was dismissed.
The police aren’t as excited about drones as we travel filmmakers are. And since the laws are dubious and the precedent has yet to be set the men and women in uniform are not the most informed on the rights of drone pilots and the issue at large. Lately an NYPD helicopter claimed it had to veer to avoid a drone and the pilots were slapped with felony charges. The claim of the NYPD helicopter was challenged by the aerial footage from the drone, which showed the police chopper pursuing the drone and not the other way around. The cops are over-reacting and that is a concern. Read this article on PhotographyIsNotACrime.com.
3. FAA commercial permits pending
It is expected that the FAA will unveil their process and plan for permitting commercial drone pilots and make filming and photographing from a drone a serious financial endeavor. The FAA glacial pace for this UAV pilot permitting process has been the source of frustration for folks ready to break into this new medium.
4. No-fly zones
National Parks are off the table. Government buildings (yes, post offices), police stations, certain shorelines, over 400 feet elevation, and, of course, near airports are also a no drone zone. It is your responsibility to know where you can fly and where you can’t or suffer the potential consequences.
5. Being attacked by crazy people
This summer a 17-year-old drone pilot flying at a Connecticut beach was attacked by a crazy woman. He caught the violent encounter on his cell phone and the assailant (who claimed he was a pervert for flying and filming at the beach) was arrested. Like the police, the public is not sure what to make of the appearance of drones and few crazy people are bound to freak out. Fair warning.