The main advantage of this technology is the ability to stabilize a camera at a very low altitude. Unlike a microlight or a helicopter, a drone allows the camera to be placed within a few meters of the subject to be photographed. When filming, it is able to make stable and fluid tracking shots in three dimensions.
To begin with, the experienced photographer must find a clear site, free of trees and vegetation which could obstruct the drone’s flight. Many photographers use Google Maps, for example, to locate the best spots and assess the best times of day to photograph their subject. Having established a flight plan, it is often useful to carry out a few reconnaissance flights before taking a successful shot.
Two people are needed to take the best pictures using a drone. Firstly, an experienced pilot to operate the machine, with the necessary authorization to fly it. The second operator is the cameraman who checks the image from the ground via a real-time video feed on a screen or video glasses. The cameraman adjusts the lens, which is generally placed on a gondola, whichallows the lens to be rotated 360°. The success of the operation depends on sufficient practice and proper coordination between the two operators.
An endangered art
Paradoxically, this golden age of aerial photography is about to end. In just a few months, many photographers have taken advantage of the legal uncertainty surrounding the practice to carry out huge numbers of photo shoots around the world. The legal framework governing the use of drones is expanding rapidly, however. Regulations vary in different parts of the world. In France, regulations require the use of approved drones weighing less than 2kg in built-up areas. All flights are subject to a permit issued by the Préfecture, which takes from two to three weeks to obtain.
Another risk when using drones to take photographs is the cost in the event of a crash! With equipment costs ranging from €2,000 to €10,000, error by the pilot or photographer could be disastrous… as Australian photographer Ryan Chatfield almost found out to his cost in April 2015. While filming a sunset on a beach in Perth, his drone’s battery died. After an impressive 100m sprint to reach his device, Chatfield just managed to save it from the waves. The footage of the event filmed by the drone has so far notched up over 2 million views on Youtube:
Faced with these legal and technical constraints, some photographers have decided to revert to a cheaper and more traditional system – kites! Like a drone, kites can be fitted with a light camera set to automatically take pictures at regular intervals. The most advanced even have gondolas and a video feed. Without the need for any prior permission to fly (up to an altitude of 150m) or battery worries, they could represent competition for drones or at least be used to complement them due to their flexibility at low altitudes. If the weather is uncertain, for example, it is useful to be able to leave your fragile and expensive drone on the ground in favor of a kite capable of speeds from 8km/h and up to 70km/h!
Nevertheless, there is still a wide range of uses for drones (remote surveillance, mapping, advertising, etc.) and new ones are being developed all the time… so drones are likely to be a feature of our air space for some time to come!