Looking back at the origins of aerial photography, and comparing the means that were used back then with today’s modern consumer hobby drones, it’s apparent that the full creative potential of consumer hobby drones as it relates to aerial photography depends on the photographer’s ability to exploit the unique and inherent characteristics and features of a drone. This includes the ability to capture subjects and sceneries that test a drones maneuverability, agility, precision, and responsiveness, from angles that aren’t available from the ground or high-up in the sky, and under circumstances that would otherwise pose a risk, danger, or hazard. Worded differently, aerial drone photography, properly said, is at its best when it can’t be replicated through any other means, such as airplane, satellite, helicopter, kite, hot-air balloons, etc.
From Paris to Boston to San Francisco: a Brief History of Aerial Photography
The very first aerial photographs are credited to a French photographer named Gaspard-Felix Tournachon (a.k.a. Nadar) who in 1858, undertook the risk of capturing Paris from a shaky tethered balloon at an altitude of 1,600. Two years later, the trend caught on in other parts of the world; aerial photography was born in the United States when James Wallace Black took photographs of Boston, once more from a hot-air balloon. Some 20 to 30 years later, photographers began re-envisioning the means employed for aerial photography. Near the end of the 19th century, Arthur Batut daringly took aerial photos of Southern France from a kite, a method of aerial photography that was replicated by George L. Lawrence in 1906 when he took photos of the damages caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Perhaps more interestingly, aerial photography became the thing of Pigeons carrying miniature cameras with automated timing mechanisms, a method that was rapidly employed by the French military during World War I, then after by the C.I.A. following World War II.
Aerial photography was said to be born from a hot-air balloon, then by kites, the by carrier pigeons and other similar creative and innovative contraption. At the heart of a better understand of the role of modern consumer hobby drones in the history of aerial photography, or what is expected from modern consumer hobby drones within the historical context of aerial photography, is how are drones different from hot-air balloons, kites, pigeons, and other means or methods used for aerial photography. The differences between these means or methods and drones emphasize what should be reflected in good aerial drone photography. In other words, aerial drone photography shines when it brings perspectives that cannot be reproduced by any other means. For instance, with perhaps the exception of air zone restrictions, one could imagine that the below photo, while stunningly beautiful, could be reproduced by helicopter or aircraft. The key question to ask is, can you droner capture be replicated by other means of aerial photography, such as by satellite, helicopter, airplane, kite, etc. How are drones different from these means, or methods of aerial photography?
While stunningly beautiful, one could imagine how the unique characteristics of a drone are not required to capture this type of angle and perspective. Worded differently, this photo could most likely be captured using other means, for instance, a helicopter.
Accessibility, Plurality, and Diversity – Leaving aside C.I.A. type intelligence gathering aerial photography drones, a first obvious and important difference between consumer hobby drones and other methods of aerial photography are that aerial photography drones are much more accessible that a hot-air balloon, kite, carrier pigeons, helicopters, satellites, airplanes, and the likes. Consumer hobby drones are not constrained to the professional, specialist photographer looking to bring a fresh new perspective to her/his artistic work, as may have been the case with Tournachon, Batut, and Lawrence. With the above in mind, leaving aside advancements in digital photography and storage devices, aerial photography drones have in that sense enabled or facilitated the release of a massive explosion of creativity, plurality, and diversity of individual perspectives. Dronestagram is a testimony of this fact.
This drone capture, taken in the Philippines from an altitude only accessible by drone, exemplifies the creativity and diversity in the masses often present in aerial drone photography.
This drone capture entitled “where’s Wally”, was also captured at an altitude only accessible by drones, and exemplifies a culture of the masses.
Positioning and Risk – Another visible difference is that whereas hot-air balloons, kites, helicopters, airplanes, etc. are piloted from within and above ground, drones are piloted from a first-person-view (‘FPV’) that is outside of the drone, and from the ground up. That is to say, unlike kites and hot-air balloons and the likes, the person pressing the shutter button on the camera is not physically in the air; the photographer remains on the ground. As with carrier pigeons used for dangerous military and intelligence gathering missions, photographers are therefore completely distanced, or removed from any physical risk associated with being in the air. Psychologically, the photographer is freed from the fear or risk of any physical harm. This arguably provides more room and freedom for creativity in aerial photography. The result of risk, uniqueness, and captivation are often the result of aerial drone photography. A photo on top of the Golden Gate Bridge is a example of such a daring risk in aerial photography.
This drone capture was taken from an angle, perspective, and altitude only accessible by drone. The risk or danger of taking this photo by any other means of aerial photography would be too great.
Size and Maneuverability – Leaving aside modern C.I.A. type intelligence gathering aerial photography drones, drones with aerial capabilities are much smaller, let alone more discrete than hot air balloons, kites, and the likes. Drones are also much more manoeuvrable, agile, and responsive to commands. This includes being able to change very rapidly from a low, near-ground hovering altitude, to a a high, above-cloud altitude. Aerial drone photography therefore offers a highly dynamic and timely method of capturing unique moments of subjects or sceneries, from unique and creative angles. One could image how the below capture of an Eagle, for instance, would not have been possible without the quick responsive maneuverability offered by a small aerial photography drone.
Aerial drone photography is at its best when the captures call upon the unique features and characteristics of consumer hobby drones, which offer unique angles of subjects and sceneries not otherwise accessible by any other aerial photography means. If your drone capture cannot be replicated using other means of aerial photography, such as by airplane, helicopter, satellite, kite, and the likes, then you’re exploiting the full creative potential of the new and modern art of aerial drone photography.