So, I fell for the temptation. Drone photography (and video) seems to be in demand at the moment and I’ve wanted to get on board with it for a while now. I came across a DJI Phantom 2 drone on sale with two batteries and a Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal (camera stabilizer) and decided more or less on the spot to get it. I picked up the latest GoPro Hero 4 Black as well. While on sale, it cost me more or less everything I had. And then some.
I’ve done a lot of research into drones for the past year, and I knew I wanted the Phantom 2. While there are some problems with them regarding fly aways and crashes, it has seemed to me to be the most idiot-proof of the ones on the market right now. And the price isn’t too bad, either.
Last week I got, for the first time, to use it on an editorial assignment. Nothing special, just a few shots of a building, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun than the alternatives.
Before I got the drone, I had read several places that it was just as easy as flying in a video game. Luckily, that’s wrong. I’m terrible at video games in general and flying in particular. But as it turns out, even when knowing it will be easy, it’s surprising just how easy it is to fly. I haven’t tried one since childhood, but when it’s in the air, it feels like driving a remote-controlled car. Anyone can do it. Heck, even my mother managed to fly it somewhat successfully (though, that tree did come a bit too close in my opinion).
I got the drone way back in November but since the weather in Norway can be treacherous even at the best of times (seriously, it rained for more than 50 days straight!), I didn’t get to actually fly the thing until late December (and even then just for a couple of days). At the time, I was back in my hometown Odda for christmas. It was actually a great place to get to know the Phantom, as there are far less heads to smash into there than in the city where I currently live, Bergen. I put together a short video of clips from my first couple of flights. Nothing to brag about, but it goes to show just how easy it is to fly the drone (and, not least, how well the gimbal works).
The biggest problem with the setup I’m using is, of course, that I have no idea what I’m shooting while the drone is in the air. Since wifi-signals interfere with the remote control signal to the Phantom, you can’t connect to the GoPro without risking the drone losing control or crashing. When reviewing the clips I got back home, I quickly realized that I should have dared to fly even higher and for longer stretches of time to get the shots that I wanted. With a bit of training, I’m hoping I’ll get better at imagining what the GoPro is capturing.
For the assignment, I knew I wanted to get a birds-eye view of the building (a student apartment building). Learning from the previous experience, I went up as far as I dared, taking off from the middle of the courtyard. When in the air, I did a 360° spin, and then slowly came back down. Of course, this time I went too far. But, since I had activated the time-lapse function on the GoPro, luckily I got the shots I wanted on the way down. I quite like the shots, and one of them actually ended up on the front page of the student newspaper.
In my opinion, the thing that makes the shot interesting, is the tracks left in the snow by the students living at there. That was not something I considered when flying. Rather, it was pure luck. It gives, though, a slight hint of just how powerful a drone can be in storytelling, and it will surely be something I’ll look out for the next time I take the drone for a spin.
In Norway, flying and taking pictures with a drone is at the moment legal as long as you stay away from airports and bellow 120 m. However, if you want to use drone photography commercially, you’ll need a licence. I do not yet have a licence, nor have I tried to get one. Since I’m still learning to fly, I think it’s a bit premature to get a proper licence. Though, since I work pro bono for a student newspaper, I still get my shots in print without any legal ramifications (it isn’t commercial work!). In addition, it’s a great way to start filling in my portfolio with drone shots.
Hopefully, the weather will get better soon.