The renowned 20th-century street photographer Lisette Model once said: “Photography is the easiest art, which perhaps makes it the hardest.” What she meant was that taking a photo is something just about everyone can and will do at some point or another – unlike realistic portrait painting or sculpture – and therefore the bar for what constitutes exceptional photography is very high, higher than all other art forms. Her words are perhaps truer today than when they were first spoken, as nearly everyone has the ability to take photos and record footage thanks to smartphones, not to mention share them with the world much faster and more frequently than ever before.
Thanks to the arrival of consumer-grade aerial drones capable of high definition image capture, a new art form has been born; fine art drone photography and videography. But, just like photos and videos taken at ground level, high-quality drone footage is harder to create than it looks. With this in mind, read on to get a grasp on what it takes to generate drone photography worthy of integrating into professional digital layouts across the internet i.e. the sorts of images which could qualify as fine art.
The first step towards mastering the art of drone photography is learning how to control one of these things in the air. Similar to how soccer players might perfect ball control by using a hacky sack as a scaled-down practice tool, buying an entry level mini RC drone without a camera might be a smart idea. This gives aspiring drone photographers the chance to understand how these devices maneuver, as well as range expectations and battery life. Then, once you upgrade to a more sophisticated model, it won’t seem nearly so difficult to control.
Unlike photographers working in a studio, drone photographers don’t have the benefit of controlling lighting very much. Instead, they need to abide by good timing (in addition to having appropriate weather). However, the studio photographer can’t move around, while the drone can. A lot. So play with the light that’s available. Alter the altitude, fly around to see the subject from numerous sides or go slightly nose-up or -down. Sunlight, trees and clouds can create shadows that can make the same exact scene look vastly different from only a small change in perspective. The perfect shot will come to you.
They say the first rule of photography is “move your feet,” because the perfect angle is rarely achieved by a “point and shoot” posture. For drone photographers, this is a little tricky since they can move their feet all they want and it won’t do much good. Instead, make sure to invest in a drone with an independently moving camera, as this allows the aircraft itself to remain steady while the angle is finely tuned by the operator. Using a drone allows you to capture things you see every day from a brand new point of view. For instance, the clock tower on the town square you’ve seen 10,000 times, maybe more if you count the times you’ve looked at the city seal. Now imagine it from 100 feet up and a block away. For that matter, consider the entire town square! Suddenly, you see the familiar from an unfamiliar place.
Every photograph has a subject – at least every good photograph. You might not know your subject until the photo is taken, or you might have traveled over 100 miles and walked 10 to get to it. In any case, the subject is key. It could be a group of people playing football on a field below or the formation of a cliff straight ahead. Fine art drone photography, like any fine art photography, needs a subject. Being high up in the air and very mobile lets you get to subjects never before possible for the typical amateur photographer. A man in New South Wales, Australia took some video of a shark deciding if some unaware surfers would make a tasty snack (thankfully the answer was no). The guy walking along the beach with his camera will certainly never get a shot like that.
That’s a Wrap
At a time when humanity is taking more photos every two minutes than they did for the entirety of the 19th century, the idea that it’s difficult to take a photograph worthy of being considered art is still probably an understatement. Yet when it comes to drone photography, there may just be room yet for groundbreaking imagery. If there has ever been a time to find out, it’s now.