Nathan Anderson's Journey Into Drone Photography

Before I tried flying a drone all I heard was: “It isn’t worth it, don’t buy a drone for photography” Silly me, I believed that.

Then I saw drone photos, like those below, showing up more and more at Unsplash:

How can a drone mounted camera be “not be good enough” when it captures scenes like this?

I had to try drone photography and this is what happened.

There was no learning curve for flying (DJI Phantom 4)

I grabbed the Phantom 4 (rented at $200 for 3 days). I had never flown anything before, but I didn’t crash it! Amazing right?! Not exactly. These drones aren’t too difficult, at least, the DJI Phantom isn’t. If you’re used to operating a modern digital camera then these drones are simple to figure out.

 

High-flying, high-res photos are within easy reach

The camera on the phantom 4 was everything it needed to be. It captured the scene, it’s crisp, it’s clear, it’s in focus, what more do you want?

Sure, the drone photos don’t look as good at 100% crop on my 5K display, but otherwise, I can’t tell a difference between the drone quality and my Nikon D750 photos.

Editing the DJI Phantom images can be a challenge. I couldn’t take a dark photo and make it bright and perfect, without compromising the clarity. I couldn’t crop at will and still expect a large, crisp image. Taking away that ability doesn’t mean I couldn’t make good photos. The drone is one of my pieces of equipment and it does it’s job great. It can be a bit restricting on what you can and can’t shoot sometimes but that’s not always bad.

 

The restrictions make it simple to go shoot

I can capture anything with my Nikon. Here’s a waterfall I can only stand close to, there’s a fox over in the field, oh look, it’s the milky way in the night sky. No problem. No problem. No problem.

So when I have my Nikon, the only restriction is where I can’t reach. Now take that same Nikon, those same shooting abilities, and soar through the sky with it. I can go anywhere I want and I can shoot anything I want. That’s a lot of new choices available to me.

I’m not saying I don’t get excited when I see drones getting great cameras, it’s just not needed to get a great photo.

A side-story about too many options

I started shooting on my grandfather’s Nikon D200. For 2005, this was an amazing camera. Even better, Nikon finally had an amazing zoom lens, the 18–200mm lens. I could go shoot everything I wanted with that one lens on my camera, right? Yes, if I had already known what I wanted to shoot. My grandfather loved that setup and it ended up being the last one he used. He already knew what he wanted to shoot and that lens gave him the flexibility to leave his camera bag behind.

But when I started taking photos, it was overwhelming. I had no idea what to shoot. The possibilities were too endless for someone that was new to photography. I never knew what zoom to use and 50% of the time I couldn’t even get the camera to take a shot because I didn't how to use it. That setup was too complicated and the possibilities were too endless.

I dug out some old prime lenses that my grandfather had and I focused on what I should shoot and where I should go. I had to actually move around with the prime lenses. I had to do research into why the camera wasn’t taking photos. I found out that in 2014 that the D200 wasn’t exactly top-of-the-line and I could only shoot so much. These things forced me to start looking for the photo and stop worrying about the gear.

Knowing what I want to shoot is half the battle. With a drone having just 27min of battery (at the most), time is a big factor. When I take my drone into the sky in the forest, I’m thinking of one thing: patterns. I look for patterns, I take the shot, I don’t crash. Easy.

I am hesitant to buy more gear and that’s one reason why I was so unsure about drone photography. I don’t want so many options that I don’t know what to do before I’m even trying to take a shot. I don’t want to be bogged down with the options of what gear should I bring with me for this trip. I’m a huge fan of the idea that you know your gear, forwards and backwards . That’s hard to do if you buy something new every six months.

Adding a drone as a new piece of gear gives me an opportunity to shoot a new perspective and that's plenty for me. These photos were made around Silverthorne, Colorado. Without the drone I wouldn’t have been able to take any shots that day. It was dull and there was nothing to see — drone to the rescue. Now I’m extra pumped to get my Mavic Pro and start shooting again.