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The Golden Age of Drone Photography

Should you buy a drone?

By: Matt Van Swol + Save to a List

I admit, I was very skeptical when I bought my first drone. Like most of you, the first “drone” you probably ever flew was under $100, had a range of 50 feet, and flying it was like trying to learn a new language while standing on your head. The learning curve was too high, the camera quality was too low: it seemed like a bad purchase and a waste of money.

Fast forward to a week ago. The drone I bought was a Phantom 3. It’s predecessor, the Phantom 2, used a gimbal system (think of it like shocks on your car, for your camera) to hold a GoPro in place while you flew it around. Neat idea, but you don’t get the luxury of being able to see exactly what your camera is looking at from the ground, or rotate it in any way. Enter the Phantom 3: a cheap alternative for the beginner drone photographer. Not only do you get the gimbal system thrown in for free, but you also get an ULTRA HD f2.8, 12MP camera attached to it! Because the camera is native to the drone, you can see on your smartphone exactly what your drone sees while it’s flying, allowing you to take pictures hundreds of feet in the air and line them up perfectly. Not only is the camera amazing, but flying it is a dream. If you’ve ever played any online helicopter game, it’s about that simple. 

But why is this the golden age of drones? Currently, there are only a few places that drones are legally not allowed to fly: airports, certain government buildings/areas - yes that includes national parks, and airspace (400m). Other than that…drones are for the most part an unregulated goldmine of opportunity. Anywhere you can legally be, so can your drone. However, if your drone is trespassing, you are also considered trespassing. Obviously one of the easiest ways to avoid this is simply to ask permission before you fly! Most people are actually very curious what a drone video of their property looks like, so I always offer them a copy in exchange for entrance onto the property. A good example of this, is when I flew the drone at my apartment complex, Canalside. They were able to use the photos and videos I took on their website to attract renters, and I was allowed to fly the drone and show pictures to you all! Win, win.

My recommendation is that you find someone who already has a newer drone and ask them to teach you to fly it, or take a risk and purchase one. If you buy it from Amazon and you have Amazon Prime, returning it, if you don’t find it worth the price, is always an easy option. As a landscape photographer, I found that the angles it affords are worth the price of admission*. If you are shooting from a flat area like I do, it can be very difficult to get up high enough to take stellar shots of admittedly cool areas. Drones give anyone, regardless of if they are interested in photography or not, a way to start exploring the areas in which they live. At one time you had to pay someone to fly you in a small airplane to take ariel shots; but now anyone with $400 and a cellphone can get up high enough to take beautiful landscape ariel shots, and that’s a good thing. Try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes! 

*all landscape photos featured were taken by a drone

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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