I thought long and hard whether to buy my DJI Mavic Air drone; “can I justify the expense?”, “will I use it enough?”, “will I be able to operate it?”. These are just a few of the questions running around in my mind before I finally committed to investing in this amazing piece of kit.
Since that purchase back in April 2018, I’ve definitely got my money’s worth and still continue to be blown away by this fantastic little gadget. In this blog I’ll explain how my drone has helped enhance my landscape photography offering an alternative perspective on our beautiful countryside and showcase the conditions where it really comes into its own.
My journey into nature photography has made me aware that it really pays to get to know the equipment you possess inside out. The subtle tweaks you can make with the camera’s settings can help maximise the opportunities that present themselves when the conditions are favourable; as a landscape photographer I am in endless pursuit of the perfect conditions. Chasing that beautiful moment where all the elements fall into place, it really is a reactive process as a scene can change in a matter of seconds. I still think the most beneficial technique I have learnt to date was manual focusing, it really has helped take my photography up another level.
I love standing looking out over a beautiful landscape, the camera planted on my tripod with my bag of lenses and filters close to hand but I often found myself longing for different perspectives on the gorgeous landscapes I explore. My fascination with seeing land from the air naturally sparked a bit of curiosity in drone photography. As I said earlier, I thought long and hard about purchasing a drone but I eventually bit the bullet and bought a DJI Mavic Air for just shy of £1000 once you take into account additional batteries and memory cards etc. What I love about the drone is its simplicity; unlike my camera there are no lenses or filters to change, no tripod to set up, you simply turn it on, plug your phone into the remote control and away you go. Within moments your drone is up in the air and you see the landscape before you from a completely new perspective.
One of my early drone projects was to capture an image of my favourite lonely tree located near Chadstone, Northamptonshire. From the ground, my average shot captured here consists of a featureless foreground with the tree often silhouetted by an interesting sky behind it. With the drone the scene changed completely, including the tractor tracks around the tree, which I particularly love. As the tree is located on private property and in the middle of a crop field you can only photograph it looking west from a path that lies in an easterly direction to the tree. With the drone I can now photograph it from any angle as with the shot below which was shot looking east. I think this shot would look better if the sun was lower as it would enhance the shadow from the tree… a project for a future date perhaps. But as you can see, the drone opens up new possibilities.
Another project where the drone came into its own was a recent trip to The Welland Viaduct, in Northamptonshire. This kilometre long viaduct is an amazing feat of engineering and from the ground it looks impressive enough but with the help of the drone I was able to get above the viaduct which really helped to showcase its scale as it stretches out across the valley below.
One of my favourite occasions to photograph is the harvest and as summer comes to an end you’ll find me driving along the country roads in Northamptonshire in search of harvest scenes. It’s a time of year I cherish as the summer slowly starts to wind down and we get the first glimpses of autumn. With my drone I am now able to observe and capture the harvest from the air and the shot below is one of my favourites captured on the drone so far. It’s such a simple yet powerful composition as the combine harvester munches its way through the crops leaving a harvested path behind it. The animal tracks in the scene also add interest to the shot and from the ground these tracks were not visible.
Without a doubt it is my weather photography that has benefited most from the purchase of my drone. I’ve always been fascinated with extreme weather, so I’m constantly tuned in to the weather forecast looking out for the days where dramatic skies and changeable weather are predicted. I get such a thrill when I’m out in the countryside and a storm front begins to move in. Capturing these moments on the drone really shows you how localised downpours can be. A pot of rain will be falling on a small portion of the landscape whilst the surrounding area is dry. It can be unpredictable and chaotic but it is such a rush when my drone is way up above me and I’m watching the rain move in photographing it, waiting for the moment I have to quickly land the drone and get packed up and back in the shelter of my car before the heavens open. It’s such good fun. Luckily this year we’ve had many days where conditions like these have been present and although on a couple of occasions, I’ve pushed my luck and have got a good soaking, I’ve never got bored of capturing it all on camera.
For now, I’m patiently waiting for the misty autumnal mornings to come our way so I can capture the misty landscape from above and then as autumn turns to winter I have my fingers crossed for a day or two of heavy snow as the prospect of drone photography above a snow covered landscape would be an incredible sight. Another project I’m yet to chalk off is to capture a complete rainbow using the drone. I had a good opportunity one evening this week, but the rainbow faded before I was able to get the drone to a suitable height. I’ll keep trying and will strike it lucky one day!
It’s lovely to know that when the conditions are at their best, I have all the equipment I need, be it the drone or my regular DSLR camera, to capture our beautiful countryside in all its stunning glory. With all this fantastic equipment at my disposal I’m loving my hobby more than ever 😊
Northamptonshire based nature photographer