I've spent the past 10 years traveling and photographing remote areas of the American West. While spending time in so many diverse landscapes and capturing them from the ground, I knew I could show their incredible patterns even better from the air. When unmanned aerial platforms first started appearing I attempted to capture what I envisioned, but they weren't developed enough for me to have confidence in the results.
This year I felt that technology had finally caught up with my vision; I was now able to clearly see and fine-tune my compositions while using a camera that captured enough detail to show all the patterns in the landscape. I purchased a Phantom 4 Pro and took it with me on a 3-month journey from Colorado to Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, and Arizona, documenting the mind-bending aerial scenes I encountered along the way. I also learned a lot while using it almost every day and benefited from getting my FAA Part 107 certification before starting.
1. Just like learning DSLR photography, regular practice makes a huge difference. When you know your equipment more intimately you can focus on getting great shots and not fumbling with settings.
2. Check where you're flying before you take-off. Apps like AirMap let you know if you're near an airport or other closed areas like National Parks. You can fly in most National Forest and BLM areas, but National Monuments (administered by the NPS), Marine Sanctuaries, Wilderness areas, and some State/local parks are off-limits.
3. Plan ahead of time and think about composition. Creating interesting aerial photography takes just as much work as regular photography. I use Google Earth and my photo database to help find new interesting places to shoot.
4. Use ND filters to slow your shutter speed down for filming and a polarizer if you're photographing a lake or stream.
5. Keep your batteries warm if it's cold. Keep them in your jacket or with a hand warmer until it's time to fly, otherwise, your flight time will be a lot shorter or your drone won't take off.
6. Be careful flying in hazardous weather. Don't fly in areas with limited visibility, heavy precipitation or excessive wind gusts, even with today's smarter drones losing one is still a very real possibility.
7. Be a safe and courteous drone operator. Learn the FAA drone regulations and if you want to use your work commercially, get the federally required Part 107 license. Stay below 400 feet or with 400 feet of a structure, don't harass wildlife, don't fly over crowds, and most of all try to avoid disrupting others experience in the backcountry.
Have fun and fly safe!
- Jason Hatfield