I have been usng film based cameras since the late 60s, then about 10 years ago changed over to digital photography and got myself a small Canon camera to learn how this new photography tool was going to change the way we take pictures from now on….
Then, about four years ago, I decided to try my hand at aerial photography. I first made a large kite and attached a small digital camera to the line; the camera had to be both light and have some way of firing the shutter from the ground. Some cameras have a built-in shutter release called an intervalometer or better known as time-lapse, so I equipped myself with one of these.
I had partial success with this method, but the system required wind speeds of 15 mph plus to fly the rig and so this ruled out windless days. I had to find a way of being able to fly on the other days and I soon discovered the quadcopter (quad) or multirotor, a flying machine powered by batteries. This could lift a small lightweight camera for up to 25 minutes before a change of battery was required. One of the differences between kite photography/quad photography and a shot taken from a plane or helicopter is it occurs a lot between that region just immediately above our heads and maybe up to around 200 feet – it’s very difficult to occupy that space with a traditional helicopter or plane, it’s a sort of low level view that no one has much explored. There are not many techniques that will put you there but with a quad you can hang a camera and sort of hover. You can see more detail plus the strength of shadows.
Aerial photography began over a hundred years ago. People were very eager to get cameras in the air and were strapping them to balloons, pigeons, rockets and kites. There is a famous photograph by George Lawrence (1868 – 1938), a panorama of San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906. He was flying a swing-lens panoramic camera that weighed 50lbs and exposed a negative that was 18ins x 55ins wide. There was a lot of experimentation and kite photography – these sort of pioneers invented the first techniques.
With my own aerial photography I try to think ahead of time, the type of image I would like so then it becomes a process of trying to line these shots up by watching the quad move about the sky. Sometimes you really think it through and you do get what you are after, but more often than not things are revealed you did not anticipate – you’re not totally in control.