How drones can help tell your story

July 27, 2016

As cameras have become smaller and lighter, we have entered into a whole new realm of photographic possibilities. In fact, some of them can even fly. Yes, you guessed it, we’re talking about drones.

It’s no surprise drones are becoming more popular than ever before. They provide new perspective and tell stories otherwise not visually accessible. For the first time, drones are allowing people to visualize social divisions, injustices and climate impacts that have gone unseen for too long.

In an interview with Citylab, Seattle photographer, Johnny Miller whose work has taken him to South Africa, reflected:

Drone photography is interesting because it affords people a new perspective on places they thought they knew. Humans have this amazing ability to think we know a situation, having seen it so many times from the same perspective. It becomes routine, almost a pattern. When you fly, you totally change that.

Miller’s own project, Unequal Scenes, highlights the legacy of South Africa’s Apartheid and its impact on the environment by showing urban divisions from above.

To learn more about drone cameras and how they are transforming the way filmmakers and photographers think about stories, we spoke with Alex Mandiola, a photographer who works with Prestige Aerials.

What makes drones so beneficial?

Drone cameras can get the angles to fill your storyline. You can quickly create an establishing shot with an aerial perspective that indicates to the viewer where you are.

I once worked on a project that researched climate change by studying blue holes found in the caribbean. What the drone did was provide the viewer with an accurate view that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see from the side of a boat. From the the air, you could see its entire outline, get an idea of how far it actually expanded and in a way, become more connected to the place.

Couldn’t you establish this shot with a helicopter?

Sometimes, yes. However, not when it comes to remote areas that helicopters can’t get to. Drones are more adaptive and save time. It eliminates the time it takes to hire a crew, contract a helicopter or even rent a crane.

How do drones help tell stories?

I worked with the Weather Channel to tell the pollution story of Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida. What the drone was able to do was literally show the flow of toxic algae from the Lake into the ocean. For viewers, this aerial display from point a to point b helped connect the story because it showed the actual connection between human waste and fertilizers — the cause of the pollution — and its flow from the lake into the ocean, providing the visual the story needed to be impactful. That being said, drones are good eye-candy, you can’t have the story without the emotional and personal connection. Drones don’t necessarily replace the personal narrative.

What other things do you need to know when considering about contracting a drone photographer?

There are a ton of regulations to keep in mind especially when it comes to commercial purposes. For personal purposes you are OK, but make sure you have an FAA permit. Even though drones can go over 2,000 feet, by law, you can’t fly them over 400 feet. Plus, drones can get 3 to 5 miles away from the operator, so he or she must ensure they remain in sight at all times.

While Alex’s work has been primarily with for-profit companies that doesn’t mean drones are far from your organization’s reach. From novice to professional photographers, the demands for these cameras grow. As result, the cost continues to drop making them an accessible and powerful tool for you to consider for your next project or campaign.

Marcela Gara