In the first article of this series I explained what drones are, how they are built and controlled by the user. The next question to naturally arise is “Why does one need a drone?” What is a drone good for, and why should you get one?
The answer to this question is long and complicated, but could be summed up by saying that a drone gives the photographer opportunities for shots not achievable in any other way. That’s quite the statement, but I stand firmly behind it, and I intend to explain this position in depth in this article and in the ones to follow.
The first order of business would be to compare the drone to the ubiquitous tool of the photographer: the DSLR, or any hand-held camera for that matter. Indeed, I have written extensively about the advantages of aerial photography in a previous series, but that was in the context of hand-held shooting from an aircraft, and in any case, these advantages need to be presented here if this series is to be self-contained. I’ll rephrase them shortly in a way that better relates to droning.
What the drone offers compared to ground-based shooting is as follows: you have a miniature friggin’ helicopter in your hands, and it allows you to shoot aerials, get the shots from any angle, get there quickly and safely, all without any real danger to your body (caveats to that coming in the future).
Need to separate compositional elements that overlap from the ground? No problemo – take the drone higher and viola – objects are separated. Want to shoot flowing lava without burning your ears off? The drone feels no pain. Can’t walk on water? Can’t breathe toxic fumes? Can’t fly? Too lazy to hike? Send the drone. You get the idea, let’s explore some examples.
Landscape photography is all about composition – the base layer to any image. Good light and colors are nice, but without an underlying arrangement of objects that’s appealing to the eye, you have nothing. An aerial perspective and the choice over the height, angle and distance from which an image is taken allow for an unprecedented degree of control over composition.
|The towers of this ice-castle fit perfectly in the dents in the cloud-cover. I took the drone up to a height which would show this concordance, yet allow separation of the elements.
DJI Mavic II Pro, 1/30 sec, F8, ISO 100. Disko Bay, Greenland
Natural elements often look totally different from the ground level and from the air, but it’s also true that different aerial angles also result in completely distinct compositions. The two images below are the same exact iceberg. Both were taken from the air during one shoot. Would you have guessed? This goes to show the extent of diversity offered by shooting from the air.
More examples: Mount Zinn is a beautiful mesa erosion-mountain in Israel. Taking the drone around it during morning twilight and sunrise resulted in several distinct compositions.
Hidden parts of the photographed natural elements can be discovered and conveyed to the viewer in a visually pleasing way when shooting them from the air. It’s sometimes unbelievable how many phenomenal features are hidden in plain sight, simply because we lack the aerial perspective.
This amazing whirlpool was hiding about 10-20 meters from where I was standing. There was no way I could’ve detected or shot it without the drone.
Top-down shooting, albeit sometimes over-done, can also be a good creative tool for imagery. It doesn’t always work, though – bear that in mind when trying it.
|Amazing natural colors and patterns in the Argentinean high-altitude desert. Shooting this top-down gave the image a painting-like appearance.
DJI Mavic II Pro, 1/240 sec, F9, ISO 100. Puna De Argentina
|Lava surface-flows in Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii. A top-down perspective resulted in a deliberate lack of depth, which in turn allowed me to concentrate the viewer on the shape of the flows.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro, 1/25 sec, F6.3, ISO 400. Taken outside of Volcanoes NP, Island of Hawaii.
A specific aspect of composition is the separation between the different compositional elements. Separation serves to make the composition more appealing. Not having subjects obscured by others is satisfying for the eye, and helps the image have a cleaner, more ordered feel.
|A gigantic iceberg floating in Disko Bay, Greenland. The position of the iceberg meant is was impossible to get separation of its two parts when still showing the light passing through the arch and hitting the back segment from the water level. Another clear advantage is the fact that the submerged part of the iceberg is beautifully showing, in addition to debris from a recent collapse in the arch.
DJI Mavic II Pro, vertical stitch, 1/40 sec, F6.3, ISO 100
Separation is especially important where the photographer struggles to convey the grandeur of a location. When shooting Cono Arita (see below) from the ground, it’s impossible to convey the cone’s true shape or its place in the salt flat, not to mention separate it from other elements.
Cono Arita is a sandstone hill in the middle of the Arizaro salt flat in the Argentinean Puna (high-altitude desert). When morning light strikes, the beautiful shadow is cast upon the plain. Taking the drone up allowed me to show this, while creating separation between the cone, its shadow and the surrounding hills and mountains.
Just as a ground-based photographer tries to separate his or her foreground and background, the aerial photographer has the same exact considerations – only many more options, as the height constraint is relaxed. See, for example, the near-far composition below.
|The drone allowed me to separate the five volcanoes visible in this image: in the bottom of the frame is Ijen crater. To its left, the lush, green Gurung Ranti. Then farther away, from left to right: Pendil, Raung and Suket. There was even room for the shadow (bottom-left to mid-right) cast by Gurung Merapi, just behind the camera.
DJI Mavic II Pro, F8, 1/25 sec, ISO 100. Kawah Ijen, Indonesia
Separation doesn’t always mean the subjects aren’t touching – it can mean a subtler expansion of the distances between the subjects, to create a more pleasant arrangement.
I used the aerial perspective to expand the distances between these interlacing hills and their shadows at sundown.
In the next article, I will continue discussing the advantages of the drone, specifically its availability.
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez’s work on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.
If you’d like to experience and shoot some of the world’s most fascinating landscapes with Erez as your guide, take a look at his unique photography workshops in The Lofoten Islands, Greenland, Namibia, the Argentinean Puna, the Faroe Islands and Ethiopia.
Erez offers video tutorials discussing his images and explaining how he achieved them.
More in This Series:
- Landscape Photography with a Drone – Part 1: Forward / What is a Drone?
Selected Articles by Erez Marom:
- Parallelism in Landscape Photography
- Winds of Change: Shooting changing landscapes
- Behind the Shot: Dark Matter
- On the Importance of Naming Images
- On Causality in Landscape Photography
- Shooting Kīlauea Volcano, Part 1: How to melt a drone
- The Art of the Unforeground
- Whatever it Doesn’t Take
- Almost human: photographing critically endangered mountain gorillas