Eric Cheng’s new book on drones is the definitive ‘Drone 101’ textbook

eric cheng aerial photography book cover
Courtesy Peachpit Press

What was my intro to the world of two-pound flying robots? A college class — all about drones.

The class was taught in the journalism department at the Missouri School of Journalism. And as most classes in most journalism departments go, there never really is a textbook. The mantra my alma mater’s journalism department constantly proclaims and proudly splashes upon all its brochures is “The Missouri Method,” or in plainspeak, it means “learning by doing.” I generally adhere to that doctrine of teaching journalism — that is until we start teaching drones.

Like the influx of people now getting a hold of drones with no prior RC knowledge, I learned the hard way — after my drones crashed into trees and hillsides. After a propeller popped off and it fell from the sky and plummeted into the field. After a longtime drone expert yelled at me for nonchalantly tossing a LiPo battery to the ground; I had no idea they were so volatile.

Drones may be uncharted territory, but it’s territory that needs badly to be charted

To the applause of many students, this class relieved us of having to fork over $200 on a textbook we might crack open just once. It instead was a series of trial and error and wondering what would happen in the next week of a nonexistent syllabus.

And by all means, the class was wonderful, an exciting chance to try and fail. But in reading Eric Cheng’s new book “Aerial Photography and Videography Using Drones,”  ($18.77) I can only help but think this is exactly what I needed three years ago.

Cheng’s book perfectly outlines everything a beginner to drones needs to know, from safety to a basic overview of how the equipment works, to tips for better photography. I can only imagine how much less clueless I would have felt three years ago had Cheng’s book been in my library back then.

It is the first primer to cleanly and clearly chart the territory of drones for beginners.

If there is only one thing you read in this book, it’s chapter one, which discusses the basics of drone technology — including balancing propellers, sensors, and batteries. It’s much needed for someone looking to quickly get up to speed on the technical know-how of drones but wants to cut through the noise and misinformation online.

Courtesy Peachpit Press

The book also capitalizes on Cheng’s immense background in photography (he formerly served as Lytro’s Director of Photography, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging and is founder of underwater photography site Wetpixel.

The last chapter looks at some of the work of Cheng — as well as the work of other guest photographers including DJI’s Romeo Durscher — from shots flying over sharks to showing contrast of water color in oceans to looking at shapes in the ground from an aerial perspective. It’s inspiring — proof that aerial photography from an easily accessible copter like the Phantom isn’t just a fad for people with too much money to buy and photograph their property. It’s something capable of producing a growing genre of art. It’s an inspiring way to leave the reader: ‘you now know how this works, now do something fantastic with it!’

Snorkelers converge on two whale sharks at the aggregation off of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Courtesy Peachpit Press

There are a growing number of books geared toward beginners in drones, but without a doubt, Cheng’s is the first I would recommend. It tells me everything a beginner needs to know to fly legally, safely and not look like a completely novice with no idea what they’re talking about. Yet it is short enough to hold my attention by giving me what I need to know without drowning me in technical jargon.

Buy it on Amazon.com for $18.77.

It’s a must-read for anyone who owns a Phantom or other consumer-level drone — if only it could have been a must-read when I was a journalism student studying drones.

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