Drones don’t just make pretty photos

Today’s blog post comes from a question I got via Twitter from @Elise12192, a science and health journalism student.

twitterquestionShe asks, “Are drones only for the professional photog or are they becoming accessible to hobbyists? (Price, skills required, etc.)”

Well Elise, that’s a great question! There are tons of drones with all different purposes, ranging from children’s toy, to a vehicle that can mount a GoPro, to a drone that can hold a heavy dSLR. Then there are drones that don’t even carry cameras but rather GPS trackers, infrared cameras, or contraptions that can collect particles in the air. A simple search today on Amazon.com for drone comes up with 10,976 results, meaning there are already tons of drones, accessories and parts on the market.

The cheapest drone I’ve seen with a camera on it is the Badboy Quadcopter for $74, though don’t expect that to be great quality. That’s something accessible to low-level hobbyists who just want a cool photo.

On the other hand, it’s not just professional photographers doing great things with drones, though the incredible work by my favorite drone photographers like Wild Pilots, Team BlackSheep and Drone Dudes are hard to ignore.

Drones have been used for years by non photographers!

Continue reading Drones don’t just make pretty photos

My story: why I believe drones can assist with journalism

Photo of Sally French, aka "Drone Girl" by Stuart Palley
Photo of Sally French, aka “Drone Girl” by Stuart Palley

The post below is an excerpt of a piece I freelanced for Investigative Reporters and Editors on Drone Journalism. You can read the piece in its entirety for free online here.

When I told my parents I was using my graduation money to buy a drone, they thought I was crazy.

“Why don’t you buy some camera gear instead?” they told me.

After all, graduating in May with a photojournalism degree means I’d no longer have access to the fancy Missouri j-school equipment locker I’d been spoiled by for the past few years.

But what my parents didn’t understand is that a drone is the ultimate in camera gear.

Imagine airing video about weather patterns impacting geese migration. The live-shot could actually take the viewer flying among the birds. Or how about reporting on a prairie fire? An overhead shot could reveal the path of the fire.

I’ve already done both of those myself through theMissouri School of Journalism’s drone journalism program. I was a member of the program in its first year. The laws and regulations are unclear, and none of us were very technical when it came to maintenance, so most of a time we didn’t know what we were doing. But that’s a good thing. The cool thing about pioneering something like a drone research program in a university setting is we could learn about this stunning new technology, yet we didn’t have the pressure of deadlines or financial limitations that a traditional media outlet would have.

And we thought what we were doing was legal, since we weren’t making a profit from it. Turns out, the FAA thought otherwise, as it recently sent a letter requiring the program to cease outdoor flight. I’m sure the FAA has the best intentions – after all, a drone recently fell into a crowd at a bull run, and another drone hit a groom during a wedding photography session. There certainly is a need for regulation.

But drones are here to stay, and people will continue flying — regulated or not.

Read the rest of this post over at the Investigative Reporters and Editors blog.

CNN producer, first national network drone journalist speaks on legality of drone use

Freelance photojournalist and former CNN producer in 2012  with a prototype of drone he developed called the Swarm Drone. The drone is designed to go into tornadoes as a safer alternative for storm chasers.
Freelance photojournalist and former CNN producer in 2012 with a prototype of drone he developed called the Swarm Drone. The drone is designed to go into tornadoes as a safer alternative for storm chasers. Photo courtesy of Aaron Brodie

In 2010, an IT employee at CNN went to the mall and bought his son a Parrot AR.Drone as a Christmas present.

That drone, a piece of equipment that’s more toy than tool, would become the first drone to air footage for a major national news network.

The pilot? Aaron Brodie, a producer with CNN.com at the time, and now a freelance photojournalist and founder of Extreme Journalist, a multimedia storytelling startup

At the time, Brodie didn’t think much of the drone during his conversation with the IT guy. He was too inundated with other work to think about it.

But then the Tuscaloosa tornado happened.

A massive tornado cut a 5.9-mile path of destruction, damaging more than 5,700 structures. As the weather geek in the newsroom (every newsroom has one), Brodie was sent to cover the disaster for a few days.

A few days later, Brodie’s boss sent him back. This time, he was armed with the drone that belonged to their coworker’s son.

“It was a challenge to fly at first, and I didn’t read the instruction manual,” he said. “I started flying it around the newsroom and scared everybody to death flying it inside. I went back to Tuscaloosa and learned to fly in a park there.

Since that model of the Parrot didn’t allow video recording, Brodie “borrowed” (without asking) a GoPro from another department, hurried to Target to buy double-faced tape, stripped the drone down and took the foam protector off so it could carry the weight of the GoPro. Continue reading CNN producer, first national network drone journalist speaks on legality of drone use

Drone footage shows empty Crystal Cove cottages

CrystalCove17 empty, faded, rickety cottages sit on the beach. They’re situated at a prime real estate location, but renovating them would be starting over from scratch.

Neighbors had lived in the cottages since the 1920s and 30s, but after a series of state purchases, plans to build a resort and costly restoration bills, the cottages have remained empty since the residents were evicted in 2001.

This photo, as captured by my drone, shows the state of the cottages today.  The cottages could cost $20 million to repair.

Reporter Nicole Shine at the OC Register outlines the future of Crystal Cove here.

Do’s and Don’ts of first-time drone piloting for photographers

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Do: Take drone selfies!!

As more and more people find out I’m a Drone Girl, more photographer people want to get into drones for aerial photography purposes themselves! Drone World is uncharted territory so there is no right way to do something, but here is some Drone Girl advice for where to start.

Don’t invest in a lot initially. You will crash. You might lose it in a tree (true story for a later date). You will lose control of it. Your propellers will break.

Do invest in a cheap drone to get the flying basics down. Piloting these things require intense hand-eye coordination. ‘Yaw left! Roll right!’ What does that stuff even mean? Well you can practice how to control it, and learn all that fancy terminology, on a drone you won’t feel bad breaking, because trust me, you will. How about this lil guy that looks like a UFO, from the Amazon toy section.
And for the record, I still don’t know what yaw left means.

Don’t cheap out when you’re buying the real deal. You can buy cheaper drones that look similar at places like Brookstone, but just know you get what you pay for, and the quality or ability to upgrade camera capabilities probably won’t be a thing.

Do buy a good quality drone. As cliché as it is, you really do get what you pay for when it comes to drones. I’m someone who wants a drone that works out of the box, so I’d recommend something like the 3D Robotics Iris or the DJI Phantom.

Do buy a GoPro. I’m obsessed with them. You can chuck them off buildings and send them underwater, and they’re foolproof. They shoot HD quality video and can connect to your SmartPhone. Fancy! Continue reading Do’s and Don’ts of first-time drone piloting for photographers