Tag Archives: video

Inside look: how a wildlife photographer uses a drone to get stunning views of the Serengeti

A new era has arrived. It’s an era where aerial images are the norm — where the robots that fly through the sky to generate them are increasingly commonplace. It’s an era where a YouTube search for ‘drone’ generates millions of results — namely 8-minute videos of start-to-finish flights hovering over track houses.

But it’s an era inspired by visual pioneers like Will Burrard-Lucas, a UK-based wildlife photographer.

Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas

His newly released video called Serengeti is simply breathtaking, taking viewers in flight over wildebeest migrations and getting up close and personal with a hyena attacking its prey. It looks part computer-generated, part dreamland. But it’s real — and shot with a home-made drone.

They’re stunning wildlife shots, and they ‘re no longer restricted to animated scenes from The Lion King. Instead, they’re restricted to the furthest stretches of the imagination which, for Burrard-Lucas, reaches pretty far.

Burrard-Lucas is one of a new generation of “Drone Photographers.” He has built seven drones with mismatched parts to create the perfect wildlife drone. With he, he was able to gather the stunning shots generated in the above video.

“The drones I’ve been making now have different parts sort of cobbled together,” he said.

Burrard-Lucas first got into remote cameras back in 2009.

“Drones were just sort of the next logical thing,” he said. “Obviously drones have come a long way in the last year.”

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Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas

A long way is no exaggeration. In just the past few days, companies have announced drones that fly with DSLR cameras right out of the box — no tinkering required. Those fall in the likes of DJI’s newly unveiled S1000, which is rumored to go for $4000.

“They’re going to get more and more reliable,” Burrard-Lucas said. “More and more people are going to use them. They already are exploding in popularity. The only way to get these shots before was to charter a helicopter.”

So just how did Burrard-Lucas capture his magnificent Serengeti-shots sans helicopter?

All it took was just one of his drones and a GoPro to record video.

“GoPros aren’t the best cameras in all conditions, but as long as you know how to use them in the right light, they produce amazing stuff,” he said.

Live video feedback allows him to see just where his copter is going.

Burrard-Lucas spent two weeks out on the Serengeti to gather the images, partially due to technology limitations with batteries (he has four batteries).

Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas
Screenshot of video by Will Burrard-Lucas

“You only have so much flight time before you have to recharge,” he said. “I could maximum do an hour at a time, and I would do flights in both the morning and the evening.”

Burrard-Lucas estimated his four-minute video was compiled from about 10 hours of footage.

Burrard-Lucas said he believes the drones are an effective way of gathering images of wildlife.

“Typically these animals aren’t used to threats from the air, so when they see this, they typically aren’t bothered by it,” he said. “Obviously they can hear it, but I’m trying to make it as quiet as possible.”

That’s in contrast to filming from the ground, which he has experience with, particularly through his other autonomous camera contraption — the BeetleCam, a ground-roving camera mount.

“With antelope, if they see something moving in the ground and aren’t sure what it is, they’ll move; they aren’t going to take any risks.”

Burrard-Lucas is already planning to return to Africa next week for more aerial filming, this time in Botswana.

As for traveling with his drones, it’s not easy.

“The case looks like it has a Bazooka in it,” he said. “It does draw a bit of attention.”

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Drone Girl’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

dji_phantomThis is the last weekend for Christmas shopping, so why not hit-the-ground running with some of the most epic last-minute Christmas gifts you’ve given in your life – drones!

This guide is broken down into copters best for beginners, photographers and tech geeks. Think I missed something? Leave a comment below!

For the beginner:

TOP PICK: WL Toys V959 Quadcopter RC 4 Channel V989

  • Price: $67.55
  • This is Drone Girl’s top pick for an entry-level copter. Why? It’s reliable and includes an onboard camera. Obviously the video quality is not great, but it will be something you can post on Facebook, because who doesn’t want a quick aerial video of building a snowman or Christmas day sledding?
  • Pro: Good price, easy to use out of the box, good for learning how to fly and shoots video
  • Con: 8-10 minutes of flight time, low video quality

nano-qx-bnf-micro-quadcopter-with-safe-technology-blh7680-3965-pBlade Nano QX Micro Quadcopter RTF

  • Price: $89.99
  • This is a teeny-tiny remote-controlled gift that is a cross between cereal box toy and Amazon drone. It has an impressive technology system that can hover and zip around, but it’s about 2 inches tall.
  • Pro: Fun! Low-risk. Durable, good intro to drone technology and flying techniques
  • Con: My short-attention span would get bored with this real fast. It flies, and it flies, and that’s about it.

Syma X1 4 Channel 2.4G RC Quad Copter

  • $43.00
  • This is the cheapest gift on the Drone Girl gift guide. It can’t do much except fly around. But it is a cool party trick! Fly it around your backyard, and if you’re daring, maybe even your house!
  • Pro: Cheaper than the Blade Nano! Fun! Low-risk. Durable, good intro to drone technology and flying techniques
  • Con: Technology is not quite as sophisticated as the Blade Nano. Again, my short-attention span would get bored with this real fast. It flies, and it flies, and that’s about it.

For the techie:

Parrot-AR.Drone-2.0TOP PICK: Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Power Edition

  • Price: $369.99
  • This drone comes complete with a built-in video camera and can be controlled on Android or iOS devices via a WiFi connection. This drone can fly around and take pictures. You can also hack it (if you have the skillz) to make it do much more than that. Remember the guy who was able to forcefully disconnect other Parrot drones from their wifi signal and take control, turning them into zombie drones?
  • Pros: incredible updates allow for 36 minutes of flying time
  • Great for your favorite computer hacker; this software is (relatively) easily customizable
  • Cons: Hardware isn’t very customizable. Has a built-in camera, so you’re stuck with that and don’t have much in the way of upgrading

*Money-saving tip: Buy last year’s model, though it doesn’t quite have the same power capacity.

TBS Discovery Pro Starter Set

  • Price: $2,265,95
  • This is an all-in-one package for a serious dronie who wants the satisfaction of building it themselves. This guy will run you about $2,000 more than I have, but TBS is top-of-the-line. This kit requires you to build it yourself, which could be a struggle for some, or for others considered way fun. Team Black Sheep are some of the leaders in the drone world, and now you too can be just like them!
  • Included in this kit is FPV capabilities, so you can see what the drone camera sees, a gimbal, batteries, and really all you need to do some professional flying.
  • Pros: Fancy. Really well made. Comes with all the parts you need in one kit.
  • Con: Expen$ive!

For the photographer:
dji-phantom-vision2TOP PICK: DJI Phantom 2 Vision

  • Price: $1,119.00
  • This is the Holy Grail of UAV technology, the king of the drones. But royalty isn’t cheap. This is the priciest drone on the Drone Girl Photography Gift Guide, but if you get what you pay for, then you’ve just gotten the best.
    It’s ready to fly right out of the box, allowing you to gather clean and clear video within a couple hours of flight practice.
    If you can spring it, buy this one!
  • Pros: Comes with an on-board camera (1080p HD video), Live-stream video to free Vision app for iOS or Android, Camera tilt compensates for single-axis motion = buttery smooth video
  • 25 minutes of flight time
  • Cons: It co$t$ a lot of money!

*However, this drone comes with so many new and great features like live streaming of video, 25 minutes of flight time, camera included and a gimbal. Had you bought the original Phantom and wanted to add on these things later yourself, that would cost you more money. So look on the bright side, this is a savings!

DJI Phantom (Original Model)

  • Price: $479.00
  • This is last year’s model of the DJI Phantom 2 Vision (described above). This is the perfect pick if you’re looking to cut costs but want a great product. This is very similar to the Phantom 2 Vision but with fewer features. The camera won’t be as smooth unless you add on your own gimbal (which is quite an ordeal) and you can’t live-stream what your camera sees, but it’s still a great option.
  • Pros: Ready-to-fly out of the box, reliable product, easy to use, reasonable price for what you get
  • Cons: Video isn’t quite professional quality, but is sure close (unless you add your own gimbal)*Note: this doesn’t come with a camera, but you can add on your own GoPro.

Blade 350 QX RTF

  • Price: $469.99
  • This medium quality quadcopter offers you the ability to shoot aerial images and video via a GoPro camera. With multiple modes, the copter is easy to fly, allowing beginner pilots to learn on Smart Mode or allowing advanced pilots to flip and roll in Agility Mode.
  • *Note: this doesn’t come with a camera, but you can add on your own GoPro.
  • Pros: Lots of different modes catering to beginning and advanced pilots, ability to mount a GoPro
  • Cons: Not the most reliably built, with some cheap parts that don’t sustain damage quite as well as its competitors

And in case you were wondering, no, you can’t have your drone delivered by Amazon Drone. Not this year, at least.

So the bottom line is, with all these choices, what would Drone Girl do?

Here's me with my original DJI Phantom. I recommend this as a Top Pick because it's easy-to-use out of the box, reliable and on sale now! Photo courtesy of Stuart Palley.
Here’s me with my original DJI Phantom. I recommend this as a Top Pick because it’s easy-to-use out of the box, reliable and on sale now! Photo courtesy of Stuart Palley.

Start by getting a cheap toy copter to master the controls. Flying a drone entails two sticks, which is analogous to the whole rub your stomach while pat your head deal. Not impossible, but takes practice.

You will crash into a tree. You might get it stuck on top of a building. And hopefully you don’t fly it into a pool.

That’s why you should master the controls on a cheap drone, like the Syma X1 RC Quadcopter UFO, which will cost you $43.
Then move onto a better drone with professional shooting capabilities. My pick? The DJI Phantom 2 Vision.

Yes, it’s the priciest. But if you are interested in having smooth, professional grade video, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision offers an all-in-one package to do that. Whether you’re looking to get professional quality video with minimal effort, want a quick, convenient way to live-stream what the drone sees, or have a reliably built copter, this is your pick. This is a great copter for photographers, scientists, researchers, or anyone with a hefty sum of spare change who wants to experience something new.

Happy flying, AND Happy Holidays!

Related posts:
Do’s and Don’ts of first-time drone piloting for photographers
4 accessories you need for your drone
Meet my drone(s)

Drone flight over Balboa Island

If there’s always money in the banana stand, then I want to fly over it with a drone. That’s why I went to Balboa Island early in the morning, when no one was out, to explore the island via my DJI Phantom. Check out what I saw, from my drone’s bird’s-eye view!

Huge thanks to my friends over at Wild Pilots for being my copilots on this shoot, as well as DJ/Producer Greg Krish for the awesome soundtrack.

First EVER video: flying over O’Neill Park

I’m so excited to announce the release of my first video! It’s pretty basic (Drone Girl is pretty lo-tech, operating off a beater 2010 MacBook with a broken keyboard and made using iMovie). But I’m proud to have put together something, especially since that was one of my goals, as stated in my latest Flight Diary.

This video was shot entirely using my GoPro and Drone, and I basically just flew around the park, trying to get a variety of shots. Please comment with your thoughts and suggestions!

Video shot, produced and edited by Sally French, with music provided through Free Music Archive by Podington Bear.