Drones: Pro Photographers’ New Eye in the Sky

By Phill Powell

Drones keep popping up in the news lately, and it’s easy to see why. Today’s sophisticated flying drones are capable of covering long distances at high altitudes, and performing cool tasks, too.


One of Kenneth Chan’s recent videos, shot with the assistance of camera-carrying drones!

The most spectacular stunt performed by flying drones is capturing breathtaking video. We’ve all seen examples of the amazing lift-off footage captured by drones zooming straight upward.

But we wanted to find out how actual professional photographers are using drones. So we asked Kenneth Chan. Kenneth is a DMA photography instructor during summer months, as well as a much in-demand Arizona commercial photographer year round. He’s also very much into drones…

Kenneth, what got you into using drones for videography?
I’ve been following the trend ever since the first DJI Phantom quadcopters were released to the mass market. I was intrigued that drones have enabled operators to capture shots otherwise nearly impossible to get.

However, I didn’t start learning to fly even “toy”-class, remote-controlled aircraft – like the Syma S107G helicopter and the Syma X5C quadcopter – until 2015. These models allowed me to learn to fly with control and confidence for under $100, instead of immediately investing more than $1,000 for a unit like my current aerial rig in 2016, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional.

And because they don’t have all of the AI and GPS support of a more professional unit, these small drones are actually harder to pilot and master. This, in turn, makes flying the Phantom so much easier, which allows me to focus on getting great cinematic shots.

As a pro photographer, are you actually using drones in your commercial photography work currently?
Despite being a professional photographer and loving the shots I can get with the DJI Phantom 3, I’m actually not using drones for commercial work yet.

I’d love to have my own personal aircraft to create even more exciting shots and cut down on commute times.
– Professional Photographer and DMA Instructor Kenneth Chan

It’s currently a tricky time in this industry due to the various regulations and licenses required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order for someone to make money doing commercial work with a drone.

In addition to the complexity and costs of becoming authorized for such work, I’m still learning to master the craft. But I would love to offer aerial photography and videography as part of my professional services in the near future. I’m certain there is a demand for it!

What are the most challenging aspects of using drones for aerial videography?
The most challenging part of aerial videography is trying to do it alone.

There are quite a few things you need to keep track of simultaneously – where the drone physically is in the air, the path you will define and execute to take it on an interesting route that is free of hazards, and what the camera angle looks like.

On top of that, if I’m moving around while piloting the drone, I need to pay attention so that I don’t crash into something as well!

I’ve definitely had a much more relaxing experience flying the drone when I have a spotter with me who can keep a steady eye on the drone in the sky or if we split up responsibilities so that one person is mostly flying the drone and the other person is managing the camera controls.

Kenneth_Chan
DMA’s Chan: “The technology is changing so fast, and I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.”

What are greatest advantages of using drones for photography?
It enables you to create shots that, in many cases, have never been seen before. Pioneering unique and dramatic imagery remains one of the most rewarding challenges of photography to me, whether you’re talking about drone photography or macro photography or landscape photography.

It’s exciting to check out a drone video on YouTube that makes me say, “Wow, I have never seen that before!” and even more exciting to be the one that shot it.

Another advantage of getting into the commercial-drone-photography industry now is that it is relatively uncrowded compared to most other types of photography, so you can offer a product that few competitors around you are providing.

Roughly how much money have you invested in your drone equipment?
I’ve had a number of “lucky breaks” that allowed me to jump into this field at a much lower cost than most people. In fact, the initial expense was a big part of what held me back from jumping in earlier into this field.

Now, through a partnership with my local economic development committee, I get to be the committee’s DJI Phantom 3 Professional pilot, at no expense to me! Part of my “job” with this group is to capture exciting aerial videos of a number of local attractions in order to promote tourism to our area. I couldn’t ask for a better arrangement!

Another advantage of getting into the commercial-drone-photography industry now is that it is relatively uncrowded compared to most other types of photography…
– Professional Photographer and DMA Instructor Kenneth Chan

The most recent video (above) I put together was to show people the amazing wildflower season we enjoy right here on the San Carlos Apache Reservation that I live right next to in Arizona.


Check out the amazing views when a drone crew lifted this DJI Phantom 2 nearly a mile in the sky!

Companies are now experimenting with drones that can carry human cargo. Would you travel that way?
Oh yes, I’d love to have my own personal aircraft to create even more exciting shots and cut down on commute times.

But I’d probably shy away from Version 1.0 of any such technology and give it a bit of time to evolve. LOL!

What else do you think our readers should know about drones and commercial photography?
Using drones for commercial photography is a big goal with some potentially big rewards, but don’t forget that it’s okay to start smaller and just learn to fly with even a $50 drone like the Syma X5C.

Have some fun with it and see if it’s something you want to invest in more over time! I bet in just three years from now, even the latest DJI Phantom 4 will seem like a dinosaur in terms of the technology that’s around then!

Find out more about DMA instructor Kenneth Chan!

STILL TIME TO GET IN THE PICTURE

Summer is rushing toward us and will be here soon. Make the most of your summer and also exercise your creative passion by attending one of DMA’s photography tech camps.

At DMA you can hone your photographic craft, and receive guidance from instructors who are themselves ace photographers. DMA even has two week photography academies for shutterbugs who want to fully immerse themselves in photo tech for half a month!

Find out more online about these camps and DMA tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada.