Learning to fly: Baltimore photographer explores UAV multimedia

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Access. That’s always been my ask as a photographer, what angle or event can I photograph that others can’t. That’s what first piqued my interest when I first saw the DJI Phantom last year.

It was the first quad-copter — or unmanned aerial vehicle — made to be ready to fly with an easy learning curve (most enthusiasts hate the term, “drone,” since in recent years it has been associated with an increasingly negative connotation). I pined for it for a year, watching way too many videos shot using it.

I had mostly forgotten about all that when it came up on a daily deals website. Living in the city means that all of my shipments come to my work. The first flight took place in a large conference room during a lunch break.

It ended pretty abruptly with me panicking and sending it flying into the ceiling. That evening I took it out in the park behind my home in Greenmount West.

The next morning I took it up again before work and captured the city covered in fog. It was a hit on Instagram, with people asking which building the shot was from. Had I known better, I would have set my GoPro to time-lapse mode, where it takes a picture every second; instead what I captured was a screen cap from a video.

I flew around the harbor that evening, but technical difficulties kept me from getting any usable video. I was hooked though, and broke down and bought an anti-jello mount, which cuts down on you getting rolling video, like you’re watching through jello. Soon, on my lunch break, I was driving to Centennial Park and flying over the frozen lake.

I’ve read a few threads on GoPro forums and some of the Phantom forums about strategies while shooting using GoPro. For instance, while shooting a building, you should switch to a narrow view instead of the wide view to cut down on distortion. My flying skills have also improved with a lot less crashing.

I won’t stop shooting with any of my other cameras, but shooting with the UAV gives me another vantage point — one that people rarely see. The response on social media to what I’ve shot has been overwhelming, and looking back on what I shot originally, technically the video has gotten smoother with the addition of the gimbal and the anti jello mount.

What Will flies with: DJI Phantom, 2 Standard Batteries, 1 MadDog 2700 mAh Extended Battery from 2dogrc.com, GoPro 3 Black Edition, and a Helipal.com Brushless Gimbal.


William Cocks a Baltimore photographer and a guest contributor to The Darkroom. He can be reached at @wheelsee on Twitter.