Desperate for a new angle? Get a camera drone

The sky's the limit for our regular columnist

DJI Phantom camera drone

Oh my God, I want a drone. They are just so cool and exciting. I desperately want to be able to fly my camera into the air and transmit the images back to earth.

I saw a drone display at a technology show in Las Vegas once. A squadron of twelve drones were being flown together, doing an aerobatic display of cleverly choreographed moves. It was all in time to some dramatic classical music that was not Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries but still chosen to conjure the essence of the helicopter gunship assault in Apocalypse Now.

The show drew a massive crowd that wowed and coo'd and gasped, and then queued up to buy their chance to achieve their own air supremacy.

I'm always banging on about shooting from new angles, and usually that means genuflecting with one knee planted in the dirt of a London pavement to get that worm's eye view. With a drone we could all take the high road and shoot the world from above.

Above must surely be the ultimate new angle – the new below – the angle from which no one has ever shot before. Look at the sensation Yann Arthus Bertrand created with his massive Earth From Above book and exhibition, and how often his hot air balloon exploits have been copied since 2012. There must be something in it.

The next big thing

Drones are the next big thing, and as the price of a serviceable model drops as quickly as one that's touched the power cables, they are no longer the preserve of the US military looking for things to turn in to mushroom clouds, and are becoming a realistic purchase for the man on the street. I say 'man' for a good reason, as I don't see too many women getting so excited about the incredible possibilities cameras-with-wings can offer.

Only a couple of years ago those small rechargeable helicopters were all the rage, and families country-wide scuffed their wallpaper and smashed light bulbs with great glee all over the Christmas period. Those tiny things of course weren't powerful enough to be flown outside, let alone to haul a camera, but the new multi-rotor camera drones are more stable, more versatile and can carry much more weight.

No-fly zones

When I get mine (after I check my insurance policy) I'm going to have to practice in the garden for a while to get used to flying it. Of course, being British, I'll have to be very careful to keep it below the height of the hedge and within my boundaries so that the neighbours don't think I've turned peeping Tom. I might be a bit restricted at first, but once I've got the hang of it I'll take it somewhere more interesting, like, um, somewhere else.

I wouldn't take it to the sea as I'd be worried I wouldn't be able to retrieve it should something go wrong, and I wouldn't fly it over the edge of a cliff for the obvious reasons. I'd want to take it somewhere that looks great from the air. Flyers in the USA might want to take extra care, as there have been reports of drones being brought down with gun-shot when thought to be interfering with other people's constitutional right to do things in private. That sounds exciting, but also expensive.

An original view

I've just spent some time researching aerial photography and pictures taken with drones on Google Images, and have discovered that unless you live somewhere that is frequently visited by aliens given to creating crop circles, or you live in the part of Amazon Basin populated by tiny streams and dramatic fauna, most of the pictures that can be captured from drone-height are a bit factual. That means that either no one is cashing in on creative drone photography, or creative drone photography isn't that easy.

I wonder if perhaps Yann Arthus-Bertrand has already flogged this one-trick-pony to death, and if there is not too much left for the rest of us to get original about.

Just the act of being a long way from my subject would, I think, be quite a challenge for me, as I like to be right there in the action with a 50mm lens. And quite how we create depth and selective focus from the air I'm not yet sure.

Am I being ignorant, or is there actually quite limited scope here for producing something that is visually impressive rather than something that relies solely on impressive content?

Actually, it's a bit dull

Looking again at the images on the Internet I get the sense that once we have got over the amazement that a picture has been taken from more than six foot from the ground it becomes just a picture, and one that has to work on its artistic merits – and perhaps low-altitude aerial work isn't all that artistic.

I'd love to shoot aerial street photography, but quite how things would pan out operating a drone in the London rush hour I'm not sure. It would either end with it or me being hit by a bus, or me coming to the attention of our heroic Special Forces and making the evening news.

And then where would I keep it once I'd got bored with it or discovered that I don't need to use it very often, and that what I was shooting only looked like Google Earth zoomed in? I have enough stuff I don't use already.

Ok, so maybe I've gone off the idea. You can keep your faddy flying machines.

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