Just when everyone thought digital photography was so common that anyone with a cell phone could do it, a new creative force is pushing the envelope. The digital revolution started with cameras that contained just one or two megabytes and the quality was not great. However, digital technology is almost as fast as light itself, and the parameters changed quickly. Current smartphones on the market have at least an 8 megabyte capability. That is quality. The envelope of possibility is now being pushed to new heights by drone photography.
Everyone with a smartphone that has a decent lens embedded in it, along with acceptable megabytes, has wiped out the need for a camera. A point of stagnation has been reached in the world of images. The value of images has dropped like rain in a monsoon as everyone has posted their pictures everywhere. That has been the common thought until recently.
The intrinsic value of images is their ability to be unique, distinctive, exclusive or rare. That time is already here. Recent displays of drone photography hit social media during the Fourth of July fireworks and proved their unique capability. Photographers are once again on top of the world in more than just a trite and true sense. Professional photographers who possess Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) platforms are changing the landscape of photography with this new viewpoint.
Iwan Zwarts, a professional photographer, shooting in South Africa has taken landscape photography into a new realm and has labelled his images as Dronography. Instead of scouting locations for hours for decent sites his dronography shots offered a new and unique perspective in a much shorter time period. UAVs offer a limitless capability to find, frame, and shoot. This cuts the cost of production, and simplifies the process of commercial photography.
As a Visual Effects (VFX) supervisor at the The Mill’s New York, Zwarts is more than just a photographer. Drones have changed his day job and expanded the scope of his work. Directors for movies and commercials and other VFX professionals like Zwarts now have the ability to generate in-camera shots that were literally impossible or too expensive to produce before.
Shooting quality content has been time-intensive, expensive, and technologically difficult to produce. Shooting commercials or movies require dollies, cranes, manpower, and money when creative shots are required for a new look or an eye catching view-point. Drones are valuable tools making the creative process faster and less expensive. The drone’s eye view is more common now than before. Its full potential is just now being experimented with and has opened the door to new ways of shooting.
In the U.S. a current problem is regulation. Drones are classified with commercial aircraft and this is a challenge for film-makers and professional photographers. Lack of clear regulation is sending commercial establishments to other countries to produce their projects. It is only a matter of time, however, before drones come into their own in this country. The envelope of legality is being pushed to new heights by drone photography.
Drones as used by professional photographers may not be the correct term. Like all terrain vehicles (ATVs), a new term is cropping up – quad-copters, and it is being applied to small platforms with four propellers and either still or video cameras mounted on them. These UAVs have different capabilities according to the manufacturers specifications. Most are battery operated, controlled much like model airplanes, and require training to fly skillfully.
The laws governing these vehicles in at least one other country are being watched closely. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, has residents in two camps at the present time, namely those who operate the quad-copters and those people who are worried about their privacy being invaded.
Nasif Kayed, Managing Director of the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding, boiled the law for hobbyists who fly these pilotless hovercraft, down to a simple phrase: “Respect other people’s right to privacy as you would expect your own privacy to be protected.” The laws in UAE concern the protection of privacy for the individual over the right of someone’s freedom to take pictures.
A law in the UAE in 1987 required the consent of the person whose was photographed. If the pictures were published without consent the photographer’s film could be confiscated and destroyed. The photographer could be imprisoned, fined or both. Anyone who published said images was also subject to those conditions.
In 2002 the law was modified and exceptions allowed. Those exceptions included pictures recorded at a public event, officials of the government who were subjects of the pictures, public figures or celebrities, or the pictures were permitted by authorities and deemed of public interest. These regulations apply to any images, whether they are on the ground or in the air.
Another legal aspect of drone photography concerns factory farm operations in this country. Will Porter, a renowned independent journalist, who has exposed animal rights violations and violations on environmental issues, is currently using drones to document factory farm operations in several states and possibly reveal what these corporations prefer to keep hidden.
Using drone photography his investigative journalism may uncover pollution on some factory farms, possible abuse of animals or other operations that may be illegal. These are claims not substantiated by actual proof at this time. It is his stated intention to use these aerial vehicles to show violations and make public any illegal operations.
Uncovering illegal activities is another possible use of this type of vehicle. The legal issues have not been decided. Court battles may make these vehicles useless for anything but the most mundane activities, such as birthday parties, holiday celebrations, or other less controversial events. Until the legal dust settles drone photography has a new lease on its imaging life as the envelope is pushed higher.
By Andy Towle