Drones — the future of travel photography

I have been drone flying on many trips this past year and it is time to share my experience: I am certain, that drones are the future of travel photography. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. Drones are awesome travel companions

Travelling is all about experiences — and drone flying gives you plenty of additional experiences and totally new perspectives on the places you are visiting. You stop and fly — and the world looks very different from above. You scout the surroundings, enjoy so many more views and take memorable vidoes and pictures. When flying you get a sense for three-dimensional spaces, distances and can enjoy the surroundings much better than you can do while walking, cycling or driving. Rivers become dynamic nature experiences, skies are broader, people, cars, trains become tiny moving objects and your own sensation of flying creates very memorable experiences.

A recent cycle trip to Norway with the Rapha Cycle Club.

2. Travel experiences you can only have with drones

I have been taking my drone with me on every trip this year both on business and leisure travels. I have seen New York City in amazing perspectives, flown through the fjords and mountains of Norway, flown in beautiful sunsets in Mallorca, seen new perspectives of Munich, the Alps, just to name a few. Since taking the drone I am more open toward exploring spaces, constantly on the look-out, imagining what spaces look like form above. I usually fly for just a few minutes, that is all it takes to take a peek, create a short movie or start a live stream. If you are a social media fan with a following, people are sure to comment and participate in your experience.

Drone flying in Berlin

3. Photos are cool but vidoes are all the rage

Most modern drones project the live view to your smartphone or tablet. The larger the screen, the better is the experience. Taking pictures is simple. You prepare the view — click and you take a high definition photo from above.

But videos are all the rage. As the drone flies, you can capture the view. The Phantom 4 that I use, has superb image stabilization and automatically handles strong winds, even including gusts. When flying in Hamburg at the harbour with 60km winds, the videos where totally smooth and stable. See for yourself:

Hamburg harbor droning in heavy winds.

4. Carrying your drone during travel is easy

Carrying drones while travelling is simpler than you think. I have no special bag, I find them to be too bulky and when traveling and it makes little sense to take a second backpack. So I use a simple carabiner or when doing sports like cycling, I just tie the drone with removed propellers to my backpack. The remote goes inside and if you plan to fly a lot, an extra battery also goes inside. Off we go…

5. Cities offer spectacular views

Most people travel to beautiful cities that usually have a lot to offer from above. Cathedrals, sky scrapers, medieval towns, rivers, hills and roads are some the the many highlights you can experience in cities. Please note the local rules and regulations, in some places you are required to register your drone (United States, for example) and there are many restrictions around cities.

New York City droning.

6. A new perspective on nature and sports

I am a big cycling fan and taking the drone is not a problem if you are willing to carry a backpack. With bikes you can easily ride to great flying spaces and you are moving much slower than driving, so you will discover many more nice places to enjoy views from above. Mountains, lakes, rivers, fields, meadows, highlights are countless with a reach of up to 5km on the Phantom 4.

Modern drones can follow-you while you cycle, walk or hike. The features are amazing. but somehow I don’t do this a lot, mainly because I am always concerned it does not work properly. I find myself focussing more on the drone than on my surroundings. While the technology is solid, somehow I do not find the videos to be as spectacular, so I prefer to concentrate of flying to create better videos. Future drones will surely improve these features and follow you without you having to worry. Selfies galore.

7. Setup and how much time to bring

Setting-up a flying adventure is dead simple. I have perfected the workflow, taking out the drone, turning it on so it can warm up, taking propellers and the remote and the iPad from my backpack, assembling iPad and the remote - I am airborne within a minute. I usually fly 5–10 minutes, sometimes shorter. Thats all it takes. Disassembly takes 30 seconds and off I go walking away as if nothing happened.

8. Equipment and flying time

The better the drone, the more fun you will have. So that you don’t have to worry about loosing it, crashing it. High-end consumer drones fly almost autonomous. You point it in a desired direction, off they go, auto-stabilizing the flight, avoiding obstacles, automatically returning home, when outside the reach of the remote control. Now this works 95% of the time, causing some tension when flying. As a pilot you also have a lot of responsibility. Crashing is dangerous and other people easily get distracted by drones, be aware.

I love my DJI Phantom 4, it is the perfect model, easy to setup, fly, the camera is simply amazing - it never shakes. I have never had an issue with the size, although I have been looking at the DJI Mavic, which folds to the size of a larger water bottle, thus easily fitting inside you’re backpack. Both drones fly for about 25 minutes, which is plenty. I have stopped taking the extra battery. Since each flight I take is often no more than a few minutes, I can take plenty of videos. Don’t forget that you should also cut your videos to enjoy a better viewing experience, add some music and if you take too much footage, cutting becomes time consuming and less fun. So better think before you fly and only take the good shots only. I cut all my videos on my iPad, mostly at the end of the day, sometimes on the spot. It just takes a few minutes to cut out the boring scenes, add some music and speed up occasional scenes for more dynamic fun.

9. Weather conditions hardly matter

Wind is absolutely no problem. The drone and the camera have auto-stabalization. Of course the videos turn out nicer, when the sun shines, though I have found that a mixture of sun and clouds is much more effective. As in regular photography, dawn and dusk are the best times to fly because of the nice colors and the long shadows.

Rain is a problem, mostly because the camera lens becomes nearly unusable for photos and videos, the water collects on the lense in no time. But I have discovered a simple trick — fly backwards and the lens won’t get wet. Flying backwards also gives nice perspectives. I have not seen any effects of temperature to date. Spectacular weather conditions, like right before a storm or a thunder shower yields spectacular videos.

Drone flying in Bavaria — Maxlrain after a rain shower.
Lightning as seen by the drone

10. Social aspects of flying

Lastly I found out that drone flying is a very social experience while travelling. Usually people stop and are interested in what you are doing. Mostly they ask if what you are doing is legal. Once they see the pictures from above, while you are flying, they become quite excited and engage in longer conversations and ask for the websites to see the videos later. Of course in addition, you have a great social experience in sharing you videos online. Live videos are often commented and even if I upload the video later, I tend to get a lot of conversations on Facebook or Instagram.

One disadvantage is the noise that drones create. I sense that some people are annoyed by the loud humming sound, so be sensitive when you take your drone during travel.

I hope this gives you a good overview of some of the aspects of droning. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

I can imagine that once drones get smaller, quieter and more intelligent. They will become a standard item on your travel list for taking photos and videos. If you can afford the investment today go for it, it is well worth it 🚀.

Packing my travel gear for another trip…
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