Light Painting with a Drone 1 by Dirk Dallas

Drone photography has got a long way to go

Surprise at the beginning, boredom right after

According to many — and I agree — drone photography is one of the possible new frontiers of photography because it joins technology with the possibility of having an unprecedented view on reality.
It is now quite cheap and produces great-looking photographs: whether it is zenital or simple bird-eye views, or even videos taken right inside fireworks (obviously as they explode), the result is always amazing.
The first times.

Why are drone photos boring after a while? Is it possible that a point of view that was familiar just to cartographers or militaries until few years ago becomes so uninteresting in such a short time?
The reasons, I believe, are at least three.

  1. SF (Surprise Factor) is very high at the beginning and collapses with the later ones. It’s natural, like anything once unusual soon becomes normal.
  2. Photos — especially the zenital — are amazing because they produce an almost unnatural point of view. Who has ever seen trees like balls or streets like gray ribbons? Cartographers, exactly. After a while, however, the gap between the experience we have of those same objects and their “cartographic representation” is too cunning. We do not recognize them as real objects and those photos end up looking like abstract paintings. Good for those who like abstract paintings, but that’s all.
  3. Closely linked to the previous one is that: after the astonishment for such never seen before points of view, the total lack of connection and empathy prevail in the end. Since it’s impossible to find anything recognizable and familiar in those photos they just end up being boring: no familiarity, no connection.

Looking for a picture for this article, I searched Flickr for “drone photography” and Dirk Dallas’s page was one of the first results. I did not pick one of the usual photos from a drone but instead I was looking for a photo of a drone.

In fact, what I wanted to point out is that the photo of a drone from below is more interesting than a photo taken from it while flying.

Anyway, I liked this photo of a drone at night that takes off and leaves a glimpse of light and it said a bit what I meant: drone photography is boring. Or at least it is boring if it’s done like 99% of all the drone photography you can see around. I’m talking about things like these:

I do not know if he was the very first one to do things like these and I do not even care.
Let me be clear: these are very nice photos. I am particularly curious about the logical process that leads from a purely geometric photo like the first one (imagine it without the man) to the need to put him in. Obviously the pure geometry was interesting but not enough interesting in the end. You see, what was missing was an element of recognizability, a visual connection. Dallas needed a human being swimming or just floating on that pool.
After those purely zenital photos punctuated with trees that cast more or less interesting shadows, this floating man (or woman) was another potential evolution. In my opinion already exhausted.

Maybe we’re not doing the right thing

The first time we use a drone, we‘re like kids: we want it to fly higher and higher. And from that place high above us we take pictures. I think it’s a natural behaviour because we don’t have any other way to take photographs from such unusual points of view. Unless we have an helicopter, of course. But I do not think that’s the way drone photography can really express what it has to say.
Drone photography is still too often meant as aerial photography and that means implicitly “from high above” while perhaps we just need to use it not only sending those drones 100 meters above us.

Imagine for instance to us them at eye level. Many drones are stabilized, so they can make cinematic images that today require a dolly or a steadycam. The more they’ll be producing high quality images, the more we’ll be getting great quality videos at low cost. We’ll be able to do things that are still very expensive and require skills and big productions. Most of all, we’ll be still able to get meaningful images, things we can relate to because we can find a connection with them.
It may seem strange to use a drone to shoot a street scene (like two chatting while walking) but maybe in a few years it will only be done using drones.

In the end what really matters is what you are enabled to say with technology, not the technology itself, as John Lasseter says.