In the previous article in this series, I elaborated on the compositional advantages of the drone compared to land-based shooting. I claimed that the drone offers infinitely more compositional opportunities, which results from the fact that the photographer isn't bound to the ground. This allows better perspectives and separation of the compositional elements.

In this article I'd like to talk about two more advantages of shooting with a drone, which particularly relate to the comparison with manned-aircraft based shooting: the drone's availability and its ability to take off and land anywhere.

The Springs of Ojos Del Campo, Argentina. The only way of seeing this scene from the air is using a drone. DJI Mavic II Pro, 1/400 sec, F8, ISO 100. Puna De Argentina

Availability and Running Costs

I would be remiss if I neglected to state that in tandem with its ability to fly, the drone's availability is the very thing that made the drone change the world of photography forever.

Today's drones are amazing machines. An idiot-proof, tiny, light, foldable quad-copter can easily fit in your photo bag with several spare batteries and the remote control, while leaving room for a your entire DSLR and lens arsenal. Each of these batteries can last for up to half an hour (!) of flight. Under favorable conditions, you can send the drones 5 kilometers or more away and 500 meters high while maintaining connection (in theory, that is, as it's illegal in most countries to fly higher than 120m and out of sight).

An aerial perspective exposes the beautiful contour and layers of the shore of the Dead Sea.
DJI Mavic II Pro, 1/20 sec, F4, ISO 200. Ein Gedi, Israel

You can bring a drone with you to any shoot, fly it in any terrain and in harsher weather that you think. You can fly it while sitting comfortably inside a heated car, with the spare batteries charging quickly as you fly. It's portable enough to hike or even climb with. For the experienced drone user, it can take less than 3 minutes to set up and be airborne, when time is of the essence.

This light on the top of a huge iceberg was disappearing and reappearing with the horizon clouds obscuring the sun to the north west. With the drone, I had the choice of when exactly to fly to optimize my photography and get the best light.
DJI Mavic II Pro, 1/30 sec, F7.1, ISO 100. Kangia Fjord, Greenland

Needless to say, a manned aircraft is not always available. Some natural landscapes one wishes to shoot are far in the back country with no airport or heliport nearby. With a drone, you are free from these worries. An hour of flight in a Cessna can cost hundreds of dollars, and yours truly has once been given a quote of $4200 per hour (Or $70 per minute. Yes, that's right) for a helicopter flight. Flying a drone is virtually free.

This river of lava burst out of the mountain side before my eyes. After picking up my jaw from the floor, I grabbed my drone and sent it right to the source of the flow.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro, 1/100 sec, F6.3, ISO 400. Kilauea Volcano, Island of Hawaii

Ability to take off and land anywhere

This ability is a particular aspect of the drone's unmatched availability. Due to the drone's minuscule size, it is not only possible to fit it in a camera bag, take it out and have it airborne within minutes. It is actually possible to do so without the need for a helipad - or any kind of takeoff/landing surface whatsoever - after a bit of training, takeoff and landing can be done from the pilot's hand. This often neglected fact can make a world of difference when the area a photographer is based in is something like a small boat, a place with uneven ground (for example a lava-field or snowy earth) or a roofed area such as a cave.

A typical Targa speed boat in Greenland. There's no really comfortable place to take off or land, but there's plenty of space to do so from the pilot's (or someone else's) hand.

Taking off from a boat isn't easy, especially when the open area is crowded or too small. Boats often are loaded with antennas, which makes takeoff from the roof problematic. But the photographer can launch the drone from his hand while standing in the front or back of the boat, thus giving the drone the necessary space for a safe takeoff.

Hand-landing on a boat is a bit more challenging, to say the least. The pilot needs to direct the drone slowly and carefully toward the boat's open space, then catch the drone in midair by hand. This can be difficult in a number of ways. Firstly, boats tend to sway side to side, and the drone is ideally fixed in its aerial position, thus its course relative to the boat is chaotic. Secondly, the drone's sensors tend to block it from getting too close the pilot's hand. Luckily, the sensors can be disabled.

This boat had a much more comfortable open space to take off and land, but it was challenging nevertheless.

Personally, I've had more than my share of less-than-pleasant experiences when hand-landing a drone on boats. While the DJI Phantom series has handle-like landing gear which makes it very easy to catch the drone, the Mavic series does not, and a lot can go wrong when trying to maneuver and catch the drone while standing on a swaying boat. The propellers can cut and bruise your fingers or cut through your clothes, and a wrong movement or failure to catch the drone can result in it hitting the boat or worse - taking a nosedive into the water.

A gigantic arched iceberg dwarfs our boat in Disko Bay, Greenland.
DJI Mavic II Pro, 1/30 sec, F8, ISO 100

There's not much that can be done about this other than practice taking off and landing the drone from your hand. Remember that while a drone can be lost at any moment, images last forever.

For a bit more about flying from a boat, check out my friend Ian's video about our trip to Greenland earlier this year. Ian suffered a brutal attack by his drone, but survived to tell the tale! Yours truly had plenty of drone fails as well, and the shenanigans meter was on the high side throughout the trip.

In the next article I will conclude the discussion of the drone's advantages with perhaps the most exciting of its traits: the ability to remain totally fearless in the face of danger!


Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on Instagram and Facebook, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.

If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the world's most fascinating landscapes with Erez as your guide, take a look at his unique photography workshops in The Lofoten Islands, Greenland, Namibia, the Argentinean Puna, the Faroe Islands and Ethiopia.

Erez offers video tutorials discussing his images and explaining how he achieved them.

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