The cherry blossoms at the University of Washington are a hugely popular attraction every spring in Seattle. Weekends during the peak of the blossom bring in crowds of people to the Quad, all hoping to capture the blooms with everything from professional cameras to tablets and selfie sticks. Rather than trying to avoid the mass of people, photographer and DPR reader Dale Johnson embraced the scene and found a new perspective by shooting from above. Find out how he's adopted aerial photography and what went into capturing this shot.

By Dale Johnson

Trying to find unique perspectives of familiar places is becoming harder and harder, as everyone and their mother has a camera (mostly built into their phones) and hundreds of thousands of images are uploaded to social media every day. A camera attached to an aerial platform is a fairly new concept, but it's a category that's growing rapidly. Adding a drone to my photography kit has provided opportunities to find new ways to see things. In addition to the new perspective, I’m finding that I love to have the element of movement in the scene, which the video and smooth and stable platform allows.

I started experimenting with drone photography last summer with the DJI Phantom 3 Professional. I’m not much of an early adopter, tending to wait until the technology has matured before jumping in. I have been following the development of drones for some time since I bought one of the early remote helicopters several years ago. I tried to learn how to fly it around my living room, though not very well I must say. The Phantom 3 is a joy to fly and incredibly simple to control. I have loved flying it around Seattle. 

Having purchased the new DJI Phantom 4 quadcopter the day it was released, I'd been on the lookout for a place to fly it. The cold, wet, grey days of our Seattle winter have been slowly improving into a beautiful spring and I was eager to get it in the air. I was a student at the University of Washington many years ago, and remember how the 'quad', with all its cherry trees, would explode in full bloom each spring. It seemed like the perfect place to fly and get a shot that I had not seen before. 

I first went to the quad just after sunrise on Friday morning to catch the warm light with fewer people around. I was able to get a few decent shots, but the sunlight blew out the highlights a bit and even though I was shooting in Raw, the small sensor on the built in camera didn’t give me the latitude for corrections that my DSLR would. I decided to go back on Saturday afternoon as it was mostly overcast with more even contrast. This time the quad was buzzing. The symmetry of the scene made for an easy composition with the cherry trees framed by the buildings, and the crisscrossing red brick paths added diagonal elements to the image. I also like how all the people give the image a sense of scale and contrast.

A quick word about drones and flying within the city. There are a lot of negative feelings out there about drones and people concerned about privacy issues, or collisions with airplanes. The FAA (in the US) has a new requirement to have drone operators register with the FAA (which I have) and some rules for flying. I followed all the FAA requirements during this flight and found after a quick check with the University of Washington Police that there are no restrictions for flying on campus, except over stadium events.

This new vantage point of the world looking down from above has inspired me all over again to look for unique views on familiar places.

DPReview encourages responsible, legal and safe use of drones. Check local regulations before flying any unmanned aerial vehicle.


Dale Johnson has been taking pictures for over 30 years after receiving a Nikon camera as a graduation present from high school. He now has a day job that has him traveling the world, giving him the opportunity to see and experience people and cultures that he would not otherwise visit (56 countries and counting!). Travel photography has become his new passion. You can see more of Dale’s work at:

500px: https://500px.com/drjhnsn

SmugMug: https://dalejohnson.smugmug.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dalejohnsonphoto/

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/c/dalejohnsonphoto