A surfer paddles through the frothy surf in Santa Cruz, CA.

A surfer paddles through the frothy surf in Santa Cruz, CA.

I’ve been flying drones, and experimenting with them as a photography tool for the past few years, but I wasn’t enamored with the quality of photos I was coming home with in the earlier model I was flying. As I waited for the optics to improve on prosumer drones, I took up the hobby of kite aerial photography, which enabled me to loft a quality camera with RAW capabilities several hundred feet into the air. The camera would dangle around aimlessly in the wind (granted I could position it within an approximate area by walking with the kite), and would take several hundred photos in a short period of time. If one or two of those photos turned out worthy of processing, it was a good outing. I enjoyed this rare and unique way of photographing the earth from above, but I was starting to get wary of the constant waiting for a perfect wind day, in which the wind needed to be above 8mph but below 20mph. And I definitely was tiring of the draining exercise of pulling hundreds of feet of kite line back to earth to retrieve the kite at the end of a photo session.
An old salt pond in the Bay Area

An old salt pond in the Bay Area

As I became more active on Instagram, I noticed that there were some incredible photos being taken by drones. I was still circumspect about the actual image quality, considering that a photo on Instagram is displayed no larger than a few inches in size. I reached out to one of the drone pilots I was following and asked how the resolution was, and whether he would be kind enough to share a few RAW files for me to view on my own computer using my editing software. He was more than happy to help me out, and after seeing the working files on my computer, I knew it was time to get a new drone.
Coit Tower at sunrise

Coit Tower at sunrise

I waited with anticipation as the drone was shipped to me, and then immediately went to a local baseball field to test it. The quadcopter was incredibly stable, and the software surprisingly sophisticated. The camera mounted beneath the drone impressed me with its ability to swivel up and down 90 degrees, and to remain level courtesy of a 3 axis gimbal when the copter banked into turns or accelerated. It wasn’t long before I was photographing locations and structures that I had only dreamed of capturing with the kite rig.
Some of my favorite drone shooting sessions to date include a sunrise flight around Coit Tower in San Francisco, photographing surfers at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, cruising above some old salt ponds lining the Bay Area, and capturing low tide at some local mud flats.
I still have a number of subjects that are on my short list to photograph, and I look forward to sharing them soon. In the meantime, below are some recent photos I have taken with the drone.
A shaft of light illuminates the Bay Bridge as the tail end of a storm blows through

A shaft of light illuminates the Bay Bridge as the tail end of a storm blows through

The Campanile on UC Berkeley from above

The Campanile on UC Berkeley from above

Looking straight down on a local salt pond

Looking straight down on a local salt pond

Looking down on cars in a junk yard

Looking down on cars in a junk yard

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