Words and photography by Caleb Kenna
Using a drone was a natural evolution for me as a still photographer. After making pictures for more than twenty years, it’s allowed me to discover a new perspective. Now, on dull and cloudy days, I can make abstract birds-eye pictures with vibrant colors. On days with great light, long shadows emanate from lone trees in farm fields, hinting at abstract realities. Staying creative can be a challenge as a photographer, but the drone is an extension to elevate your view up to 400 feet. It might even elevate your spirits.
In pre-drone days, I would hire an airplane once or twice a year, hope for good weather, and make photos above Vermont, but I often felt too high off the ground. Now I can unpack and launch my DJI Mavic2Pro drone into the air in five minutes and fly for twenty-five minutes on one battery. As a commercial photographer, I studied with Remote Pilot 101, an online training course, and got my FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification, so I now know a lot about airspace and weather patterns. Hobbyists don’t need a license but need to follow basic rules like flying below 400 feet, not flying over people and not flying at night.
There is a sensation of soaring freedom and slight nervous risk when using a drone for photography. It feels liberating to launch into the skies and search for the perfect vantage point. Familiar landscapes can produce beautiful aerial patterns. If I’m not happy with one spot, I use the remote controller to move up or down, left or right. When I first started using a drone, I would often fly as high as possible – up to 400 feet – and make landscape images with a horizon line. But as I’ve evolved, I have started to point the drone straight down directly above subjects. A winding dirt road in a snow-covered sugar bush takes on an abstract beauty of land management. Winter shadows on a stand of trees make puzzling geometric patterns.
I never know what I’ll find with the drone. One underwhelming winter day, I went to shoot pictures of Huff Pond in Sudbury. Once in the sky, I noticed a perfectly round body of water just to west; from the air, it formed a near-perfect circle surrounded by forest. While shooting a job in the Connecticut River Valley, I was waiting for heavy fall fog to burn off and drove a few miles west to Ticklenaked Pond. I launched the drone up through a hole in the fog and faced east towards the rising sun. The parting fog and classic Vermont landscape made for an ethereal photograph, marking the start of a new day.
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