Meanwhile in Flatland

This week I got out my DJI Mavic Pro for the first time in about 10 months. After charging all batteries, updating firmware on the drone, and recalibrating the sensors on the drone, I did a test flight. This was all about remembering how to use the thing and to see if it was working properly. All good. I got a nice landscape image from the air that did justice to the gorgeous clouds. You’re looking east toward Lowell, Michigan, with Fulton Street on the left.

Later, I did a second flight, more to remember how see “see” with a drone. It’s very different from a hand-held or tripod-mounting camera on the ground. It’s especially different if you like two-dimensional images with an abstract quality, where the camera is pointing straight down. Images from the ground feel three-dimensional because there are a vertical elements in the image. Images shot from above, with the camera pointing straight down, compress the vertical elements, even tall ones like trees, utility poles, and multi-story buildings. This is more true the higher the drone is.

Here are three that I liked from that second flight, abstract, two-dimensional feeling images of landscape, processed in black and white. Both are of backyards in my neighborhood.

The last two are in color. My favorite of the two, the cover image for this post, is trees and water, with the sky reflecting in the green-blue of the water. I used a contrasty, saturated film style in processing the image. The second is Fulton Street. Just like I would do in street photography, I set up the frame and then waited for some traffic. I liked the balance of driveways in this framing. I took about ten images with cars coming through the frame and picked the one you see. I liked the energy of cars on the far left and right leaving the scene and the car in the driveway getting ready to pull into traffic.

Every time I take out my drone I dream about getting a better one. The sensor on this one does well in daylight, but it’s weak in low light, which means it’s not great with sunrise, sunset, or night-time images. But I’ll need to do a lot more photography with this drone before I can justify getting a better one. There is so much to photography from the ground and the air, but only so much time to do it when you work full-time.

Enjoy the weather and stay safe out there. I’m gratified to see COVID-19 numbers falling in the US, even as they are higher in Canada for the first time and appallingly high in South America and India. So don’t take the lower numbers in the US at the moment for granted. Be smart, be safe.

2 replies to “Meanwhile in Flatland

  1. I have mixed, not black-and-white feelings about drone photography, stemming around issues with their questionable use by the less conscientious in densely populated urban settings or wilderness areas (especially the latter) but these pictures are fascinating and very, very enjoyable. I’ve enjoyed your other aerial photography, too. As always, appreciate your thoughtful narrative.

    The second-to-last frame at first reminded me distinctly of a combination of dust and horsehair lichen on tree bark. I knew it was an overhead image but I couldn’t fend off my initial, very strong perceptions of what it seemed like I was seeing. My youngest sibling lives in Lowell on a pleasant street going out of the west side of town, he bought his first house there just a couple of years ago. It seems like a very nice, quiet place to live.


    1. Thanks, Jason. Every once in a while, I’m tempted to bend a rule to get a photograph just right (e.g., climb a hundred feet beyond 400 feet limit), but I don’t for the reasons you say. Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you’re enjoying the photos.

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