Drone for Photography? Maybe Not.

What good is a Drone if I can’t fly where I want to film?

It was December 2014 when I first saw the Zano drone in a BBC article. It was presented as a small, portable, aerial photography platform. The introduction video looked amazing, a true technological marvel. Believing the hype, I placed my pledge on Kickstarter.

Sadly, Zano couldn’t do any of the things it promised. After 12 months the company went into liquidation leaving backers with no drone and out of pocket. I still wanted a small drone capable of great video, but this didn’t seem to exist.

Then, just last month, DJI announce the Mavic

 

DJI Mavic
DJI Mavic

A small, folding drone with a pretty good camera. This is what DJI say about the Mavic:

The DJI Mavic Pro is a small yet powerful drone that turns the sky into your creative canvas easily and without worry,helping you make every moment an aerial moment. Its compact size hides a high degree of complexity that makes it one of DJI’s mostsophisticated flying cameras ever. 24 high-performance computing cores, an all-new transmission system with a 4.3mi (7km) *range,5 vision sensors, and a 4K camera stabilized by a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, are at your commandwith just a push of your thumb or a tap of your finger.

It sounded impressive

The Mavic did everything I wanted from the Zano and the timing was perfect as I want to start making photography videos. It would enable me to get those sweeping atmospheric shots that look so great. This was the drone for me, I looked around for a local supplier and placed my pre-order.

I wasn’t alone. So many people pre-ordered, DJI were overwhelmed and the inevitable delays were announced. This was fine by me (I was kind of expecting it) and I was happy to sit back and wait patiently for my new toy. I’d waited two years and it’s not like there was an alternative to the Mavic. Some time in the next few months I’d have a photography drone that could fit in my camera bag.

DJI Mavic Closed
DJI Mavic Closed

With my Mavic ordered I had time on my hands

I started to plan a few shoots in my head. I thought about some of my favourite photography spots here in Cornwall and how I would film them in the coming months. The Crown Tin Mines at Botallack would be a good place to start as it’s a spot I know well, it’s pretty deserted during the winter months, and I’d be able to shoot from angles impossible without a drone.

Crown Tin Mines, Botallack

I’m familiar with the CAA rules on drone flight

Keep the drone in sight at all times, don’t fly within 50m of people, vehicles or structures, stay below 400ft, don’t fly near airports etc. I knew the rules and would abide by them. In addition to the CAA rules I’d arrange public liability insurance as mistakes or mechanical failures can happen. After all I didn’t want to be “that idiot” on the news giving drone pilots a bad name, I wanted to be responsible.

At Botallack, I wouldn’t be flying near anyone or anything as I’d mainly be over the sea. It’s not close to an airport and it would be easy to keep the drone in sight. I would film when nobody was around so I didn’t annoy others and I would take care not to disturb local wildlife and respect the area. All good.

The area is privately owned by the National Trust so I figured I may need permission from them to fly. I did a quick search online to see how I obtain this permission.

From the National Trust website:

National Trust Drone Rules
National Trust Drone Rules

Thinking these rules may be flexible I decided to contact the National Trust. I’ve had a good relationship with a few local wardens in the past, so emailed them to see what was possible.

While waiting for a reply, I asked the same question online. Replies I received included “they don’t own the airspace”, “they can’t stop you flying over their land” and “just take off from outside their property and it will be fine”. I did a bit of checking to see if these statements were true and it’s a bit of a grey area, but a person/organisation does seem to have certain rights to the first 500ft of airspace above their property according to the Civil Aviation Act 1982, although I have no idea how these rights would play out in court.

A few hours later I received a reply from a National Trust warden:

NT policy does not allow drones to be flown on, from or across our land except in certain commercial cases which we deem appropriate whereby a license for use is drawn up.  In these cases, only contractors with the correct licenses and insurance are used.

I’m sorry I cannot be more help with you on this matter

Not the response I hoped for, but conclusive.

What’s next?

Do I believe what I’ve been told online and hope that it will be fine? or do I respect the advice I’ve asked for and been given by the National Trust?

For me it comes down to what I said above. I’ve always had a good relationship with the National Trust and I don’t want to jeopardise this.

I’m a member and spend a lot of my free time at their locations. When I’m on their land I’ll respect their rules and bye-laws. If this means not using a drone for photography, then okay.

So no filming Botallack from the air, where can I film?

I started thinking about other photography spots here in Cornwall that I love.

Godrevy – Owned by the National Trust,

St Agnes Head – Owned by the National Trust

Rinsey – Owned by theNational Trust

Golitha Falls – NOT owned by the National Trust (but hardly ideal surroundings for a drone).

The truth is, here in Cornwall the National Trust own a lot of land. If you want to see how much, there’s a UK map HERE

After waiting two years for a drone that suits my needs, I’ve realised I can’t use it in most of my favourite spots. The DJI Mavic looks a great product, but it’s no use to me if I can’t use it in the places I want to film. I’ve cancelled my order this morning.

I’ve seen so many aerial videos on YouTube taken from National Trust sites that it never occurred to me that they might not allow drones. Glad I checked before wasting my money.

Maybe I’ll get a pole for the Osmo.

5th June 2016 – The Rocky Valley

A sunny Sunday morning and Claira has a day off work. Time for a trip to The Rocky Valley

The Rocky Valley - Camera and Campervan

This place has been on my list for a while. The Rocky Valley is a small valley, located between Tintagel and Boscastle, that leads down to the sea. It’s an area of outstanding beauty, with rapid waters and the ruins of an old mill.

The National Trust has a great guide showing where to park and other stuff HERE for anyone interested in visiting. One thing – if you plan to park in the lay-by mentioned, arrive early.

We jump in the van, a quick stop at Cornwall services for a Costa, and we’re on our way.

The Rocky Valley Map - Camera and Campervan
The Rocky Valley Map – Click to open in Google Maps

With the van parked and the dog walked, we cross the road and walk down the drive of Trevillett Mill opposite. A sign to the left of the gate marks this as a public footpath. Half way down the drive, we cross a foot bridge and follow the path down the creek.

It wasn’t long before we reached the ruined mill. This is quite a magical place and well worth exploring. Be sure to see the labyrinth style carvings, believed to date from the bronze age, and all of the small trinkets etc that have been left by visitors.

A Trinket left at the Rocky Valley - Camera and Campervan
A Trinket left at the Rocky Valley (mobile phone image)

We cross another bridge next to the mill. It’s time to get some images.

I climb down from the bridge to get a lower vantage point. The sky is very bright, with the mill and stream in it’s shadows. Not ideal. I set up my tripod and start framing.

The shot I’d like will have the mill in the background, with the water rushing past at an angle. But the light is causing all sorts of problems. I attach my polariser to take the reflection out of the water, then a ND grad to darken the sky, and a ND filter to slow the exposure and show movement in the water. All of this gives me an exposure time of 1 second. I fire off a few shots…

The Rocky Valley - Camera and Campervan
The Rocky Valley

I’m not at all happy with this shot. It was flat, boring and took way more post-processing than I like to do just to get it this bad. Still, this was my first time at this location and I learn’t a lot. I’ll return another day when the light is better and hopefully get it right.

Whilst in the same spot, I decided to try and capture the falls in the background. Switching over to my 24-70mm and armed with a 7 stop ND and remote trigger, I press the shutter….

Rocky Valley - Slow Exposure - Camera and Campervan
Rocky Valley – Slow Exposure

I’m a little happier with this image, but not much.

It wasn’t so much the light this time, it was the angle of the shot. I think this would look much better, taken from further up the stream. The trouble was I couldn’t get any further without being in the water. Maybe it’s time to invest in some waders 😉

Photos taken, we continue down the valley towards the coast. It isn’t long before we come across this view…

The Rocky Valley - Bridge - Camera and Campervan
The Rocky Valley – Bridge

I think the scene above would look great at sunset with the last light beaming through the canyon. Definitely something to try another day.

We continue further to where the valley reaches the sea.

The Rocky Valley - Black and White - Camera and Campervan
The Rocky Valley – Black and White

This is a spot I really want to have another crack at. The black jagged rocks are awe-inspiring, but the light isn’t playing ball today. Black and white it is.

We sit for a while taking in the surroundings, then turn to walk back to the van.

We head to Boscastle. Our plan is to have some dinner, rest for a while, then capture the evenings sunset. Unfortunately the weather turned early evening, covering Boscastle in fog.

With no chance of an image we fire up the van and head for home. Sunset at Boscastle will happen another day 🙂

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions please post them below. All the best, David.

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2nd June 2016 – Roche Rock

HeaderRocheRock

It’s 4.30pm and the weather forecast is great for this evening. But England are playing. #dilemma

Decisions, decisions. If I did go out, where would I go? I have to be up early for work in the morning, so I don’t want a late one. Maybe I should just watch the footy tonight? It’s supposed to be nice tomorrow anyway. I can go out tomorrow.

Bet tomorrow will be horrible 🙁

Undecided, I fire up Google Maps for inspiration. First thought, a sunset over the sea. Somewhere with a nice rock formation in the foreground maybe? Maybe not. It’s half term so best avoid the beach. What else is about? Roche Rock is just up the road? I’ve wanted to shoot a sunset their for a while.

For those unfamiliar with this location, Roche Rock is an ancient ruined chapel built into the side of a large rock formation. It looks dramatic, eerie and it’s shrouded in folk law. It’s supposed to be haunted and was a set for the movie, The Omen III.

Back on Google Maps, I start to scout the area. I look at the aerial view, then street views to get an idea where I’d like to shoot from. I can see two angles that look promising. Where will the sun be? Time for The Photographers Ephemeris…

The Photographers Ephemeris showing the angle of the sun on Roche Rock at sunset.
The Photographers Ephemeris showing the angle of the sun on Roche Rock at sunset today.

If you’ve not tried The Photographers Ephemeris I’d definitely recommend it. It’s an interactive map that shows the angle of the sun and moon in any location at any time. Best of all, it’s free to use on a desktop computer. The dark orange line is what I’m interested in today. This is the direction of the sunset tonight.

The sunset angle looks good. If my online scouting of the Rock isn’t far off, I should be able to find a good image. Maybe. Hopefully 🙂

It’s now 5.00pm. As it stands I’m off to Roche Rock. I think I’ll keep an eye on the weather, have tea, watch the first half of the football, then head out at about 8.30pm. Sunset is at 9.22pm, which gives me plenty of time to frame up.

Unless the footy is good…..

It’s 8.30pm and I’ve just watched the first half. The sky is starting to change colour already. Time to photograph a sunset.

We drive down to Roche Rock and park in the football grounds car park, just in front of the structure. There are paths leading off towards the Rock, but these turn out to be dead ends. The actual entrance is further up the road. Here’s a map:

Map of around Roche Roch
Map of around Roche Rock – Click image to open in Google Maps

We wander along the road and into the grounds. Time to find a good spot to frame up. The area is quite overgrown at the moment, but easy enough to navigate. I pick a spot facing the Rock from the left. My longest lens is currently a 24-70mm, which on a full frame body limits my options today. Claira is in a better spot further left and further back. She’s using her 70-300mm. I really need to buy a longer lens 😉

I set up my tripod, attach the camera, adjust my framing and take a test shot. With the Rock exposed correctly, the sky is 3 stops over exposed. I decide against a grad filter here, as the Rock will be darkened as well as the sky. Exposure bracketing it is. In aperture priority mode I adjust the exposure compensation 1 1/3 stops under, then I’ll take 3 shots at a time. One correctly exposed, one 2 stops under and one 2 stops over. I don’t want camera shake, so attach my cable release. A final focus and we’re good to go.

It’s quite cloudy with orange accents in the cloud. With 20 minutes to go before sunset, I start shooting.

Roche Rock
Roche Rock – Click image to enlarge

After a little editing, I’m happy with this image. Just as well really, as a few minutes later a thick band of cloud appeared on the horizon (out of frame), killing all the colour.

I know there will be no colour in a sunset image now. Maybe a black and white image would work? This is where I get lucky. I look up from my camera to see a female figure, standing right on the top of the chapel. No time to change my settings, I zoom in as far as I can, focus and press the shutter.

Roche Rock B&W
Roche Rock B&W- Click image to enlarge

Again, I’m happy with this image after minimal editing. By now it’s getting quite dark and there’s very little detail in the sky. We walk back to the camper and head for home. I’ll leave uploading images to the PC until the morning. I watch the second half of the England game, then get some sleep.

One last thing.

While I was editing these images this morning, I zoomed in on the female figure above Roche Rock. This image is heavily cropped, but the silhouette hasn’t been manipulated at all:

Roche Rock Figure
Roche Rock Figure – Click image to enlarge

 Spooky huh….

Thanks for reading. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions please post them below. All the best, David.

 

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29th May 2016 – Misty West Cornwall

HeaderGeevor

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend in Cornwall. A time when I usually go to great lengths to avoid the roads. But not today. Today is sunny….

 

Sunday, the weather is beautiful and Claira has a day off work. It would be a shame not to get out today. A quick check of the weather forecast for West Cornwall shows it will be lovely all day. Maybe a small chance of mist. Camera bags and dog in the van, off we go.

Traffic’s not great, but it’s been worse. We talk about where exactly to go. It’s a Bank Holiday, everywhere will be packed? We’ll just wing it. A quick stop at a supermarket for supplies, then we head off towards St Just.

I love the road from Penzance to St Just, it’s like stepping back in time. We ponder stopping off a Lanyon Quoit, but it’s mid-day and there’s no detail in the clouds. Not much chance of a descent photo, besides it’s a Bank Holiday….

From St Just we head North towards St Ives. Out of nowhere a thick mist appears. The sun has gone, we can see about 10 metres in front of us. Should have gone to Lanyon, would look great in this mist 🙂

Lanyon Quoit - Near Madron, Cornwall
An old shot of Lanyon Quoit – Near Madron, Cornwall

We decide it’s unlikely we’ll get a good image in this weather, so what do we do? Geevor Tin Mine is close, neither of us have been before, that’ll do nicely.

Geevor is pretty impressive. They have underground tours, but it’s lovely and warm so we decide to have a wander around outside. As we walk further into the complex, derelict mine structures appear through the mist. I decide to attempt a photo. First shot, the sky is blown. I add a filter or two and try again. No detail in the sky at all, just a white sheet. Time to put the camera away and enjoy the walk.

Geevor Fail
Geevor Fail

Then it happens, the mist starts to lift. First a rugged cliff line, then running water down the far side of the cliff, then jagged rocks appear out to sea, a lighthouse is in the distance, surely there’s a picture here?  A day earlier I’d opened an Instagram account, so I figured I’d take a quick shot with my phone to use as a first post. My Instagram is HERE if you want to see it.

Time to get the photo. I have a quick wander looking for a good spot to frame up. The sky is still pure white, so I don’t want to much of that in the shot. There’s a rusty pipe running down the cliff, don’t want that in either. I’ll need a grad filter as the sky is really bright. Would a polariser help? Unlikely, but I’ll try it anyway.

A final framing, check I’m level, check the focus, take the shot.

Pendeen Lighthouse in mist,
Pendeen Lighthouse in mist, taken from Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall

Now I’m happy. I’ve taken a photo I like (albeit with the rusty pipe 🙂 ). Not the greatest of images, but I’m happy with it. I’m always happy if I can get just one shot I like on a trip out (I learnt that from Thomas Heaton by the way, well worth checking out his YouTube videos in my opinion).

We wander back to the van, take the dog for a walk and have a quick bite to eat. We take the coast road up towards St Ives. I wanted a shot to use at the top of this website, so we stopped off along the road from Gwithian to Portreath. I wanted it to show the van with a nice Cornwall background.

Gwithian to Portreath Road
On the Gwithian to Portreath Road

This will do until we’re in the right place with the right conditions for a better shot. That’s not likely to happen today. Time to take the slow coast road home, then enjoy the last hour of sunshine with a cool beer in the garden.

Thanks for reading my first blog post. If you have any comments, suggestions or questions please post them below. All the best, David.

 

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