8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever

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Aerial photography comes with its own set of hardships. Discover how eight innovative photographers overcame the trials of shooting from the heights to produce these stunning images.

In 1858, the great French cameraman Nadar ascended 600 feet above the city of Paris in a tethered balloon to create what many consider to be the first aerial photograph of all time. Since that moment, Nadar has been canonized as the father of aerial photography, though his rise to prominence was not without its setbacks. Le Géant (The Giant), one of Nadar’s balloons, famously crashed and almost collided with a train. All nine passengers survived, but Nadar injured his leg in the process, and the balloon eventually burst, shocking people around the world.

Over the decadesballoons have been replaced by kites, carrier pigeons, helicopters, rockets, satellites, airplanes, and drones. A century and a half after Nadar, we still crave flight, and that impulse to reach new heights still occasionally gets us into trouble.

We asked eight aerial photography experts to tell us about their most nail-biting or challenging shoots ever. We heard about crashed drones, bad weather, and situations where things spun wildly out of control. Here, those eight photographers share what they’ve learned from their remarkable experiences.

“When he wants to, man will fly like a bird, better than a bird,” Nadar once wrote. “It is certain that man will be obliged to fly better than a bird in order to fly just as well.” His statement rings truer today than ever.

1. “Fly at dawn. Fly in cold, in fog, at sunrise—the best shots are hard to get from your living room.”

Martins Vanags

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Go Adventuring

Image by Martins Vanags. Gear: DJI Phantom 3. Settings: Focal length 20.7mm; exposure 1/3000 sec; f2.8; ISO 100.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

I have crashed many times. One drone was even lost in a lake in the countryside. Another intense experience was in winter, when I was shooting way below -10 degrees Celsius.

But my most intense shoot was this summer, early in the morning when I was exploring a swamp area in the nearby wilderness. The fog was heavy, and my drone disappeared quite quickly in the sky and into a white void. I was navigating only by altitude and GPS signals, with no visibility until the drone rose above all the fog.

As I was still standing in the forest, covered in fog, the screen of my remote suddenly revealed all the spectacularity of the day to come. It was close to sunrise, and I took pictures until I had only enough battery left for the return. At some point, the sun was at the precise spot that it was reflected in a small forest lake. It was an amazing view.

On a way back, I did miscalculate the trajectory a bit and was forced to land in a nearby field. The experience intensified when I realized that the drone had landed on the other side of a rather wide forest river that I had to cross to recover the drone. In the end, all went well, and the images were spectacular.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Fly Safe

Image by Martins Vanags.

Pro Tip:

Fly safe! Even though the shot is sometimes worth a risk, never risk lives. Drones can be bought, repaired, and recovered—but not lives. Never fly above crowds, as drones fall.

Be prepared to lose your gear; it happens when you shoot nature and the wilderness. Always mark your gear with a home address and contact information. It can help you get your gear or at least your stills and footage back.

It’s a good idea to equip your drone with an alternate waterproof GPS tracker. It will help you recover your drone when everything else fails. Fly at dawn. Fly in cold, in fog, at sunrise—the best shots are hard to get from your living room.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Fly Smart

Image by Martins Vanags.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

When I was a kid, I often had a dream that I was a bird. When I got my first drone, it became real. I could see past the horizon and over the trees, and I felt like a bird. I still dream of flying. I guess my inspiration is my dreams from childhood.

2. “If the drone gives a calibration error, avoid flying at that location—for example, near high voltage wires or antennae.”

Andrey Kekyalyaynen

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Don't Let Weather Stop You

Image by Andrey Kekyalyaynen. Gear: DJI Phantom 4. Settings: Focal length 4mm; exposure 1/160 sec; f2.8; ISO 100.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

I have had no major accidents or casualties with the drone, but there have been a few memorable moments. For example, I once shot a forest lake, and the drone landed in the backyard of a home with limited space. The wind was blowing and began to demolish the drone on the side wall of the house. I tried to grab it with one hand to prevent an accident.

The drone flew up, and the harder I pulled, the faster the screws spun. The drone was about to crash and fly uncontrollably in all directions. Nothing happened, and I turned it off, but the memory is in my fingers. I still have the scars from the screws. I put new screws on and laid the old ones aside as spares. They are still in the box.

There is one more difficulty in Russia: the bitter cold in winter. I have three batteries for the drone, and I keep each of them warm before flying. It helps, but unfortunately, on the phone, a fully charged battery loses its charge instantly. My new phone has a “warm” case.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Keep Batteries Warm

Image by Andrey Kekyalyaynen.

Pro Tip:

Calibrate the compass each time you change flight locations. If the drone gives a calibration error, avoid flying at that location—for example, near high voltage wires or antennae. Leave the stock battery charged at 25-30% to return to home. Learn the combination of buttons that initiates the emergency shutdown of the propellers of a drone in flight. In some cases, this will help you to avoid injury and destruction.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Travel

Image by Andrey Kekyalyaynen.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

I love to travel with my family. Every time, I take my drone to be able to look at places of interest from another point of view. I like to shoot from the air. When I raise the drone above the ground, I see things that few people have seen before me. In such moments, I want to take photos from all angles.

The main thing is to make circles around the subject and choose the most advantageous angles. Often, ordinary places look wonderful when they are seen from above. The journey home by car turns into an adventure in the air. And you do not need to go far. In every city, there are places to be seen from above.

3. “Try to have full batteries on your remote controller and drone when you start flying. Plan your flight route, and check it for planes.”

Piotr Krzeslak

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Check for Updates

Image by Piotr Krzeslak. Gear: DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Settings: Focal length 9mm; exposure 1/120 sec; f4.5.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

My most intense aerial photo was made while flying over windy roads in the Bieszczady Mountains in Poland. The night before I made this flight, I updated my drone software, but I did it wrong, and I also forgot to update my remote controller.

When I was about 120 meters in the air, I started taking pictures, but unfortunately, I lost the connection, and my drone flew in a random direction at full speed. I was really afraid! Luckily my drone got back to its starting position after some time. At least I took some photos and everything ended well.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Check Everything Twice

Image by Piotr Krzeslak.

Pro Tip:

Always watch out for software updates, and be sure that you have done all of them correctly. Check them twice! Don’t fly in areas where you could meet planes, balloons, or skydivers. Avoid flying near the borders of a country. Try to have full batteries on your remote controller and drone when you start flying. Plan your flight route, and check it for planes.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Watch for Planes

Image by Piotr Krzeslak.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

I get my inspiration from maps. I check maps for potentially interesting places.

4. “I always have a checklist before a flight. My batteries must be fully charged: on the phone, the drone, and the remote controller.”

Andrius Aleksandravičius

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Avoid Crowds

Image by Andrius Aleksandravičius. Gear: DJI Phantom 3 Advanced camera. Settings: Focal length 20mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f2.8; ISO 100.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

I am lucky. I have had two drones, and neither of them has crashed. One is the DJI Mavic Pro, which is a very small, portable, and reliable piece of gear. I can carry it everywhere in my backpack.

I once had a small incident with the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone. It was winter, and during the flight, I got a compass error message. I then had to drop it down manually, and it turned upside down and fell into the snow. Everything ended well, and it flew the next time well.

That’s why it’s important to avoid crowds of people and to check the drone every time. That day, many beautiful winter images were captured. The one above is my most popular drone photo on Shutterstock.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Make a Checklist

Image by Andrius Aleksandravičius.

Pro Tip:

I think safety comes first. I always have a checklist before a flight. My batteries must be fully charged: on the phone, the drone, and the remote controller. Weather conditions are very important; don’t use the aircraft in severe weather conditions, including high wind speeds exceeding 10m/s, snow, rain, and heavy fog. Pick the right location, and avoid dangerous areas, airports, and other restriction zones. Avoid obstacles, crowds, high voltage power lines, trees, and water. Each country and city has certain requirements when it comes to pilot licenses and drone insurance, so follow the regulations.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Watch for Power Lines

Image by Andrius Aleksandravičius.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

I travel (we always look at new places differently), and I think about the weather. I use Google Maps. Satellite View is the best. And I look at Shutterstock and the internet for work by other photographers.

5. “Make sure you have enough power. Make sure that your memory card is in place and that you’re in a safe location away from people. Make sure the weather is not hazardous for flight.”

Felix Mizioznikov

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Check the Weather

Image by Felix Mizioznikov. Gear: Canon 5DS R camera, 11-24mm f4 L lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/800 sec; f6.3; ISO 320.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

My most intense moment was actually on a helicopter aerial shoot originating from Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines, Florida and flying to Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. I requested that the doors be removed so I could get unobstructed shots of the destination.

The pilot had begun warming up the chopper, and it started to pour. I was assured that the rain would not affect the flight, but I was also concerned about how the images would turn out if the rain continued. Luckily, at the moment we arrived, the clouds parted to reveal a beautiful partially cloudy and blue sky with beautiful calm ocean water.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Trust in Luck

Image by Felix Mizioznikov.

Pro Tip:

The most important tips when flying a drone are usually the simplest ones, which are easily forgotten if you’re not paying attention. Always complete a mental checklist before takeoff. Make sure you have enough power. Make sure that your memory card is in place and that you’re in a safe location away from people. Make sure the weather is not hazardous for flight.

Occasionally people will approach and want to watch you fly and ask you a ton of questions. I always love talking tech with people, and I always advise onlookers that once the flight is complete, I’ll gladly answer any questions they might have.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Be Open

Image by Felix Mizioznikov.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

South Florida and the Barrier Islands surrounding it are prime pieces of real estate. The architecture is constantly changing and never-ending. I love looking at historical photos of these areas, however limited they might be, and going to those same places and re-shooting them.

I’m inspired knowing that future generations will be able to look at today’s vast collection of stock photography created by some of the world’s most amazing photographers—and that I might have had a tiny part of that archiving process.

6. “You have to know the environment and be sure you obey any particular rules and legislation. “

Calin Stan

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Expect Technical Failures

Image by Calin Stan. Gear: DJI Phantom 4. Settings: Focal length 3.6mm (20mm equivalent); exposure 1/50 sec; f2.8; ISO 200.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

My most intense flying experience happened exactly one year ago, when I was shooting the above picture. This road doesn’t have many safe places to stop the car, so I had found one that was almost 500 meters away from the windings that I wanted to shoot. So, I took my drone out, and when I was in mid-air, 500 meters away, my drone app crashed, and the smartphone jammed.

I couldn’t see the drone because of the trees that were close to me. I couldn’t hear it because of the cars and trucks passing by on the busy road. It was a little bit scary. I didn’t know if the crashing of the app affected the return-to-home function, so my only hope was to press the RTH button on the remote control and hope for the best.

Luckily, things worked as they should, and the drone came back to me, safely landing from where I took off. It was an intense moment but luckily the RTH function worked great, and I had already shot my pictures before the app crashed.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Plan Ahead

Image by Calin Stan.

Pro Tip:

It’s very important that you plan and prepare for each flight cautiously. You have to know the environment and be sure you obey any particular rules and legislation. Sadly, the majority of “drone fails” happen because the user failed to do some basic steps before actually taking off.

So, first of all, be sure that your drone is ready to fly and do a simple checklist: are the propellers tightened correctly? Is the battery at the right temperature for flying? Is the weather okay (be sure to check the wind speed with the help of an anemometer if you’re not sure)? Has the drone acquired its GPS position, and is it correctly displayed on the map (this is extremely useful for the automatic return-to-home function)?

Is there any radio interference? Are there any alerts in the drone’s app? Are there any obstacles or high buildings that could interfere with the return-to-home function if something fails? And, last but not least, be prepared for the worst, and always have an “action plan” if something goes wrong.

I have an article that I wrote for my website about 15 drone flying safety tips. It’s called How to NOT Crash Your Drone in 15 Easy Stepsand you can find it here.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Practice Safety

Image by Calin Stan.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

I love nature and wide-open spaces, so my inspiration comes from nature itself and the way humans have changed it. I like exploring new angles and pushing the limits, so the drone came naturally to me. The drone took my photography to another level, and it helps me explore and try new angles that were almost impossible to shoot a couple of years ago, unless one had a helicopter and a pilot at hand. Buying the drone helped me redefine my photography.

7. “Before a flight, I will always check the condition of my equipment and make sure it is in good condition. I also check the weather, and I will look at a map of the area thoroughly before flying.”

Ververidis Vasilis

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Look at Maps

Image by Ververidis Vasilis. Gear: DJI Phantom 3 Pro. Settings: Focal length 20mm; exposure 1/1250 sec; f2.8; ISO 100.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

I began my first training flights with drones just after the technological “explosion” that followed their appearance. With my first drone, which was educational, I had two drops in my attempt to learn. Today’s drones have amazing technologies that make them much easier to handle, not to mention more features like “go home” (RTH).

2016 was one of the years when the refugee crisis was at its peak, and my country was a place of passage for many thousands of refugees. I found myself many times at the Greek-FYROM border, where every day, thousands of refugees waited to go to Europe.

On one of my first flights there, I suddenly felt many people of different ages very close to me, trying to see the tablet screen I use. I received a burst of questions in different languages. Thankfully, with the help of someone less intriguing, I managed to move away and continue taking photos.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Maintain Line of Sight

Image by Ververidis Vasilis.

Pro Tip:

Never fly in bad weather such as rain, snow, or strong wind, and never let the battery run out completely while the drone is in flight. Always have visual contact with the drone. Don’t fly anywhere near airports and other no-fly zones, as specified in each country. Before a flight, I will always check the condition of my equipment and make sure it is in good condition. I also check the weather, and I will look at a map of the area thoroughly before flying.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Avoid No-Fly Zones

Image by Ververidis Vasilis.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

My inspiration is Greece itself—its wonderful, unique light, and the beautiful islands of the Aegean that are like white beads dipped in the bright blue of the sea.

8. “Keep spare batteries in your inner chest pockets or elsewhere where it is warm. Clean the propellers and remove any moisture and any ice before each flight.”

Valdis Skudre

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Watch for Ice

Image by Valdis Skudre. Gear: DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Settings: Focal length 8.8mm or 24mm in 35mm film; exposure 1/120 sec; f4; ISO 100.

What was your most intense aerial shoot ever?

I had a very intense shoot last winter. I was to shoot in very low subzero temperatures, -21 degrees Celsius or -5.8 degrees Fahrenheit. It was early morning, just after sunrise at Gauja National Park in Latvia. There was ice and snow everywhere, and it was so cold that all of the electronics struggled to work properly or to work at all.

I lost the connection to my screen several times, and the screen was shutting down due to the cold weather. Drone batteries are very sensitive to heat or cold, and it took a while for the drone to work properly as well.

It was so intense because every single electronic device struggled to keep up. I was very cold, and it took some time to finally fly without errors and problems. For some reason, while flying in such cold and at high altitudes, drone propellers create small snow sparks. It scared me at first, as it’s not safe to fly in rain or snow, but then I understood that it was some sort of a reaction between the cold and the wind created by the drone.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Take Care of Your Equipment

Image by Valdis Skudre.

Pro Tip:

Warm up your drone batteries. Literally, warm them up against your body. Keep spare batteries in your inner chest pockets or elsewhere where it is warm. Clean the propellers and remove any moisture and any ice before each flight. Always fully charge all of the batteries as well as your iPhone or iPad—whichever you use as your screen. Fly smoothly with no harsh braking or accelerating, as the plastic components in your drone become very fragile at cold temperatures. Let your drone hover for a while to warm itself up to working temperature.

8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever — Carry Spare Batteries

Image by Valdis Skudre.

Where do you find inspiration for your aerial images?

Beautiful nature inspires me the most, but I also like to look up other great drone photographers online and get inspired by them.

Top Image by Calin Stan.

The post 8 Aerial Photographers on Their Most Challenging Shots Ever appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.

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