Daniel Down enters the world of drone photography with a bang… a whimper and a fizzle.
The anticipation was palpable – my fellow guests watched with bated breath from the comfort of the lodge, glasses of wine in hand waiting for the pre-dinner entertainment to begin. Out on the deck I prepared the military-grade-looking piece of machinery ready for its maiden flight over the Tasmanian forests beyond.
I had been extolling the virtues of drone photography for days. “Oh yes, this is the future,” I had claimed with an air of concrete confidence. “You can’t just take a good Instagram shot with an expensive lens these days – no, you have to be up in the sky capturing 4K.”
“What’s 4K?” one of the guests replied.
“You’ll see,” I said, carrying the drone out onto the deck with a Liam Gallagher-level swagger.
Lights on the drone flash, electronic chimes signal the device coming online, the interface on my phone informs me it’s found the geosynchronous satellites it needs to position itself, engines whirr to life and the rotors roar into action. The guests’ eyes widen, ‘Wow this is really cool,’ they must be thinking. Indeed, one of them, an old farmer, joins me out on the deck to get a closer look, “This could be really useful for checking my livestock,” he ponders.
I’d received cautionary tales too, from those attempting to temper my unwavering self-belief in my own ability at drone flying. “You know, a professional videographer was here last week,” said the owner of the lodge in this beautiful stretch of forest just outside of Launceston. “He got some footage, but the drone got stuck in a tree, we had to call an arborist to get the thing down. The guy was stressed – his drone was worth $6000, but I guess you know what you’re doing,” she had said, eyebrows raised with concern.
Her words echo in my subconscious as I press the ominous big red letters of the ‘LAUNCH’ button on my phone. And with that the thing was airborne.
What follows happened in slow motion. The robot rises up quickly, but instead of sitting in the air for its next command it starts inexplicably making a beeline for the nearest tree, the farmer standing beneath it. I tap frantically to bring it back. But it’s too late: it hits the tree and becomes tangled in the branches before losing power and propelling itself violently into the ground, plastic components spraying everywhere, before rising like an angry robot to hit the same branches. The farmer, startled, backs away from the thing, which protests like a pissed-off wasp, its rotors battling branches. It eventually spews its brick-sized battery out mid-air as if resigned to its own imminent mortality, sacrificing itself in a heroic effort to spare the farmer and myself.
The drone sits a crumpled, tangled mass on the red dirt of the forest clearing –shrapnel littering the floor of this Tasmanian reserve. I turn to look at my audience with a face of utter bewilderment; they shuffle away awkwardly as if nothing has happened, back to their books and phones by the fire.
And with that I got my first taste of the newfangled world of drone photography, more a baptism of fire. The moral of this story: practice makes perfect and be prepared for failure; figure out how to wield that expensive new zoom lens before you miss the rare sight of a leopard making a kill in the Serengeti, for instance (don’t ask). Trust me – I know what I’m doing after all.