Just 3-4 years ago aerial photography was available to a handful of photographers. When Ilya Varlamov‘s team got a mini copter able to lift a DSLR, they were giddy with excitement. The guys tried to get it to climb higher and higher for longer and longer shots until it went the Icarus way and they were $20,000 poorer. This didn’t stop them, and they bought another, even more powerful heli.
Not everybody knows that Air Pano had been taking pictures from the air for years then, but they weren’t the first in large-scale aerial image-taking. By large-scale I mean industrial production of devices to churn out hundreds and thousands of pictures. Air Pano specializes in 3D panoramas of famous landmarks and unusual corners of the planet – erupting volcanoes and such.
Nowadays, with quadro/octocopters widely available, thousands of photographers have taken off. Every other blogger uploads still pictures and videos of places he’s going through, seen from the air. All that is very curious, but, unfortunately, has nothing to do with creative photography. Of course, it’s different hawks for different folks – I have no objections to plain useful, informative pictures. But my own interests lie in expressive, not informative photography.
Can aerial photography be expressive – meaningful, sensual, personal? Or is it always about tourist-driven drone races? To answer I suggest going back 20 years and looking at some works by the wizard aerial photography, the great Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Here is a selection from his project Earth From The Air (1995). Notice what relatively short shots – close to the ground, not far from it – he preferred and at what time of the day he flew. Many newcomers to aerial photography fail to understand that driving the drone as high above the ground as possible takes them away from actual creative work and makes pictures look like Google Maps, shot from space and glued together by robots.