Drone photography in the hands of a novice

What you need to know:

  • Why walk while you can fly? Drone photography has a majestic visual appeal that properly trained and certified photographers can take advantage of

It always warms my heart when I am on the teacher’s seat, helping someone understand something that I consider myself relatively good at. I have had to be a very fast learner and quick to adapt whenever I was presented with new opportunities and even when I found myself in foreign lands.

I therefore think it is very important to consider yourself a lifelong learner and absorb as much information as your brain can. It is in this light that as I entered the new year, I set yet another resolution that I have tried my level best to see through.

So I sat there, halfway through the year and looked back on this one particular resolution which was to learn something new every chance I get.

As I scrolled through my photo gallery, I realised I had so many photos of some amazing places I’d been to and I wondered what it would take for me to learn even better photography skills.

I then figured why walk when I can fly? So I reached out to a drone photographer because as a photography-loving novice, what better way to take my photos a notch higher than drone photography?

I happen to have a drone that I decided to use with plenty of YouTube tutorials and when I finally got through to the expert, he laughed at my baby drone and decided to call it ‘mbu’… Hurtful!

Unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a drones, were originally known and considered primarily for military and tactical service. However, like any technology, drone use has evolved over time into recreational use with photography being a major favourite as aerial photos tend to have an appeal and view that no other camera can physically attain.

Founder, drone operator and filmmaker at Depthcode Studios, Aboubakar Malipula took his time to take me through the basics of drone operations and how drone photography has revolutionised business for the youth.

The inside of a drone case wasn’t as complicated as I had imagined. Using the DJI Phantom 4 Pro for the novice lesson, Abou explained that piloting a drone is all about consistent practice and patience, a quality I was lacking out of excitement at that moment.

The case contained the drone itself which comes with the camera readily mounted on the gimbal, a set of four detachable propellers, the controller which is big enough to hold even a tablet, a USB cable that connects the phone or tablet to the controller and a charger. The drone also operates with supporting apps while inflight.

The technicalities of setup and operation are still very much an active class with me but the possibilities of what one could do with the knowledge and piloting skills are endless.

“What brought me into drone photography and videography is the many opportunities that come with knowledge of operating a drone and as a filmmaker, photographer, or content creator/explorer knowing to fly a drone is an advantage that will keep you far ahead of the game,” explains Abou

Advantages of drones

1. Unique shots

“With a drone, one is able to get shots that may seem impossible with a normal camera and if by chance you do get them, the endeavour will be very expensive because you will need to hire a helicopter or a crane as it was done back in the days before drone technology was introduced into the industry. A drone gives you a different perspective and unique shots all at very affordable prices.”

“I feel very satisfied every time I launch a drone into the air,” said Abou, a feeling I can truthfully attest to after hours on YouTube trying to figure out how to get my drone into the air. The view you get with a drone is breathtaking.

“However, if you are in the filmmaking or photography industry, knowing how to fly a drone alone is not enough, you need to combine this skill with other filmmaking and photography skills and knowledge which include setting your camera properly (shutter speed, white balance, aperture, ISO, colour profiles, etc.), composition and different types of movement because in these industries these things are vital unlike when you fly a drone for research, provide aid or sending parcels to a remote area after natural disasters,” he explains.

2. Research

Abou has also been privy to photography in the wild, an experience that not only enhances tourism attraction but for scientists and researchers, provides an opportunity for research and observation of animals in their habitat or even wildlife migration without the risk of exposing human beings to otherwise dangerous environments.

3. Aid relief

In the instances of natural disaster, famine or even war, drones can and have been used to help deliver parcels for aid and relief to victims. Although this is not a recreational use of drones, learning and understanding drone operation presents yet another job opportunity for the youth.

Many of us have encountered drones flying in wedding halls and other big and glamorous events in and even outside Dar but despite the many opportunities and advantages that come with drone photography, there are laws and regulations in place that govern how unmanned aerial vehicles can be used. In addition to the laws, one needs to be certified by the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority as a drone pilot to be able to operate with even more freedom and flexibility.

Rules and regulations

Although the laws around recreational drone use are accommodating and encouraging to learn drone operations, it is important nonetheless to observe them and avoid privacy infringements. One does require a permit to use drones and other rules surrounding drone use include:

• Do not fly your drone over people or large crowds

• Respect others’ privacy when flying your drone

• Do not fly your drone over airports or in areas where aircraft are operating

• You must fly during daylight hours and only fly in good weather conditions

• Do not fly your drone in sensitive areas including government or military facilities. Use of drones or camera drones in these areas is prohibited

• Drones cannot be flown higher than 121 metres.

• Drone pilots must maintain direct visual line of sight with their drone while flying.

• Drone insurance is required for all drone operations in Tanzania.

• Drones may not be flown over national parks.

• Drones weighing under 7 kilogrammes do not require a permit. To fly a drone weighing over 7 kilogrammes, you must obtain a special permit from the Ministry of Defence and National Service.

Training and certification

“There are so many opportunities for drone operators out there. It can however be dangerous if you don’t know how to fly properly. Ensure you get proper training, know your drone’s safety measures, and avoid flying into restricted areas without proper permission,” says Abou.

Observation of the laws alone is not enough. One needs to go through training and certification to qualify and be legally recognised as a drone pilot. Even though many drone photographers are yet to go through this important legal requirement, I learnt it is not as gruelling as many have imagined it to be.

In a survey I did with different photographers in Tanzania, over 80 percent have expressed a desire to learn how to use one and incorporate it in their businesses. Of the same photographers in the survey, over 50 percent use drones, especially when covering events such as weddings, send-off, parties and concerts.

Many of these photographers are self-taught on piloting skills and others are taught by their colleagues in the industry. This simply shows that the youth in this industry do understand the opportunities presented.

One photographer actually mentioned how much he would love to go on contract with national parks to photograph animal life as many of these photos are used to promote tourism and “it is good money that we lose on” as he put it.

The Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority does give drone piloting courses that are only a month long and rather affordable and these have proven a wise investment for those who have successfully gone through the course.

Seeing as technology changes every second, it is up to the youth to learn to be flexible and train themselves to be agile enough to adopt and make use of these changes. Gone are the days when we sat back with a ‘let’s-wait-and-see-first’ attitude and become pioneers of change in every aspect of life and business.