• Michelle Meehan | intouch magazine | #08

DRONES | Providing a New Angle on our World.


They may have been among the hottest presents under the Christmas tree in 2015, but drones are far from just the latest passing fad. (Drone Image: Skeye High Photography)

Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), these amazingly versatile gadgets are increasingly being utilised by professional photographers for a range of artistic and commercial endeavours.

African-born photographer, Andre Hoffman has been capturing the joy of weddings and family portraits for the past decade through his business Exile Creative – but has more recently been drawn back to his first love of landscapes and adventure.

In a field where perspective is everything, drones are allowing Andre to view – and capture - the natural world from a whole new angle.

“Drones just provide a different point of view. They allow you to position a camera in a place that would never normally be accessible.”

“With modern movies we see all these amazing camera angles but we never question how they are achieved. Everything just looks fantastic. What this does, though, is sometimes make the normal point of view boring and mundane even though we don’t always realise why.

“Using a drone helps a little in providing an angle that is a little more interesting,” Andre said.

(Left: Andre Hoffman)

The Newcastle-based photographer said he first became interested in utilising drones a number of years ago, although at the time the available technology was too difficult to manoeuvre without putting his precious camera kit at risk.

“I wanted to start using drones about eight years ago but, until recently, you could only get regular model helicopters, which I found way too difficult to fly,” Andre said.

“It was a little high risk to be strapping expensive cameras to a helicopter I was operating!

“I bought my first quadcopter drone in 2013. With an onboard GPS and stabilised gimbal, it was a dream to fly and made photographing so much easier.

“It’s not without its limitations, though…” According to Andre, these restrictions can create new challenges when it comes to some of the creative aspects of his images.

“It isn’t more difficult controlling the technical aspects of photography (using drones) … just creatively limiting,” he said.

“As an example, you can’t shoot using a slow shutter speed (because of the aircraft movement) and this translates to a requirement for higher ISO sensitivity, which degrades the image quality, and wider open apertures, which creates a more shallow depth of field.

“However, if you understand the implications and compromise in the correct areas, you can still generate good images even in low light.”

And Andre certainly has been doing that. One of his stunning landscapes was featured as intouch Magazine’s photo of the month in the November 2015 issue.

(Above: Redhead Beach by Andre Hoffman)

The photograph, taken on a cold winter’s morning, let Novocastrians see their much-loved Bogey Hole in a whole different light.

It is typical of the type of setting Andre loves to explore with his drone. “I like flying offshore and photographing back towards familiar landmarks. The Bogey Hole in Newcastle is one of my favourites,” he said.

Andre went even further in his exploration of his adopted city a few months ago, putting together a video - “One Day in Newcastle” - using his drone to showcase some of the highlights of the city’s wide open spaces (check it out on YouTube).

Another pair of locals using drones to produce stunning aerial videos and photographs are Chris Woolley and Brent Leggett from Skeye High Photography (Right)

As the name of their business suggests, UAVs provide the eye in the sky they need to cater for the requirements of a range of corporate customers.

Chris said the technology offered an exciting range of benefits and applications for clients with amazing results. “The alternative (to drone photography) is using years-old satellite pictures or shooting from a helicopter or a fixed wing aircraft. Both of the latter are expensive and very noisy,” he said.

“In addition, if you want low-level static video you will have a helicopter hanging over your premises - the drone is much safer and cheaper.

“Drones can also get much closer so, for example, if an insurance company wants a roof inspection following a storm a UAV can fly just above the gutters and roof line and closely inspect aerials, air conditioners, etc.”

Raised in the UK, Chris worked for years as a photographer for the Royal Air Force – so it seems only natural that he has ended up combining his experiences with aircraft and cameras to become Skeye High’s UAV drone pilot.

Unlike Andre, who operates both the drone and the camera, Chris and Brent team up as a two-man crew, controlling the aircraft and the camera respectively.

“The ability to have a trained professional operating the aircraft and a trained and skilled videographer controlling the camera makes the possibility of either being distracted from their main role unlikely,” Chris said.

“Brent is able to change his camera settings from his ground control unit and he sees what he is shooting in real time via video-link to his controller screen.”

But as the use of drones by both amateurs and professionals alike increases (it was estimated that in America alone up to one million drones were sold as Christmas presents last year), so too is the regulation surrounding the industry.

In Australia, the use of UAVs is governed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Chris said the commercial use of drones is closely regulated, with drone pilots required to be certified by CASA as a UAV Controller.

Every flight, including its flight plan, also needs to be approved by CASA, but Chris said there were many people out there who did not understand the regulations – or the risks – of operating a drone.

“This covers many different areas people are currently unaware of such as weddings, real estate and the like; if you are selling or receiving payment of any kind and you are not a UAV Controller you are breaking the law,” he said.

“All commercial flights have to be properly authorised and documented by people who are trained and know the rules. Even if you shoot your mate’s wedding and he pays you by giving you a slab (of beer), you are breaking the law.

“The third important issue is; if you are employing a drone person you must ask to see their Controller’s certification, their insurance coverage and make sure they are a certified Operator or are operating under the legal guidance of a certified Operator. Otherwise you may end up with several $8500 fines and possible prosecution.

“Due diligence is essential if you are engaging anyone for drone work; if it crashes and hits someone or damages property and they have no insurance you could be looking at millions of dollars liability."

Drone basics Rules to fly by:

  • You must operate the aircraft only in your line-of-sight in daylight.

  • You must not fly closer than 30 metres to vehicles, boats, buildings or people.

  • You must not fly over any populous area, such as beaches, heavily populated parks, or sports ovals where there is a game in progress.

  • If you are in controlled airspace - which covers most Australian cities - you must not fly higher than 400 feet (120 metres).

  • You should not fly within 5.5 km of an airfield.

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