A DroneAbove guest article By John Gaither
I started getting emails from John around the beginning of 2014 and it is amazing to see his progression from beginner to the amazing drone photographer he has become in a short amount of time. Thank you for taking the time to write this up, there is lots of amazing information here!
Justin asked me if I would consider writing about my Aerial Photography journey so far. Justin is my
mentor and I have tortured him with enough questions that this is the least I can do!
I fly RC planes. Just love stuff that flies or goes fast. I saw this whole trend of multi-rotors and aerial photography starting to emerge and I really got the itch when I started seeing some of the really good You Tube videos –and discovered Drone Above. Being sort of a serial entrepreneur, I saw a way to earn a little income, feed my creative juices, and help pay for my toys.
I started by doing a lot of internet research and following Justin’s advice, I bought his first book and
bought a couple of indoor only drones and then a slightly bigger one with a camera that can fly outside in light winds. It was only about $100 and was fun to fly and play with the videos and photos. I then graduated to a DJI F450 that I bought RTF. I put a Mobius ActionCam on it and experimented with a more sophisticated setup. I had thought I was going to mount a gimbal and a GoPro on it, but decided instead to go with a Phantom 2 with the new H3-3D gimbal. I bought it (with Justin’s advice) from Robert at UAV Products. I then bought a GoPro 3 Black Edition directly from GoPro on their Refurbished site and got a nice deal. No problems so far.
During all this MR experimentation, I decided to purchase Justin’s second book about starting an Aerial Photography Business. Pretty much did as he suggested – except for the website, which I have not yet done. I did create a You Tube Channel. I live in a small mountain resort community where personal contact is more effective than an internet presence. I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and just dropped in on most of the local realtors. There are lots of second homes and high-priced properties here for sale. Much of what I’ve done has been real estate related but have also done a couple of events. I also passed on a huge event because of the crowd. One of my competitors took that job and did an outstanding job but he flew both high and low over the people. At that time, I was not certain enough of my skills to take that chance. Plus – it is really prohibited.
Lots of things I’ve learned along the way:
1. You cannot do enough research on the Internet, but you also need to validate that research.
2. You need to fly as often as possible and build your skills and keep your edge.
3. Find and develop relationships with dependable suppliers. I often place small orders and talk to
them to discover what it is like to do business with them.
4. Video editing is an exciting and creative process – the real culmination of your work. It is also
extremely time consuming. Gotta love it though, when it comes out right.
5. Music selection is so important that it cannot be overemphasized. Finding the right track will
drive you crazy, but when you find it, there is a big AH Ha moment.
6. You will probably crash. Start with the smaller stuff first and fly, fly, fly. I’ve not had a crash that
was not my fault. My equipment has not let me down, but I have.
7. Be prepared to spend a lot more than you thought. Crashing will add to those numbers for sure.
8. Share your stuff with your friends, business associates, and social media as much as you can.
You never know how or where you will meet someone who will be a new friend or client.
9. When you get frustrated – and you will – take a deep breath, leave it alone for a few days, think
about it a little, seek some advice from a trusted source, and go at it again.
10. Decide what you intend to accomplish and understand that these things will change. I have a
full time job that my aerial photo business will not replace, but who knows what the future will
Stuff I learned the hard way:
1. Be very structured and religious about your pre-flight routines. It will save your butt one day.
2. When you lose your video signal, Push that throttle stick and gain some altitude. Often an
obstruction is the problem. And – don’t panic. Like I did.
3. When flying towards yourself, try to depend on the video signal for orientation until you have
enough skills to do this with confidence. When flying LOS, back it up to you and you will be a lot
more comfortable. You can also get some great shots this way.
4. Pan slowly and with constant speed – much harder to do than it sounds. Use video editing
software to slow things down if needed.
5. Keep the camera as level as possible but realize you will normally need to tilt it somewhat down
to keep the props out of the video. I no longer fly with prop guards for this reason. Keeping the
camera level minimizes the distortion built in to the GoPro camera – my major complaint with it.
6. Pay attention to time in the air and battery life. I use the iOSD mini for this more than the lights
on the P2, unless the P2 is close enough to see the lights.
7. Don’t fly the battery too low in capacity. I have 2 of them that are puffed and will only last about
5 minutes now – I think because I abused them.
8. Use enhancement features of photo and video editors to make your stuff really pop.
9. Format your SD cards in the camera itself and do this often. The card is less likely to get
corrupted files this way. Very frustrating to lose a file you worked hard to get in the air.
I’m sure there is more and many will not agree with my opinions and choices, but that is cool and a great way to learn something new. I am strongly contemplating moving up to a better platform. The Inspire 1 has my attention for sure. Would love to be able to justify an S900 with a Panasonic Lumix G4 camera but my budget says no – for now. I confess to being a gadget guy and this doesn’t always help the bottom line.
Stuff I use:
1. Primary bird is the DJI Phantom 2 with the H3-3D gimbal.
2. GoPro Hero 3 Black shooting simultaneous video and photos (stills each 5 secs) at 720 wide and
3. Fatshark (Immersion) video TX with Blue Beam antenna set.
4. iOSD Mini for keeping up with battery, distance, height, etc. Highly recommended.
5. Fatshark Attitude goggles. I don’t stay under them always unless I have a spotter. I usually
don’t have one, so I am constantly pulling them up and down from my forehead. I tried a Black
Pearl monitor but haven’t yet made that a constant companion.
6. Futaba T8FJ Super transmitter. Not really needed but I like it and am learning more about what
it can do that you cannot do with the DJI TX.
7. Three batteries!! I keep my charger going in the car with a power inverter that I already owned. I
am constantly charging and swapping batteries when on a job.
8. Three 16GB micro SD cards for the camera. Keep swapping them between flights – you never
know when something might happen and you don’t want to lose what you have already filmed.
9. Spare props. Using the standard DJI props – they take a licking and keep on ticking.
10. An inexpensive case for the goggles, TX, batteries, props, etc. Harbor Freight.
11. Longer legs for the P2 – got them from Aces Deals (a DJI dealer). The longer legs have 2
benefits: Keep the legs out of the picture. Helps to keep the gimbal from damage in a bad
landing. Ask me how I know.
12. Power Director 12 video editing software. Still learning what it can do. Not expensive and a
frequent PC Magazine Editor Choice – which is how I found it. ( I began with the free Window
Live Movie editor – pretty good and easy to learn)
13. PhotoScape photo editor – free and recommended to me by Justin.
14. Several sources of music: You Tube has a free one; Audio Jungle; Soundcloud.
Have fun and fly, fly, fly.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina.