Monday, 24 September 2012

Shooting fish in a barrel

(Not Aerial)

One of my neighbours puts out leftover cooked chicken onto the garden. This explains the preponderance of Red Kites in the area on a regular basis.

Having faced near extinction, they can be found in plenty of places such as the Beaconsfield / Wycombe area of the M40. I think that they are beautiful birds with their forked tails and colouring and have been trying to photograph them as they circle the house.

I daren't send my Drone up as, if it was to come into contact, it would come second and the kite may also end up an injured first. Instead, I've been trying to capture them with my trusty Nikon and a zoom lens.

And the results have been rubbish.

This is the best so far.. At least you can tell it's a kite

Similar practice efforts of seagulls at the seaside have produced similar results.

Last week, however, I was in London. Whilst half my family were at a meeting, I and my daughter had an hour and a bit to kill so we decided to walk around the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It was sunny, but breezy and we were armed with a bag of bread.

Arm-breaking swans notwithstanding (A Brucie Bonus to anyone who actually knows someone who has had their arm broken), she lined them up and I shot them down. Or rather she lobbed a microscopically small morsel of bread into the air and immediately we were flashmobbed by ducks, coots, pigeons and other birds (plus the aforementioned swans). It was so easy to click away, catching birds in flight, cruising and synchronised dive-bombing. Once the scene had transformed itself into a remake of The Birds we moved on and tried again.

Anyway, whilst not spectacular, I did managed to capture a fair few in flight and, due to sheer statistics, some of those came out well by my standards.

So, the moral is, if you want to practice capturing birds in flight, get the odds in your favour, find somewhere with lots, then bribe them to fly towards you. Even better, give your 8-year old the bread, stand back and prepare for incoming.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Docklands - the Sky's the Limit

I am licenced to fly (safely) up to 400 feet high (120 metres). Most shots need nowhere this height as they tend to be PR Shots and as long as you get an angle on the building or event, then that is ideal. Any higher and it all starts to look a bit 'flat' in the same way as ground-based shots have no depth to them either (which is where Aerial imagery comes into its own). I'm sure that you've looked up your own place on Google Maps - it's interesting, but not something that you would want to print and frame, is it?

Occasionally I need some serious height, mostly when I'm photographing prospective views from a proposed Tower Block.

Providence Tower from Ballymore Group was one of those.

If I'm out in the sticks, this is not a problem. This one is in Docklands, which is also near City Airport and, just for good measure, was during the Olympics fortnight when all the ground and air security was present.

NATS and the CAA are very good with us UAV operators. Obviously City Airport does not want unknown entities flying around their area, especially where, with the smaller Drones, there is not the facility (payload capability) for radio identification nor a 'sense and avoid' mechanism. Rather than taking the easy option of denying us all flights, we can file a 'non-standard flight' plan with them which explains what we intend to do, where and when and, if there is no issue, we will be accepted. On the day we make a couple of calls to advise the Control Tower and London Area Control Centre; they have a copy of the plan and everyone is happy.

The Flight Plan for this work was successfully filed. However a copy was sent to the Olympic Security Organisers as well and I ended up speaking directly with HMS Ocean moored in the Thames who wanted to know what I was up to. Once I had explained what I was doing, where it was happening and what the craft looked like, then everything was fine. Again, a call to them on the day ensured that nothing would be scrambled following any reports of a Drone in the area and I did not run the risk of being taken out accidentally. Drone vs Sidewinder (or whatever is the UK equivalent is) is only going to go one way, let's face it.

I have no idea whether my activities were reported by a passer-by or not, suffice it to say that the shots were taken without incident on a lovely day, with the Dome and Greenwich Park in the distance and were a set of the best shots I've ever taken.

400 feet is a looong way up but the built in GPS and Barometric hold facilities of the X6 locks it into position in 3D space and I can concentrate on the photography. It's not something I can say that I enjoy doing as it's such a small dot at that height and needs excellent weather conditions to prevent buffeting and shaky images but when the results are good you do feel good about the outcome, even if it's somewhat buttock-clenching at the time.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Droneworld - Part II

Following on from the Newsnight article, I was interviewed by Phil Gayle on BBC Radio Oxford the following morning. It was only a short interview but the whole of the Breakfast Show was dedicated to this issue of Drones.

Phil Galye, the Presenter was attempting to stir the listeners up into an anti-drone movement, citing 'privacy issues' and 'Not in my back yard' (NIMBY) concerns. 'What if I were sunbathing in my garden at the same time as you were photographing my neighbour's house?' was one question for example. Are these drones going to peer into bedroom windows?

I only had 2-3 minutes for the whole interview, which wasn't adequate to put the points that I needed across, so here's my ideal interview transcript.

Phil Gayle: Good morning. We are talking about the new rules regarding Drones and that we may be seeing hundreds of them criss-crossing the UK. Are you concerned about your privacy? Do you think this is a good thing or bad? I have in the studio Andy Crowhurst, owner of Overshoot Photos to discuss this with me. Good Morning, Andy.

Me: Good Morning Phil.

PG: So, this drone you fly. What is it used for?

Me: I photograph all sorts of things, anything where an elevated view would enhance the subject. I've photographed private properties as Anniversary presents and also for Estate Agents to help sell it. I photograph photogenic Hotels and Penthouse views from properties that are yet to be built. I've even shot a scrapyard.

PG: So, if I was sunbathing and you were filming next door, would I be in the photo or would you crop me out. It seems a bit of an invasion of privacy.

Me: The chances are that you would be in the photo if I was to shoot the back garden, but usually I'm only shooting the front. In my experience, if I was shooting the back garden you would not fail to notice me and my Client, your neighbour would also alert you. More often than not you'd be round to see the craft. Most people I meet are fascinated by it and I have yet to meet someone concerned about it.

PG: What if I were in my bedroom doing my usual naked exercises - or worse and failed to spot you?

Me: Have you ever tried to look in a neighbours window? - you don't need to answer that - The distance, angles and reflections make it pretty unlikely that anything could see inside and, even then, assuming that the curtains were open, the chances of catching you seem pretty slim. The cameras that I use are pretty limited due to weight constraints and I am there for professional purposes. If someone wanted to snoop, they would be better off up a distant tree with a camera with a decent zoom than hovering a pretty obvious drone outside your window.

I test my drone and cameras out in my garden and the pictures I take of the house do not show inside. Too many reflections.

PG: What does the law say about all this snooping?

Me: With a couple of exceptions, anyone with a camera is allowed to photograph anyone else in a public place. Or a private place from a public place. Or from a private place with the owner's permission. Just because the camera is attached to the Drone doesn't make the law any different, in fact we have more restrictions because of where we are and are not allowed to fly. There are many times more cameras and CCTV equipment snooping on us that the handful of drones that are in existence. You can get disguised cameras the size of cigarette packets transmitting images back to base. That is scarier.

We are professionals doing a professional job and, like all professions, there may be a darker side but the cost of the equipment and the licencing means that you need to be pretty determined to use it for nefarious purposes.

PG: That seems reassuring. Andy Crowhurst, owner of Overshoot Photos, thank you.