Questions and answers about the drone flying directly from the drone pilot
Johan Drone Adventures - a drone pilot since 2 years
Hi, my name is Johan and I’m a professional drone photographer from Belgium. I’ve been travelling the world for the past 2 years, trying to take the most stunning and creative photos with my Mavic 2 Pro. Follow my adventures on www.johandroneadventures.com or check me on Instagram.
How long have you been using the drone and for what purpose?
I bought my first drone in August 2018, a DJI Mavic Air, after testing the DJI Spark from a friend of mine. I was hooked right away. The Air was so much fun to fly and it opened up a whole new world of photography to me. Originally only to take ‘cooler’ holiday photos. However, this quickly became my new passion and so I gradually turned it into my profession.
What types of drones do you use? Can you recommend a model according to your observations?
Today I use the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and I think this is still the best prosumer drone on the market today. But I’m really curious to see what features DJI will present in September for the announced Mavic 3.
If you’re not professional about your drone photography and you don’t shoot during golden hour (where the 1” sensor still performs so much better in low light), then I would definitely recommend the DJI Mavic Air 2. The original one was already so much fun and this one even adds the 48MP photo option and better tracking to that.
When you're not shooting professionally, what do you like to shoot?
I love to shoot landscapes and abstract patterns. Nature can sometimes really surprise you in the shapes it creates. And the drone is perfect to capture this! Add some golden hour light and some Lightroom magic and you have a ‘banger’ 😉.
Was it difficult to learn to fly a drone and did you have a fatal mistake?
To my surprise a lot of other droners crash their drones very often. But I’ve actually never crashed my drone. So spatial awareness is very important in my opinion. The rest is just experience. Flying your drone every day or on every occasion at least.
I learned how to fly my drone and how to edit my photos by watching countless YouTube videos. A very time-consuming process unfortunately. And then just trying out different things. Getting inspiration from big droners on Instagram. And practice, practice, practice 😊.
I would say that flying the drone itself is pretty easy and intuitive. Once you master this, you basically evolve from ‘drone owner’ to ‘drone pilot’. Of course, it takes a lot more understanding to take a really great photo.
That is why I have developed my own online drone photography course, the Drone Adventurer Masterclass. Which will launch in the beginning of August. I’m very excited about this. In my course, I teach you everything I’ve learned over the past 2 years. The masterclass will take you from ‘drone pilot’ to ‘drone adventurer’. Which is the level you need to attain in order to take those ‘bangers’ and use your drone to land partnerships.
What do you think about the regulations in your country? Is there anything that can be improved?
Belgium probably has the strictest drone laws in the world ☹. Luckily there is a new European law in the making, that will launch in January 2021. The new law will make things a lot easier and more uniform across countries. So, fingers crossed …
The past 2 years I’ve been traveling around the world, so honestly, the regulations are different in each country. So, you always need to look up the right information. And I say ‘right’, because there is also a lot of false information on the drone forums. One example is Vietnam, where some people claim you can’t bring drones into the country. I get this question every single time I post a photo from Vietnam. And so, no, your drone does not get confiscated in the airports and you can travel freely in Vietnam with your drone.
Tell some fun story
During our time in Australia, we passed by the Great Ocean Road. The most famous site is called ’12 Apostles’, because of the 12 rock formations in the ocean. Fun fact: in the meantime, only 8 of those rocks remain though.
So, I was flying my drone in the morning, at golden hour. It was really windy, but the light was beautiful, so I decided to try anyway. Once I positioned my drone for the photo of the cliffs, I noticed it was drifting towards the open ocean, which is unusual behavior. As I then tried to fly back to the shore, I noticed in the app that my drone was only going further and further away from my position. Even in sports mode it could not fly back in the heavy winds!
I started sweating, because I feared my drone would be lost to the ocean. Luckily, I had the right reflexes to lower my drone below 0 altitude, below the cliffs, where the wind was less heavy. At this point in time the drone was already 1,5kms away. From this ‘negative’ altitude I was able to slowly fly it back to the cliffs, fly it up and quickly grab it before the winds got hold of it again 😊.
What do you think is the hardest to shoot and why?
For me video is always the most difficult. Making an interesting drone video sequence is very challenging. Often people do not think about the story telling aspect and so their shots all look gorgeous for example, but the video in the end is still boring. And that’s exactly why you need a story in your head!
What is the hardest accessible place you've ever shot?
I think the most difficult place to access was probably in the Colombian mountains. We did a 5-days trekking on 4.000 meters altitude and I was carrying the drone in my backpack. 3 batteries, but no electricity. So, I needed to pick my moments well and optimize my time in the air.
I tend to do a lot of photography and I like to think I’ve gotten quite good at it as well. However, if I want to keep growing as a ‘drone adventurer’, I need to keep working on my video skills as well. I often do shoot video on most of my locations as well, but it takes so much time to create video (compared to photos), that I rarely take the time to make a cool finished video edit.
What can drones do to society?
I think we’re only at the verge of this drone era. A lot more applications will appear. Even today drones are already being used for rescue operations, to assist fire fighters, to deliver medication in remote areas etc … I think that’s very promising as to what drones are capable of and to what extent they will be used in the near future of our society.
Do you think this is a well-paid profession?
This is a tricky question. If you’re not serious about drones as a profession, then it’s really difficult to make money with drone photography. However, if you are persistent and keep producing great content and build up your network, then yes, drone photography can still be lucrative, even though the market is becoming more and more saturated. Because the saturation comes from the ‘drone pilots’. You need to stand out from this crowd. By producing better content, better quality. And then there’s always room to get paid.
Is it difficult to work with clients and do they properly understand drone work?
Some clients underestimate the effort, time and skill it takes to produce a great photo or video. Some others really appreciate the different angle a drone can provide. So, it all depends.
Drone pilot photography - from Johan
What do you think about drone filters? If you use them - what types, which brand and for what most?
Yes, very important! I always use the PolarPro polarized ND filters. Usually the ND4 for golden hour shots and ND16 during the day.
One big misconception about ND filters is that people misunderstand how ND filters work and why you would need them. In short: you don’t need them for photography (though the polarizer is interesting to pop your colors), however you do want to use them to create motion blur in your videos. Motion blur is used to give that cinematic feel to your shots, similarly to how our eyes perceive the world around us. That’s the only time you need the ND filter in order to keep you shutter speed at 2x your frame rate, to create that desired motion blur.
I talk about this more in-depth in my Drone Adventurer Masterclass 😉.
Do you have a specific place or object you want to shoot?
There are many places still on my bucket list, but without a doubt, my priorities are to explore more of the unshot places in the polar regions. A front line and last line in the fight against climate change. Content from this area has a story that needs to be told.
What extra is missing on current drones? What manufacturers should keep in mind for new models?
Even more spatial awareness. Most drone models have some sensors, but the obstacle avoidance is not waterproof. Once the manufacturers can perfect this, it will only create more freedom for us to focus even more on creating those cool shots.