4 of Kent’s drone photographers
- Credit: Archant
Drone technology is evolving at a startling rate, allowing trained operators on the ground to get a bird’s eye view in seconds. Here’s how Kent looks from the sky
• Rebecca Douglas, Ramsgate
I have been a professional photographer for more than eight years and my day job is capturing weddings and business brand shoots across Kent, the UK and in Iceland. But I am a nature addict and adore the world around us, weaving this into the images that I capture and landscapes have always been a strong element in my work.
Every year, I undertake training to push my skills and grow. Last year I decided to invest in the three-day training and CAA PfCO licence to fly drones in the UK and this unleashed an obsession with seeing the world from ‘up’.
It was an in-depth course and I loved learning about airspace and safe airmanship. It was important to me to gain the licence, and I also have the very kind permission of Thanet District Council Film and Communications Office to fly at our wonderful local beaches.
I did a geography degree and have always been distracted and intrigued by different perspectives on familiar scenes. So taking to the skies was something that fascinated me. I am driven to focus on the perspective that the drone brings to photography, the organic patterns and textures and sense of scale and connectedness it brings.
There is always a moment once you’re airborne and you take a look at what the drone can see and it leaves you speechless. I am obsessed with light and seeing how this falls across a landscape with shadows, reflections and highlights. It actually makes me feel quite emotional as everything just looks so beautiful. It is such a freeing feeling to see the world from the air. It is very immersive and it somehow slows and silences the experience and makes you so appreciative of our world.
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Without the licence it would be almost impossible to fly along the Thanet coast, as it is such a congested area, and so it seemed essential to me to do this and be able to create images that I sell at galleries and in my online print shop.
My aerial work has been used in music videos and on local business websites and as my library grows, lots of exciting projects are on the horizon for me.
Oliver Sutton from Flyby Photography, Ashford
We mainly serve the media and construction industries, focusing on site progress imagery and promotional content once the sites are complete. We primarily use our trusty DJI Inspire PRO drone for commercial work, which is known as the ‘transit van’ of the drone industry.
The commercial uses for drones grow by the day. Farmers are using drones to monitor crop health, pilots are using thermal cameras to inspect solar panels, and the emergency services are directing fire crews when tackling a blaze. Many TV shows and films are adopting drones into their kit too, with heavy lift drones capable of lifting cinema-grade cameras.
I have always had a passion for photography but the introduction to aerial photography came from my partner, Carly.
She had previously worked in insurance and saw a huge increase in the number of roofing claims that were being investigated by drone.
We spent some time researching the market and believed that this technology would become the norm over the next few years, and decided to create Flyby Photography.
The technology never fails to amaze me: mapping 100-acre sites at the touch of a button, with advanced automated technology completing everything from take-off, data capture to a safe ‘return to home’ landing.
I love the flexibility and the challenges that the job offers too. Being your own boss and managing time against the unpredictable British weather and making the most of the few calm, dry days we have to capture the perfect images, while juggling client meetings and editing the footage back at the office is all part of it.
Safety and customer satisfaction are our priorities, and we pride ourselves in 100 per cent positive feedback to date. We also give back to the community, being corporate partners of the Kent Wildlife Trust. Our membership goes back into maintaining the wonderful green space that the Trust manages over the county.
Sean Gaffney, Surfing the Skies, Deal
I started flying drones as a passionate hobbyist, filming many landmarks and places in east Kent, where I gathered a lot of experience and a love for filming from above. I got my PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operations) a year ago.
I am the sole drone operator in the company but my son, Tyler, comes with me on most jobs as a spotter and does a lot of the ground photography. I started getting interested in drones and their capabilities a few years ago but have only been properly filming with them for two years.
I love the way filming from a drone brings out a totally different concept and beauty from any area or landmark I’m filming.
Anybody who owns a drone must get familiar with the basic drone code, the basic rules related to flying safely. As a licensed drone operator, there are many more factors to consider and rules and regulations are being written and changed all the time.
We have to comply with the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) and go through rigorous checks before we fly. There is a lot of paperwork to fill out, even if the job only takes five minutes to film.
The best parts of the job are getting the ideal sunny day with very little wind and getting the perfect shots which can be taken back to edit. Editing can be very time consuming, but I feel this is where the art of it all begins and is so rewarding. Flying drones as a hobby is fantastic fun and a lot of reasonably priced drones can capture 4K video and have all the modern features.
Before you fly, make sure you have read the drone code and understand the basic rules.
Practice in a large open space at least 150m away from people and buildings, preferably more when you are a beginner. Buy a drone with GPS as this helps while you’re learning to fly.
It is so worth spending a bit extra on a good beginner’s drone than getting a cheap one that will crash immediately in a breeze. The chances of getting a non-breezy day in the UK are very slim.
Martin Kingman, Kent Search and Rescue
I have always had a big interest in aviation. One of the companies I contract for owned a drone for doing aerial surveys and I was asked to be their pilot. I’ve now been flying drones for just over four years. I passed my PfCO in November 2016 and I’ve been developing the drones within Kent Search and Rescue (KSAR) since that point.
Drones have been big news in the search and rescue world for the past few years.
We currently have three very specific uses for our drones: for situational awareness of an area’s topography, to search for missing people and for training and promotional material.
Drones come into their own over areas where sending out searchers would be putting them in danger, such as on mudflats on the River Medway. We can overfly and only commit a rescue team if the drone identifies a point of interest or a person.
We currently have three commercially trained drone operators – two of whom are about to undertake their specialist drone-searching course as set by our governing body, Lowland Rescue.
Currently I am the only Lowland Rescue-accredited pilot within KSAR who can fly operationally. I have also qualified as a Lowland Rescue drone instructor so will be training more people this year to that standard.
We will have another three pilots within the next 12 months to take our total up to six, along with spotters who work with alongside our pilots.
We get called out around 90 times a year as a team and, as the number of pilots develops and the good weather is here, the drone will get deployed on most of these searches.
We have only been flying since October last year operationally and we do not yet have all-weather drones so we are somewhat limited at the moment in winter. We are looking to get a large waterproof drone with CAA permission to fly at night – which would be a real game-changer for us.