Drones

Fairfax Media

Do modern photographers need to buy a drone?

With the industry’s value is set to grow to US$97 billion by 2020 as they’re usefulness is picked up on by more professionals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 1:00pm

By Henry Zwartz

The days of TV journalists and photographers using helicopters to get a bird’s eye view are fast fading. Drones, big and small, are increasingly being used to get stunning aerial images most of us thought were out of reach.

In fact, drones could well be the next “must-have” technological accessory for photographers. Each year we’re thrown new models with more advanced cameras, better stability, and longer battery life - which has been one of the biggest issues for photographers. The machines already have their place in the kit bag for many wedding and event photographers, where height can really add to the occasion.

Consumer demand is almost as dizzying as the rate at which the technology has been improving. The value of the industry is set to balloon from A$2 billion (US$1.5 billion) in 2016 to an estimated A$127 billion (US$96.8 billion) by 2020, according to figures from consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers.

But just how useful are drones? Fairfax Media photographers Nick Moir and Joe Armao use them, and agree that they had a growing place in their kit.

“As a photographer, drones can give you that big picture you need to convey an expanse,” Armao said. “That’s why they’re great for capturing the natural landscapes.”

Armao, who photographs for The Age, recently used them to capture canola fields in Charlton, 250 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.

“Using drones in the newsroom takes a lot of planning and logistics, especially when you don’t know how long you’ll need them in the air for,” he said. “So for us professional photojournalists we might use them only once every couple of weeks, depending on the time of year. But that will probably change as the technology gets better, and longer lenses are introduced.”

Moir shoots for The Sydney Morning Herald. “For photographers drones are opening up a lot of opportunities that you used to only get if you had a helicopter,” he said. “I’ve used drones very successfully in the Macquarie Marshes. Access is difficult there and you would normally need to travel to an area by kayak. There is amazing bird life there, and the drone, which can be quite silent, can get up very close to the birds.”

The machines have proven not just useful for their image-taking capabilities in the newsroom, Moir said. He often also used them to “scout” a photographic subject.

“If it’s a significant storm event and I can’t see what’s going on because of a messy landscape with lots of trees and obstructing objects, I can get the drone up and see what the storm is doing,” he said. “So even if I don’t use the drone to get the image, they have another role.”

Moir recently purchased a drone for himself, and said that there was still a lot of confusion about what rules applied to drone use in Australia.

Peter Gibson, from the country’s Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA), outlined some of the key rules to keep in mind.

“Never fly a drone that will cause a hazard to people, property or aircraft first of all,” he said, “Don’t take your drone to places where there are crowds of people - Bondi Beach or St Kilda Beach are very scenic, but they are not places to fly your drone. And never use your drone to get pictures or videos of emergency situations such as bushfires or accident scenes. You will interfere with the emergency response and there may be emergency helicopters operating.”

Do modern photographers need to buy a drone?