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Even in the last decade, cameras have evolved from your standard point-and-shoot to something far more agile. The latest development can be found in the relatively new introduction of drones, where photographers have realised they can use the device to capture images that previously would have been far less attainable.

Ken Butti was one of those photographers who adopted drones almost from the get-go and now spends a chunk of his career travelling the world and seeing cities from a perspective that not many of us can say we have. Gizmodo chatted to him about out how he made the transition.

What made you decide to dive head-first into drone photography?

Ken Butti: In 2015 a photographer friend of mine Remy Gerega sent me a video of the DJI Phantom 2. One of the first recreational drones by DJI. As soon as I saw that video I started researching everything about it and drones and bought that DJI drone within a few days. As a press and entertainment photographer, I knew the possibilities would be endless and wanted to be an early adopter in the market.

How long did it take you to become proficient at your craft?

KB: I started flying in 2015 and I’m still practising and learning every week.

What doors has drone photography opened up for you?

KB: Access. As a news and entertainment photographer in the early 2000s till pretty much when Instagram started, a digital camera on your shoulder was just as good as an AAA card at any event. With drones, it also gave me access to travel and meet a lot of amazing people and see the world.

Drones are an essential part of storytelling now. Most productions on all scales from Indy to features use drone shots for establishing moments. In the last three years, I’ve travelled across four continents including South Africa, all over Australia, Monaco, Cannes in France, Italy, Thailand and Papua New Guinea.

Are there significant differences/benefits between drone photography and standard photography?

KB: Both are just tools for storytelling and serve different purposes. Drones are great because you can quickly scout and move around a vast space quickly and cover a large area in a short amount of time. I work for a location scouting company for feature films and TVCs.

And the drone is an essential tool for location scouting. A regular stills camera on the other hand for me is like a scalpel that captures a very specific detail of any given space.

How did you approach entering the industry and building clients?

KB: As an early adopter I had to create the market and educate people about new technology. When I got into drones there was no such thing as a drone license. So my insurer would only insure me if I had a helicopter license so I had to do my private pilot’s license PPL-H and learn to fly a helicopter.

Drones were a natural progression from photography and the video production I was doing. So it was easy for me to sell it to my existing clients. I would bring my drone and add value to my existing clients when I was on a shoot where a drone could be used.

These days, in such a saturated market, it’s hard to differentiate yourself, but at the highest level, when the drones we fly can weigh up to 25kg MTOW (maximum takeoff weight), safety is our primary focus.

Where do you see drone photography in five-or-so years?

KB: It would be romantic to believe that drones could one day be an autonomous flying pet that just follows you around and captures your whole life for you but I don’t think that will happen in our lifetime.

Battery weight and flight times are the biggest limiting factors in the industry right now. If anything, the industry is already over-saturated and is in maturity as most people buy a drone, use it once or twice in the park or on a holiday then it goes in the closet for three years.

As an industry, my biggest concern is safety. It’s possible the government would really clamp down on people’s freedoms by banning drones if someone was to be badly hurt in the future. They will always be dangerous, spinning blades of death. So I believe if you want to fly a drone you should be licensed — just like a car — because they are dangerous and can hurt others.

What’s been the biggest learning curve so far?

KB: FPV [first-person view] racing was hot for a minute on Instagram last year. But it is very very difficult and crashing is expensive. The hardest thing when flying any drone is the balance between getting the money shot while also doing it safely and within your risk assessment parameters.

What’s a day in the life of your job look like?

KB: Most days are spent on set, ‘standing by’.  The film industry was initially very cautious allowing drones on set. cowboys in the industry scared off productions for a while, and drone teams got a bad name but these days they are a vital second unit addition to any productions.

I’m usually often having to climb or hike great distances with pelican cases of fragile equipment and heavy batteries. Then we scout and rehearse the shot multiple times then often only get 2-3 shots at capturing a shot in a tiny window of time which translates to only a few seconds on screen.

Sometimes days of driving. Walking. Hiking. Standing by due to weather and waking up at crazy hours chasing sunrises and sunsets and amazing landscapes.

You can check out more of Butti’s work over at his website, Mediaidem.

There’s no denying photography has come a long way since this:

How to Embrace Drone Photography Like a Pro

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Drones are an essential part of story telling now


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