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Epic cloud movement on a remote NC ridge line
598 1 2018-6-22
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Loki's Eyes
First Officer
United States


Now It’s Epic - Aerial Cinema for Wilderness Adventures

Nothing inspires me like the wilderness.  Getting to remote areas is an adventure, and the experiences I’ve had backcountry have been nothing short of life changing.  Whether it's an extended dayhike or a multi-day adventure, I love documenting these experiences to inspire more people to get out, or just to share with those who can’t.  I used to do this with just an SLR and a range of lenses, but the perspective a drone offers has lifted this passion to new heights.  If you love the wilderness and flying as much as I do, this guide is for you!

Epic is as epic does.  The first tip for getting epic video or photos with any equipment, drone or otherwise, is do something epic. Drones especially are awesome because with their new perspective on the world, they turn common places and experiences into something we don’t often see, and the layman will call this “epic.”  How much more amazing, then, when we use this amazing technology for truly epic experiences?  Put yourself out there!  Dream big and be bold.  Be willing to hike the extra mile (or 20), and your work will have a magnitude others won’t achieve.

Make friends with discomfort and adversity.  The wilderness is often wet; it will have bugs; there will be steep mountains to climb.  Your feet will get sore, you’re going to sweat, and you just might suffer a little or even a lot.  Being uncomfortable makes the experience more rewarding, though, and if you can convey the challenges you faced in your photos / video, then your audience will be more awestruck by the images you have collected.  You will cherish these images more, also, when you’ve invested real blood and sweat in capturing them.  

Carry a flashlight.  If you’re shooting somewhere out there and you want to use the best light possible - sunrise and sunset - you will often need to start in the dark, or hike out in the dark.  A headlamp is your friend for these scenarios. Better yet, backpack in and stay the night!

Essential Gear / Packing Tips:  When it comes to camping gear, go as light as possible.  A tarp over a tent, for example, can save several pounds.  How many pairs of socks do you really need?  A puffy jacket pulls double duty as a pillow.  This is not a backpacking guide, but when it comes to your camping equipment, less is more.  Carrying less camping equipment saves space for the important stuff:  flying / photo gear!  While you should avoid carrying any unnecessary equipment (where will you plug THAT in?)  there are some items you just can’t avoid toting if you’re really focused on documenting the experience.  
  • Extra batteries.  I have 4 batteries for my MA, and I have found this charger will give me 4 more flights, for a total of 8 flights before I need an outlet to recharge.  That’s about 2 hours of flying, and I budget my shots accordingly.  I also need a way to recharge my phone between flights- so that’s another battery bank.  Last, since I also carry a capable camera (Panasonic G9 for me), it also needs extra batteries.  Sadly, while my food bag gets lighter as I eat, batteries do not get lighter after I use the energy.  Carry them anyway - it really sucks when you’re out of power and the sunrise you’ve been waiting for finally comes along.
  • A dedicated camera / equipment bag.  This allows me to quickly access my photograph gear (drone included) on the trail, and also doubles as a day hiking bag to explore the surrounding area once camp is established.  It's a bit cumbersome to carry it on your belly during the trekking portions of the trip, but when the alternative is shooting with your smartphone, wel... you make the call.

Respect wildlife and other wilderness users.  We often forget, as we watch beautiful drone footage, about the swarm-of-angry-bees sound emitted by the drone itself.  If you’re in an area with other users, check in before you take your drone up; while you are focused on “getting the shot” is not a convenient time to allay the concerns of an annoyed hiker.  And scaring wildlife away so you can get a good closeup will not make you friends with other users, and can lead to drones getting banned in wilderness areas.  Sadly, US National Parks don’t allow drones for recreational use.

Windy ridges, sketchy satellites, fog, and other challenges:  The way I see it, my MA isn’t worth a dime sitting on the ground, and the footage it captures is priceless.  You’ll be surprised what that little bird can handle, and sub-optimum conditions on the ground have sometimes yielded the most amazing shots in the air.  That said, I have no intention of drowning my drone in a waterfall or crashing it on an inaccessible mountainside.  Be aware of your surroundings and the challenges they create.  Windy conditions use battery much faster, and beware that if you have to fly home against the wind that the drone’s RTH calculations may be off.  With poor satellite coverage, you must keep an excellent line of sight on the drone, and be skilled with the controls.  Thick fog will mean you’re flying blind, so know the area and a safe altitude to be above all obstacles.

Case Study:  For this video, I hiked the Woody Ridge trail to the Black Mountain Crest.  While anyone can drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and get pretty snapshots with their phone from a pull off, hiking in to a remote area gave me the chance to show people something not just anybody can see.  Woody Ridge gains about 3500’ feet in about 2 miles, and the Black Mountain Crest summits about six mountains over 6000’ feet in elevation.  In short, this is one of WNC’s most epic trails - perfect for an epic experience!  

Although it meant carrying more, bringing overnight gear allowed me to really work the edges of the day.  I established my camp in a primo location, and then could just explore, fly, and shoot to my heart’s content.  Over an evening and a morning, I found many excellent flying locations, and with extra batteries and my battery bank, I didn’t have to restrict my flights to short sorties and could aim for some longer scenes.  And while I was initially bummed to wake up to thick fog on the mountain, I decided to go up anyway and was amazed at what I saw just a hundred feet up.  My MA fought the wind and showed me breathtaking scenes of the clouds blowing over the ridgeline.  Grounded with a handheld camera, I would have seen very little; flying the drone showed me (and my audience) something otherwise impossible to witness.  

Thanks for reading.  I hope that if you share my passion for photography and wilderness, you have found this helpful or interesting.  We share an incredible planet, and I hope you’ll join me in exploring it and sharing its beauty.

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nice one! like it
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