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Capture trains with DJI equipment.
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3423 48 2018-6-13
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Montfrooij
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Flight distance : 1716440 ft
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1.     1. Introduction
  
Ever since I was a kid, I have liked the look of a train moving through the landscape.
The perspective and converging lines make for a great subject to capture on camera (video and still)
  
Alm1.jpg
Freight trains always have appealed to me.
  
I am not a ‘train spotter’ in the way that I document all train numbers etc. I just like to catch them in a nice way and tell a little story in the process.
My main focus will be freight trains, since they usually look very nice!
So when I have time and the weather is good, I might find myself chasing a nice picture of a beautiful train somewhere J
Recently I have added a DJI drone to my toolbox and a Osmo Mobile and I would like to share my experiences here with you and hope to see a lot of nice train movies / pictures on this forum!


My first try in Almelo where I was too close for comfort to the trains in some shots.

2.       2. Preparation
  
a.       Schedules  
The main issue on a lot of railways is ‘when will there be a train’.
  
If you are lucky, it is a railway with a regular schedule that you can either find or ask online on a trainspotters forum.
If that fails, you can always ask locals, but that would mean a visit to the site and have the risk of not seeing a train at all.  
  
Not every operator is willing to give their schedule (here in NL, freight trains are not listed on the schedule)
Here in NL there are some good places to ask for train schedules, but more often than not you will find freight trains usually don’t follow their schedule so there will be a huge ‘luck’ factor in this type of shooting.
In Sweden most trains are logged via the signalling system and there is a interactive map where you can see the last known location of a train.
https://www.tagkartan.se/

Tagkart.jpg
All trains and their current location in most of Sweden are on the map.
  
b.       Location
Once I know where I have the best chances of catching a train, I make my planning based on Google Maps and http://suncalc.net/  .
For ground footage I look  for:
  
  •          Places with good vantage points (no high objects on the side of the tracks that block my view) preferably in both directions,
  •          Possibly a crossing (so I am warned a train is coming)
  •          A place where I can park my car close by (safely)
  •          Make sure you try streetview as well. Something might look good from space, but is not too good on ground level.
        
If I plan on including drone footage, I (also) look for some other things:
  
  •          Am I allowed to fly there
  •          Enough free space to make larger movements
  •          No tall objects that I might fly into (you will be looking on your screen trying to frame the train)
      
Make sure you have a backup location, for when the first one is not as good as expected.

Google.jpg
This is a perfect location with good vantage points and no hight objects between you and the railway.

  
c.       Legislation
Of course, I will fly by the rules, so make sure you are allowed to film where you want to film.
In general, it is best to NOT fly over the tracks and keep some distance.
Most of the time you will get the best shots that way (except for top down views of course).


On my second try in Almelo, I kept more distance to the (rail) roads.

d.       Shotlist
I usually try to visualize my end product (video) and tell sort of a story.
Just a rough guideline since the reality is usually different, but it is nice to have some shots in mind so you don’t end up with only 1 type of shot a number of times.
What I usually like to include in the project
  
-          Where am I (opening shot etc.), very nice to have a drone make this shot.
-          Of course the shots from the train(s). Both from higher altitude and lower altitude and use multiple directions.
-          Whenever I also bring a ground camera, I like to have ‘zoomed in’ shots from the ground
-          It is usually a good idea to have some ‘b-roll’ footage to include between the train shots. Otherwise it is just a sequence of train footage. Here a timelapse works great as well as some reveal shots and fly over (top down). Also try and include some buildings or other landmarks that are present on the location.
  
e.       Know your settings.
Since you won’t have time to play around with your dials when the train is approaching, you ‘should’ know your settings and know how to change them quickly when needed.
Not too difficult, but it helps to practice a lot with this.  
  
This is not different from other types of projects, with the only difference is that you might get one shot only.
  
3. On site
  
a.       BE SAFE
Rule number one is to be safe. Stay clear of the tracks yourself, at least by 2,5 meter or so.
  
Not only for your safety, but also for the train driver that might think you have other plans (unfortunately they experience a lot of stupidity and sadness with people risking their lives or taking their lives). And let's not forget your equipment. Fast moving trains can generate a lot of 'wind' and you don't want your expensive kit leaving on a short journey to the ground.

b.       Get there on time
Whenever possible, be there on time. And with that I mean, at least 30 minutes early. Your train might be early (and I have missed a lot of trains because they were early) and you will have to set up everything.
  
Also, when the location is not as good as expected, you need time to move to the next one.



Smaller railways with less traffic can be very rewarding also.
  
c.       Regular preparation (pre flight test)
Of course, make sure your drone is ready for a flight and have your pre flight checklist ready.
  
d.       Test flight
If I feel confident I have enough batteries, I make a test flight and try out some moves. Shooting my b-roll footage in the process.
Make sure you have your camera settings dialled in for the real flight!

e.       Waiting (but be prepared)
This is where filming trains is a bit different from what you might be used to.
A lot of time is ‘lost’ waiting for the train  to come. But you have to be alert. Especially since you want to be up in the air long before you can see the train from the ground.
I like to be able to see the signals, because they give an early warning a train is coming.
  
Be ready, because you may only get one shot (and the train is gone again)

el-Rd2-1081-GC-Bralanda-9422-2017-07-19-2253.JPG
I waited 1,5 hours for this train to pass by nearby Brålanda (Sweden) but it was worth the wait!
  
f.        One man crew

I like to travel alone, but that means operating all the equipment myself. With a drone it is hard to also have the ground camera in action. My plan for next summer is to have the ground camera set on a tripod and only film a static shot when I have the drone in the air.
But my focus is only on 1 device and the second camera is a ‘backup’.

empl-Billingsfors-2017-07-16-2126-32.JPG
I try to have signals in sight in both directions, because they warn for incoming trains!

g.       Additional (train) information.
This is highly valuated by train lovers. If you can, always add information about the train you film.
Now this might not be easy and I am usually not doing this, since I don’t have the time to find train numbers, destinations etc.
  
But if you can, find the info and add it in post!
  
4. Techniques
  
a.       General cinematography  
The main ‘rules’ of cinematography apply to train videography / photography as well with only one difference, you subject might move faster than the average subject you will be shooting.
  
It is tempting to follow the train and keep it centered, but it is rather hard to make that work and I have gotten better results so far with only slow movement with my drone and let the train pass by.
Turn around quickly and cut that part out in post and film the train driving away from you.

b.       Movement in your shot
I like to have a little motion in my shots, possible ‘multiple directions’ (up and left, forward and gimbal down etc.) But preferably slower motion from the drone.
Your shutterspeed might still be an issue with the fast moving train, so adding a ND filter should give a better result.
I am not a big fan of these, since I like to take pictures also in the same flight. The ND filter will cause for motion blur in my pictures (fast moving train), so I shoot 50fps to get away with faster shutterspeeds.  

c.       Altitude
It is nice to shoot footage at different altitudes. High altitudes give a unique perspective (100m +) but 25-50m is also very nice to add in your edit and keep things interesting for your viewer.

Alm2.jpg

Alm3.jpg
Both high and low altitudes work great!

d.       Ground camera
For the ground camera it is a must to have a tripod, preferably with a fluid head and a nice and sturdy one.
  
It will cost some money, but in the end it is worth the investment.
I am always tempted to move the camera with the train, but this is generally not a good idea.
Takes a lot of practice and static shots usually work better (still I try it all the time….)
  
The same thing can be said for zooming IN and OUT while recording.
  
It is tempting, but usually won’t give nice results.
Choose your focal length and keep it that way.

5.     5. Use the Osmo (mobile)

So far I have not used the Osmo Mobile too often for filming trains, but I found 2 nice ways to use it.
  
a.       Timelapses
The b-roll (motion) timelapse usually works very well in between 2 train shots. Especially when there are clouds moving in the sky.
  
You will need a way to attach the Osmo (Mobile) to a tripod. I have bought the articulating arm and love it a lot.

Articulating.jpg

  
b.       Slow motion
I did try and make some slow motion footage of trains. It was fun, but I must say it does not fit into my usual video style.


6.    6. Editing
   
a.       Video duration
There are many ‘opinions’ about the optimal video duration.
  
I have asked around in various places and most train lovers don’t mind watching longer video’s.
As long as the footage is good and the trains are interesting, many of them will keep watching.
  
So when your audience is true train lovers, I would not worry about the duration of you video.
Otherwise it will depend on what you are showing and how ‘good’ it is, but in general 3-5 minutes will work for one video.

Alm4.jpg
Make sure you change location between shots!

b.       Sound
Many train lovers like the sound of a passing train. Especially when it is diesel powered.
Now with drone footage it might be hard to add sound. Even when you have a ground camera / microphone that will record the sound.
  
You will probably also hear the bees above you (drone) and only capture the sound from one location.
I have not found the best way to add sound but will experiment with recording the sound from the area when the drone is NOT in the air and also record the passing train sound to be able to add it in post.
  
So far I only added music to my drone train shots, but I will experiment with adding real sound.

7.       Conclusion

Trains make for a lovely subject to shoot and I hope I have gotten you interested in a ‘new’ project.
Feel free to check my channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvJGfq16FGXekfaqQ2DhoWQ and ask me questions if there are any.
  
Wish you all al lot of safe and happy flights!

Kla01.jpg


2018-6-13
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TheDon
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Romania
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Nice idea! Also an extensive guide! Congrats!
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
Captain
Flight distance : 1716440 ft
Netherlands
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TheDon Posted at 2018-6-14 00:14
Nice idea! Also an extensive guide! Congrats!

Thanks a lot.
Hope you will add some one day
2018-6-14
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dj_dread
Captain
Flight distance : 622093 ft
United States
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excellent article!
and very nice pictures!
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
Captain
Flight distance : 1716440 ft
Netherlands
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dj_dread Posted at 2018-6-14 01:53
excellent article!
and very nice pictures!

Thanks a lot. If you have the time, I am looking forward to seeing more trains from above
2018-6-14
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dj_dread
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Montfrooij Posted at 2018-6-14 01:55
Thanks a lot. If you have the time, I am looking forward to seeing more trains from above

i'll consider that!
here, as well, the freight trains are not listed making difficult to catch the optimal shot or plan for it. but i am not saying no
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
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dj_dread Posted at 2018-6-14 01:59
i'll consider that!
here, as well, the freight trains are not listed making difficult to catch the optimal shot or plan for it. but i am not saying no

We have that issue here in NL too.
BUT on the positive side: I have been to Atlanta and Peachtree and I could hear the freight trains long long long before they arrived there. These horns are very loud.
Amazing sound btw.
2018-6-14
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AlexVideoShark 5
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woww ... awesome ...
I think you have a lot of artistic in the shoot you do ... congratulations

you are also a collector of railway lines ... hahhahha I joke ...

really many trains and all very special, certainly with different stories and lives lived.
Thank you for your sharing ... full of experience and beautiful to see and read.
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
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AlexVideoShark 5 Posted at 2018-6-14 06:05
woww ... awesome ...
I think you have a lot of artistic in the shoot you do ... congratulations

Thanks a lot!
2018-6-14
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Raincast
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Good mastery on your specialty, Mr. Trains and Trucks! I think there are some free stock audio samples for trains. I know it won't be 100% the same as the original but it might work on short clips. Movies use fake audio too!

I personally am not good at tracking moving objects at higher speeds since my  drone is set to slow motion. Thanks for sharing your tips!
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
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Raincast Posted at 2018-6-14 08:17
Good mastery on your specialty, Mr. Trains and Trucks! I think there are some free stock audio samples for trains. I know it won't be 100% the same as the original but it might work on short clips. Movies use fake audio too!

I personally am not good at tracking moving objects at higher speeds since my  drone is set to slow motion. Thanks for sharing your tips!

Thanks a lot.
I will find out if it works for me with (semi) real sound.
Not sure yet.
So far I have not chased the trains around. Just moved slowly and let the train pass by.  
2018-6-14
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Eric13
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Montfrooij Posted at 2018-6-14 09:54
Thanks a lot.
I will find out if it works for me with (semi) real sound.
Not sure yet.

So here are some freight trains for you. I froze my fingers off on that flight. It was bitter cold. Chief of operations at this freight depot allowed me to fly over it. I showed him my drone and he was convinced it couldn't hurt a freight train when falling down.
Condition was that I deliver some prints to them - which I did. Nicely framed.
Cargo-1.jpg
Cargo-2.jpg
Cargo-3.jpg
2018-6-14
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Nebuchadnezzar
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Excellent and amazing work !  like and added to Fav
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
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Eric13 Posted at 2018-6-14 10:51
So here are some freight trains for you. I froze my fingers off on that flight. It was bitter cold. Chief of operations at this freight depot allowed me to fly over it. I showed him my drone and he was convinced it couldn't hurt a freight train when falling down.
Condition was that I deliver some prints to them - which I did. Nicely framed.

Oh wow, these are very nice!
I can imagine the fingers must have hurt like something.
And good thing to do that printing. Very nice to have some positive feelings about drones (and I am also sure the drone would not hurt these wagons)
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
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Nebuchadnezzar Posted at 2018-6-14 10:57
Excellent and amazing work !  like and added to Fav

Thanks a lot
Hope you are able to shoot some yourself!
2018-6-14
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Nebuchadnezzar
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Montfrooij Posted at 2018-6-14 11:04
Thanks a lot
Hope you are able to shoot some yourself!

Mine is another type of Photography lol ... no nice to post it here ...
2018-6-14
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Montfrooij
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Nebuchadnezzar Posted at 2018-6-14 11:18
Mine is another type of Photography lol ... no nice to post it here ...
[view_image]

I do see a lot of 'lines'
2018-6-14
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Séa
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Fascinating photos and nice tips, great job!
2018-6-15
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Leonidaslee
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Nice one , good shot
2018-6-15
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FlyingFish82
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Nice work and tips Montfrooij! well planned and nicely executed! nice shots!
2018-6-15
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Asainz320
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Brightline arriving to Miami Central Station

2018-6-15
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mixchief
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Nebuchadnezzar Posted at 2018-6-14 11:18
Mine is another type of Photography lol ... no nice to post it here ...
[view_image]

railways in the sky
2018-6-15
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mixchief
First Officer
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Asainz320 Posted at 2018-6-15 07:54
Brightline arriving to Miami Central Station

[view_image]

crap, u beat me to it! and in a beautiful way
2018-6-15
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Matthew Dobrski
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Asainz320 Posted at 2018-6-15 07:54
Brightline arriving to Miami Central Station

[view_image]

Good try, my friend, but not ... I'm too old for Photoshop trickery of this kind ...
2018-6-15
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Soccerpakii
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absolute insane footage!!  great guide!
2018-6-15
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Montfrooij
Captain
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Séa Posted at 2018-6-15 03:06
Fascinating photos and nice tips, great job!

Thanks a lot. Hope you will be able to catch some Indonesian trains as well!
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
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Thanks a lot    
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
Captain
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FlyingFish82 Posted at 2018-6-15 06:06
Nice work and tips Montfrooij! well planned and nicely executed! nice shots!

Thanks a lot!
Hope you can shoot some nice freight trains.
I love these long ones 'you' have over there!
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
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Asainz320 Posted at 2018-6-15 07:54
Brightline arriving to Miami Central Station

[view_image]

Very nice!
Thanks for sharing.
Was this shot by Mavic Pro?
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
Captain
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Yeah, just like that!
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
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mixchief Posted at 2018-6-15 09:09
crap, u beat me to it! and in a beautiful way


If you have some, please share!
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
Captain
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Soccerpakii Posted at 2018-6-15 20:59
absolute insane footage!!  great guide!

Thanks a lot.
Hope I have gotten you interested
2018-6-17
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Enri
Second Officer
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Great thread and excellent videos and pics
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
Captain
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Enri Posted at 2018-6-17 12:58
Great thread and excellent videos and pics

Thanks a lot
2018-6-17
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mixchief
First Officer
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Montfrooij Posted at 2018-6-17 01:11
If you have some, please share!

Like I said, you beat me to it, time and weather are factors, but I have it planned, stay tuned
2018-6-17
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Matthew Dobrski
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Montfrooij Posted at 2018-6-17 01:10
Very nice!
Thanks for sharing.
Was this shot by Mavic Pro?

Montfrooij, take a closer look at this photo ...
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
Captain
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mixchief Posted at 2018-6-17 16:21
Like I said, you beat me to it, time and weather are factors, but I have it planned, stay tuned

Oh yes, I will stay tuned
2018-6-17
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Montfrooij
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Matthew Dobrski Posted at 2018-6-17 19:14
Montfrooij, take a closer look at this photo ...

I don't see one
2018-6-17
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Matthew Dobrski
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I mean the photo you've been so amazed by, the Brightline train in Miami. It's a fake, badly executed photoshopping, no relation to aerial photography whatsoever ...
2018-6-18
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Montfrooij
Captain
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Matthew Dobrski Posted at 2018-6-18 06:36
I mean the photo you've been so amazed by, the Brightline train in Miami. It's a fake, badly executed photoshopping, no relation to aerial photography whatsoever ...

Ah ok.
I asked if it was taken with his Mavic Pro.
2018-6-18
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