Florent Tnerolf on the Reuss River in Switzerland. Photo by Chris Schmid

Florent Tnerolf on the Reuss River in Switzerland. Photo by Chris Schmid

The Shot:
Sony NEX-5R with a Sony E 16mm
1/400 sec at f/7.1 – ISO 100

C&K: How were you able to get this unique overhead angle? You must be in a plane or helicopter?

Chris Schmid: I captured this image from a drone equipped with a stabilizing gimbal, which make the video and photos very smooth. I like to shoot from this bird’s eye perspective. Aerial photography gives some aspects and angles that people aren’t used to seeing, and it allows me to play with the shadows and shapes of the environment.

Sounds like an amazing piece of equipment! Can you tell us about it?

I use a DJI S800 drone with GPS stabilization the gimbal device. The system allows you to control everything directly from your remote. It’s a one-pilot setup because, for me, it’s very important to place the drone exactly where I want it. If you’re just a few meters away from your point, it can ruin your photo. So that’s why I fly and control the 3-axis gimbal and camera by myself, it gives me the liberty the place the drone wherever I want it. On my remote control I have a screen with a live view from what the camera sees which allow me to control the drone at long distance and altitude. I can also choose to record video or take photos any time.

What are some of the challenges involved? Have you had any close calls or crashes?

Flying the drone and controlling the camera by yourself requires full concentration. Especially when you’re flying over water. There, a crash can cost you around $6,000, so you need to be very careful with your flying procedure and take your time. The drone can only fly for about 15 minutes, which is quite short when you need to position it for a shot. But it’s also very important to take your time and keep calm when you’re flying. You need to ignore everything else and act like the drone is part of yourself.

The most common difficulty I encounter is distraction from curious people who ask questions when I’m controlling the drone. I love to share my work and experience, but I’m always asking them to wait until I finish the job. Once the drone is back on the ground, they can ask away.

Fortunately, I’ve crashed only once, and it wasn’t that big. We were doing a shoot in the mountains at 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) and I forgot to activate the GPS before takeoff. The GPS signal was poor which made the drone extremely unstable. It crashed on its side directly after takeoff and broke one wheel. We were very lucky that the drone didn’t roll off a cliff and drop 1,000 meters.

Has this piece of equipment opened up new work for you?

Yes, a lot of people are interested in drones to make movies or do photography because it’s much cheaper than renting a helicopter. With their small size they can fly where helicopters can’t, giving the customers a unique point of view to enrich their video.

What’s next on your list of photographic adventures?

I just came back from a photo shoot in the Okavango Delta of Botswana. I’ll fly to Finland at the end of May, and after that, I’m going to work on various projects that I’ve been waiting on for a long time. The drone gives you so many possibilities it’s hard to decide which project to do sometimes!

–See MORE GREAT PHOTOS and read the stories behind them at CanoeKayak.com–

More of Chris’ work can be seen at:en.schmidchris.com