As a professional travel photographer, I have always been obsessed with finding the most unique and unusual viewpoint from which to photograph my subjects. Many times I have scrambled down tiny, winding paths or trekked along dangerous knife-edged ridges to capture a shot. The rim of Grand Canyon, or the harsh back-country of Iceland come instantly to mind.
So when the first drones began to spread to the consumer market in 2014 it was a total epiphany for me. At last, here was the chance to bypass the limitation of the human being. Now my camera could fly free like a bird allowing me to shoot from any angle I wanted.
At the beginning, steep prices and poor camera resolution, not to mention the bulky size of those early drones, were still a big limit.
Until 2018. That summer, one of the greatest masterpieces of aeronautical engineering in miniature, mounting a fantastic little camera onto a neat, light, easy-to-fly drone was launched in the form of the DJI Mavic Pro 2. It was an instant hit.
My life as a photographer has never been the same again! Pilot School, flying licences, insurance, bureaucracy, intricate aviation laws, these have all become part of my routine. But a new world has opened up – the sky is literally the limit and my world-view has been transformed.
Drones provide a unique, incredible and unexpected perspective. Suddenly a “bucket list” of places to visit, or in many cases, re-visit, presents itself.
One of my greatest adventures was a recent trip to India: a journey split into 2 parts; the first part pure research during which my drone was knocked out of the sky by a flock of crows (and replaced, amazingly, within 1 week); the second, the operational part. My sole aim was to photograph one of my most beloved landmarks, a place that I have visited many times: the Taj Mahal. I wanted to create a unique set of images of Shah Jahan’s eternal monument to his favourite wife and in my opinion, one of the most remarkable symbols of love in the entire world.
It became a real adventure because the Taj Mahal, despite not lying in a particularly restricted airspace, is subject to very strong security measures on the ground, due to the fear of terrorist attacks. I am most certainly not a terrorist, but with a total of 27 flights around the monument from an undisclosed secret location 2km from the site, the small flying object aroused some concern. My persistence paid off however. I was rewarded with a morning with the most beautiful golden light seeping through a rising mist, softly bathing the white marble domes and minarets. It produced a vision of the Taj Mahal quite unlike anything seen in conventional shots from the ground.
Over the last couple of years, I have used my drone to photograph a series of beautiful architectural and natural wonders. I have photographed some of my favourite cities in the world – Hong Kong, Barcelona, Milan – archaeological wonders such as Angkor Wat and the Acropolis of Athens; and natural landscapes such as the boundless white beaches of Greece.
During the lockdown I was commissioned by Mondadori to produce an aerial video supporting a nationwide campaign against the pandemic. I was able also to produce unique images of Milan, during the sad and long days of the quarantine which were broadcast on TV in mid- April.
My bucket list is still long and although international travel is unlikely to return to how it was before the pandemic anytime soon, it is wonderful to look forward to the prospect of getting back out into the world again and capturing its extraordinary beauty from the freedom of the air.