S K Y- H I G H S C E N E R Y

Louie Tong takes us through the highs and lows of aerial pho­tog­ra­phy, of­fer­ing his top tips on how to cap­ture awe-in­spir­ing im­agery

New Zealand D-Photo - - HOW TO -


If you’re just get­ting into aerial pho­tog­ra­phy, there’s a bit more to fly­ing your drone than you think, in­clud­ing im­por­tant rules and laws re­gard­ing ar­eas where you can and can­not fly. These can be found on the maps on air­share.co.nz, and are colour-coded to des­ig­nate what parts of the coun­try are con­trol zones, low-fly­ing zones, mil­i­tary oper­at­ing ar­eas, and re­stricted ar­eas. It’s very im­por­tant to be­come well­versed on these laws be­fore fly­ing. As a ca­sual drone op­er­a­tor, you will be gov­erned by our Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity’s Part 101 rules for un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVs) — these can be found at caa.govt.nz.


The shots I cap­ture pri­mar­ily con­sist of the coastal re­gions around wider Auck­land. Gen­er­ally I try to get to the lo­ca­tion an hour be­fore sun­rise or sun­set to prep — mean­ing very early 4am starts to get up and drive to an area, which of­ten al­lows for the time for a short trek to cer­tain spots such as Duder Re­gional Park, where the high­est point is a 20- to 30-minute walk from the carpark. Ad­di­tional time to con­sider is that for the as­sem­bling of the drone; lug­ging the equip­ment to the spot; and, fi­nally, set-up for shoot­ing. You’ll find that some­times the light dif fu­sion just be­fore sun­rise, due to clouds be­ing on the hori­zon, will cause the whole sky to light up a bright or­ange, pink, or red — that’s worth get­ting up early for. I have three sets of bat­ter­ies for each drone: the first one is some­times used for scout­ing or re­con­nais­sance; and the sec­ond and third ones are used to get the fi­nal shots. Some­thing seem­ingly triv­ial to keep in mind as well is that, in colder, win­ter en­vi­ron­ments, the bat­ter­ies need to be warmed up be­fore use. Some older drone mod­els will not even start if the bat­ter­ies are too cold. I was very for­tu­nate to have been a rel­a­tively early adopter of the DJI In­spire 1 when it was first in­tro­duced to Aus­trala­sia. The X5/ X5S sen­sor paired with the 12mm Olympus F2.0 is a huge up­grade on the pro­pri­etary X3 sen­sor. The In­spire 2 drone it­self is a huge im­prove­ment, with more ac­cu­rate GPS and sta­bil­ity and the ad­di­tion of 4K video at 60fps with 40mb high-res stills. The DJI Mavic Pro is a cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion, and it’s light enough to carry around with you on hikes. It’s the same size and ap­prox­i­mate weight as a drink bot­tle, and the 12MP sen­sor is ca­pa­ble of cap­tur­ing 4K video at 30fps, as well as high qual­ity stills. The gim­bal sys­tem is also very ro­bust for its size, and the drone it­self can ac­tu­ally han­dle rel­a­tively strong winds.


Since so much of New Zealand has yet to be ‘dis­cov­ered’, we’re blessed that not too many of these beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions are sat­u­rated with peo­ple all of the time. A good habit to get into is to use Google Maps and its 3D satel­lite func­tion­al­ity. By do­ing this be­fore the shoot day, you can re­duce the sur­vey­ing time re­quired on lo­ca­tion. Cer­tain beaches have unique char­ac­ter­is­tics, hence need to be shot from a cer­tain an­gle, and this gives you a good idea of what it will be like on the day.


I come from an ar­chi­tec­tural back­ground, hav­ing com­pleted my mas­ter’s in

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