Send in the Drones: A Travel Photographer’s View on Aerial Images

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How Paul Prescott, travel photographer and video artist, went from one-man-show to head of an agency specializing in the view from above.

During his career as a travel photographer and video artist, Paul Prescott covered a lot of territory on his bicycle with camera in tow. So, it only stood to reason that he eventually transitioned into aerial photography, where his images could go “beyond the rectangle,” as he puts it.

In 2014, in the midst of a successful relationship as a contributor to Shutterstock, Prescott saw that drones were launching commercially, and that drone imagery would soon be in hot demand. So, he bought a few. And, crashed a few. And, by 2016, he did his first ever exhibit of aerial photos in Zagreb and Lisbon. 

Cristo Rei Statue
Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

“The images are special because they’re a mixture of art and photography,” Prescott says. Subsequently, a friend suggested Prescott check out Instagram, where drone photography was starting to flourish. Prescott was inspired to reach out to his fellow droners on the platform to join forces and create a collection of amazing aerial content. Thus, an agency was born. 

Prescott will reluctantly refer to himself as CEO of the Amazing Aerial Agency. Basically, he says he’s just on a mission to elevate (so to speak) this niche style of photography. 

A previous winner of Shutterstock’s Artistic Grant, Prescott spoke to us about the many images his agency has contributed to Offset, the growth of aerial photography, and what aspiring droners need to know before they start flying.

Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

Shutterstock: How has drone photography advanced since 2014?

Paul Prescott: When drones first came out, they were like a flying object to which you would have to attach an external camera. Today, the technology is so advanced, with features ranging from following a person to putting in GPS coordinates for the drone to follow. The image quality is stunning and the shooting possibilities are endless. 

SSTK: Describe the first time you flew a drone. 

PP: I had butterflies in my tummy. 

SSTK: It must be nerve-racking. That’s expensive equipment you’re flying!

PP: Oh yes. There is a steep learning curve, which can prove expensive. Flying in three-dimensional space, obstacles are everywhere. The first drone I ever had ended up in the sea. The second hit the mast of a sailboat and went, again, into the sea. Three months later, it was pulled out by a fisherman. Every droner has their story. 

Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

SSTK: How much has droning grown since you started? 

PP: Well, to give you an example, one of our droners was in Iceland for the recent volcano eruption and, whereas a few years ago there might’ve been one or two drones in the air, there were thirty, plus three helicopters and two airplanes shooting from above.

SSTK: So, what makes imagery from your agency unique?

PP: If you look at it from the perspective of a professional photo buyer, their headache is trying to find a great photo. They need to scroll through thousands. We now have 24,000 videos and photos that have all gone past my eye. I don’t accept anything but amazing. My approach is no longer quantity. It’s highly curated. We only take about ten percent of what is submitted by our team.  

Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

SSTK: What constitutes amazing?

PP: What I’m looking for when I’m curating is the artistic side of it. There has to be some kind of artistic value and sense of emotion to the image, whether it’s a volcano erupting or an abstract of a lake. We even have beautiful images that are of environmental destruction. There’s beauty to it, as well as sadness. 

SSTK: What direction do you give your photographers?

PP: I very rarely give assignments. What I tell our team is to go and shoot what they want and develop their style. There’s such an array of clients wanting so many different things that whatever they shoot will sell. But, I do give them guidelines. For example, I tell them to try to incorporate people in their shots. Remember, aerial photography doesn’t mean high up, it just means from above. 

Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

SSTK: What other advice do you give them?  

PP: Well, the limitation with a camera is the rectangle. Sometimes, it’s difficult to compose a photo within that rectangle. But to get more into the image, you need to pull back, and then the subject gets smaller. So, I encourage them to shoot a few photos and “stitch” them together when they get back. This way, you can edit all of the shots down to a normal-looking photo, but you still have your whole composition in there. 

SSTK: What images are people buying most of now?

PP: What I’ve noticed is a lot of the droners were shooting top-down. You couldn’t see the horizon or identify the location. But, buyers also wanted wide landscapes and landmarks. They wanted to see an entire cityscape. So, now, we have a mixture of top-downs and landscapes. We’re also doing a lot of abstracts and repetitive patterns, like airplane cemeteries in the U.S. or cars lined up in harbors ready to be transported. Or, fish farm pods in the ocean.  

Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

SSTK: How do you compose an aerial image as opposed to a traditional on-the-ground image? 

PP: There are a lot of factors. When you’re shooting on the ground, the sun is always better behind you. So, midday sun is not good for a ground photographer. But, it’s great for a drone photographer because it lights up your whole shot. Late evening shots are also great, when the light is softer—or even waiting for the sun to go just behind the horizon to get those magical golden hour colors in the sky with enough light on the ground. 

SSTK: Is there a strategy for getting both graphic and abstract images?

PP: I try to educate our team of droners to get as much material as possible in one flight so that they get a mix of photos and video since you only have twenty minutes in your battery. So first, you take off with your video on, and get footage until your point of interest. Then, you take some top-downs of the place, tilt up and take landscapes, which you can “stitch” together later. Then, turn on your video again and go to the next spot you think will be interesting. 

Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

SSTK: How are drones perceived now versus when you started?

PP: Droners were considered outlaws at first. I have been shouted at, my drone shot at, and I’ve been arrested. All to say that droning is an adventurous activity! Nowadays, recreational drones are more ubiquitous and accepted. New and clearer regulation is making it easier to fly without being considered a criminal. The future is bright!  

SSTK: What drone are you currently shooting with?

PP: Well, I’ve been flying the Phantom series since 2014. However, the Mavic series is more attractive now as the drones are smaller, lighter, and have a higher-quality sensor. So, you can pop the drone into a rucksack and go anywhere! 

Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

SSTK: Speaking of going places, what’s next for you and Amazing Aerial?

PP: Our team has grown to over 160 photographers in sixty countries, with content from more than 110 countries. I’m excited to have photographers in more countries in order to grow and diversify our collection, especially in regions like Africa and South America. 

Village of Schermerhorn
Images via Offset contributor Amazing Aerial Agency.

Drone technology is at the precipice of its capabilities, with seemingly daily advancements challenging new heights in its wake. Fortunately, we have adventurous artists like Paul Prescott leading the way to a more daring approach to photography.

Need a few more mischievous adventures to add to your travel list? Check out these articles:

Cover image via Amazing Aerial Agency.

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