From helping filmmakers capture new perspectives previously unachievable to delivering your latest online order, drones are well on their way to revolutionizing our world. For artists like Iwan Zwarts, VFX Supervisor at The Mill in NYC, they’ve already led to a new, exciting (and growing) form of photography called dronography.
Over the past few years, UAVs - or unmanned aerial vehicles like drones, quadcopters or octocopters have exploded into the mainstream. As technology advanced and the price of commercial drones dropped, they were suddenly an accessible tool for both personal side projects and innovation across industries.
Drone photography - or Dronography - is essentially photography aided by the use of a drone. It requires a skilled and knowledgeable photographer with the ability to operate and fly the device. Iwan’s interest in dronography is the result of a longtime passion for photography and remote controlled toys, cars and helicopters. It’s also an integral part of what he does everyday as a VFX artist. So naturally, when the technology became available, he couldn't wait to get his hands on it.
Brandberg Mountain in Namibia is the location of one of the oldest cave paintings in the world.
On a recent trip through Namibia, Botswana and his home country of South Africa, Iwan captured amazing sweeping aerial shots of the area's striking terrains with the aid of his drone. As the creator of so many amazing dronography images, we asked him to share his photos, personal experience and expertise on the emerging art form below.
The tech ranges from a simple setup with a camera mounted onto a small drone to bigger octocopters with complex navigation and viewing systems. In essence, you need a drone, a camera, a way to view through the camera, and a way to operate the camera remotely. There are also FPV (First Person View) goggles that allow you to see through your drone camera, providing a more immersive experience.
Personally, I find it hard to “look” for a photo. It’s more a case of putting yourself in the right situation and environment and enjoying the moment (while capturing it). I take photos of things I like looking at. The pictures I like taking are ones that have a backstory to them, currently vast untouched landscapes. I think it’s an antidote to spending the last five years in NYC.
The obvious benefit over regular photography is the “freedom” you experience while composing a frame. Unlike traditional methods, you are not constrained to tripods, cranes, etc. It also has its cons and safety should be your biggest concern when attempting dronography.
In the same way that DSLR revolutionized photography, everyone seems to be getting into dronography. But fortunately, the same rules of photography still apply. It’s not simply about the technical ability but more about the artistic interpretation and use of technology that produces outstanding, meaningful visuals.
The Future of Dronography
Dronography is busy exploding and I see almost everyone owning a drone of some sort in the near future. For me, it’s currently a hobby and a good excuse to "go outside", but there are endless possibilities across all industries, filmmaking and VFX being my two preferred fields. This is a new tool that opens up lots of creative opportunities that I am definitely going to explore!
This photo was taken in the middle of the Etosha Pan in central Namibia (800km wide flat). The white truck was Iwan's mode of transportation and shelter for the trip featuring a tent that sits on top of the truck bed.
Augrabies Falls is a waterfall on the border of South Africa and Namibia where the Great Orange River starts.
In a different approach to the usual group photo, the drone flies over the children taking photos and grabbing their attention in a village in Botswana.
The image was taken from a location in the middle of the Okavango Delta only reachable by a two-day boat trip.