Aerial photography is coming on in leaps and bounds. We talk to Peter Cox who is leading the way in innovative ways to capture often never seen before visually stunning vistas from the Irish Wild Atlantic Way. A qualified pilot, he has also been at the forefront of using drones to capture unique aerial shots. We spoke to him about the challenges of using drones and other technology to capture these beautiful images.
Which type of drone did you use?
Do you use one company / product or many?
I used just DJI products for the drone photographs in the book. At the moment they’re the best option for what I’m doing.
— Peter Cox Gallery (@petercoxphoto) March 17, 2015
A Canon EOS 5D is a heavier piece of equipment than say a GoPro – how did / does the drone deal with the challenge of this?
The S1000 is an octocopter with a ~1.2m diameter. It’s designed to carry much heavier loads than a GoPro. The larger size and weight have advantages – the drone tends to be much steadier in wind due to its higher inertia and is also easier to keep in sight due to the larger size.
Flying over water, as you mention in your notes, is a big challenge, for such high quality cameras – anything you can recommend to mitigate the risks?
You have to do a proper preflight to ensure everything is in order, batteries fully charged, rotor attachments secure, making sure you have a good GPS lock, etc. Unfortunately, despite all that, things can still go wrong. Drones are an immature technology and aren’t subject to the same sorts of airworthiness requirements as aircraft that carry people – so things can and do happen. Even after many hours of flying my drones over water, I still feel nervous each time.
How do you decide when to take the image once the drone is up in the air, is the drone sending back a real time display of what it’s seeing? On some devices we’ve reviewed – eg SONY action cam – there is a wrist-worn controller to switch between stills and video – did you have something like that?
The camera is connected to a video transmitter which sends the live view image back to a screen which I mount to my controller. I can see what the camera sees and overlaid on that is a HUD with flight data – battery voltage, distance, bearing, height, etc. I can then decide to take a still or shoot a video clip as I would on the ground, although this time via switches on the transmitter.
15 minutes airtime is a challenge, especially with those locations which are slightly further off shore, how did you manage this – to get the best images possible?
15 minutes is a surprisingly long time, actually. By law, drones are not allowed to be greater than 500 meters away from the operator (as of December this has been reduced to 300 meters), so you don’t have the option to fly long distances. You just have to ensure that you plan your flight so you return and land before the battery voltage drops too low. Sometimes it’s tempting to stay out right up to the last second if the light is good, so I’ve shaved that margin pretty thin from time to time.
How fast are drone specifications improving? Are you hoping to be able to do things in 2016 and beyond that you weren’t able to do for this book?
Things are improving at a very rapid pace. The difference between early 2014, when I first started experimenting with this technology, and now is vast. I fully expect things to improve just as dramatically in the next two years. Primarily these improvements will be in drone safety and reliability, and greater autonomy, collision avoidance, etc. But there will also be great improvements to endurance and in drone-specific cameras where the features and weight that a handheld camera must have that are unnecessary for a drone-mounted one will be removed – thereby increasing endurance further.
Do you think the license costs and the restricted airspace will be an issue moving forwards for drones / uavs in Ireland?
Licensing is an absolute necessity. You need a license to operate a car, you certainly should have one to operate a large UAV. They can be extremely dangerous if used recklessly or incompetently. As for airspace, segregating drones and ‘proper’ aircraft is vital. If a goose can bring down an airplane in a collision, imagine what a drone can do.
What’s next for you? (You wrote the afterword in Iceland – can we look forward to something about that?)
I have a couple of projects in mind, but they will take a year or two to come to fruition. There’ll be another book in or around 2017. I’d like to produce something from my Icelandic trips and from my Arctic explorations, but that will need another few years’ worth of photographs to mature.
Where can people see more of your work and buy the book?
The book can be bought in all good bookshops, or directly from my website at www.petercox.ie, or indeed from my gallery at 4 High St., Killarney.