Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

Flights of fancy vacation photography, courtesy of drones

By: Rachel Raczka The Washington Post
November 4, 2017 Updated: November 4, 2017 at 6:36 pm
Caption +
A drone image, shot off the coast of Maui, in Hawaii. The photographer has taken her DJI Mavic Pro through Europe, Asia and North America. MUST CREDIT: Elena Buenrostro.

Imagine your favorite vacation photo: that perfect sunset shot with waves gently crashing and an amber crescent reflecting off the ocean's glassy surface.

Now imagine it from above.

Drone sales in the United States doubled in the year that ended in February, report consumer trackers at the NPD Group. Researchers at Gartner project that the category will draw $6 billion in global market revenue in 2017, partially thanks to the popularity of personal drones. Photos and videos taken from drones' unique perspective have begun invading our social media feeds.

"The cue for me was when consumer drones started offering features and verbiage like 'takes selfies' or 'captures sound,'" said Dirk Dallas, founder of the website

The photographer flies her DJI Mavic Pro along the Great Wall in Hebei, China. MUST CREDIT: Elena Buenrostro. 

"You can now be the star of your own picture or video clips, and there are selfie or automated modes that make capturing yourself easier. ... You don't have to bring a crew with you anymore."

Dallas started his site after he bought his first toy drone in 2013. He hoped to meet other hobbyists and professionals, then create an outlet for inspiration and advice. The name is a play on the popular shoe selfie hashtag #FromWhereIStand because, he said, "I look down as well, but from a few hundred feet up in the air."

He flies a DJI Mavic Pro because its compact design makes it easy to take on planes. ("It fits in the small pocket of my backpack," he says.) And his followers have grown beyond professionals and commercial drone pilots to include amateurs looking for that "epic vacation photo."

A drone shot of Jokulsarlon, a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland. MUST CREDIT: Dirk Dallas. 

The price of drones has come down, and manufacturers have added user-friendly features. "Before that, to create imagery was cumbersome; you had to connect different parts and jerry-rig parts," he said. "The [DJI] Phantom 3 was when things came together as seamlessly as it comes together now."

DJI dominates the consumer drone market; its most popular models sell for $900 to $1,200. Pricey, but remember: A 1.3-megapixel digital camera cost $20,000 in 1995. And loyal owners are quick to remind you that the price tag comes with lots of bells and whistles.

"Those smaller $100-to-$200 ones aren't good enough for travel," said Elena Buenrostro, a San Francisco-based videographer who has taken her Mavic Pro through Europe, Asia and North America. "It has a feature where you can tap on a person (from the console), and it follows you. I had my drone follow me as I was riding my bike."

Thanks to a "Katana" tool, which acts as a mount and a tripod for on-the-ground use, Buenrostro also has replaced her regular digital single-lens reflex camera with a drone.

"It shoots in 4K 1080 already - it's an excellent camera," she says. "My Mavic or my cellphone, those are the only cameras I use now."

The experience of shooting with a drone offers the rush of a new perspective to even the most accomplished travel photographers.

"It's a whole new world," said Emily Kaszton, a photographer from Newport Beach, Calif., who uses her drone for jobs around the world. "It's similar (to shooting on the ground) in terms of looking for composition and focus, but it's a new way to frame it all."

Also new to the travel photographer: Federal Aviation Administration rules that restrict drone flight in certain locations, times and conditions.

"I've seen people flying in national parks a lot, and it's a huge no-no," Kaszton said. "I always try to review no-fly zones before I go out. For myself, especially as a professional, I can't be seen in a light where I'm doing risky things."

Websites such as can help, as can formal training to learn the rules of the sky.

"Drone companies are marketing drones as these easy-to-use intuitive devices, and they're certainly sophisticated. But that being said, if they were easy to use, you wouldn't see so many YouTubes of drones crashing into streets," said Lana Axelrod, chief strategy officer at UAV Coach, which has certified more than 7,000 drone students through the FAA since last year. "People see these sexy ads where they can do all these exciting things, and it's true, but you need to have a sense of operation and the rules."

Other common mistakes? Don't fly at night, except during the 30 minutes after sunset and before sunrise. Flying over people is another violation. And don't stray too far.

"You must maintain a line of sight," Axelrod said. "If the drone flies behind a building or behind trees, you are not complying with the rules."

But the inventive traveler will find a way.

"We went to Namibia earlier this year for a trip for fun," Axelrod said. "You're not allowed to fly over the national parks there, but we were able to fly through the desert and the beach. We stitched it together for a 90-second video of our trip to send to our family and friends. It's a memory we can now share."

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?
This is your last FREE article for the month
This is your last FREE article for the month

Subscribe now and enjoy Unlimited Digital Access to

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?

You have reached your article limit for the month
You have reached your article limit for the month

We hope that you've enjoyed your complimentary access to

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?

articles remaining
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.