Return of the Drone – Aerial Photography from Texas

Several years ago, I was flying a drone – a DJI Inspire 2 – when the battery failed while the drone was around 300 feet and over water. A death spiral ensued and with a meek splash, as I watched in disbelief, the little flying contraption hit the water and sank quietly to the bottom of the Colorado River near Pennybacker Bridge. After experiencing the worst customer service imaginable (DJI wouldn’t honor any warranty that was caused by a battery failure despite the data showing it was not user error, just an orginal faulty battery that came with the drone), I gave up on drones for several years.

Last January changed things. I decided to once again add aerial photography to my portfolio, so I spent a few weeks studying for the FAA Part 107 exam, a test that allows one to fly a drone and sell the work commercially. On a cold day in San Marcos, I sat at a computer for less than 30 minutes, scored a 95 on the test, and was on my way. I thought the test was shockingly easy, but I had also spent time preparing, so maybe the studying paid off.

I should state here rather emphatically I don’t want to be one of those guys with a drone that annoy folks or bends the rules. I’m very careful not to interfere with someone’s peace nor invade their privacy. I usually fly straight up and straight down unless I’m over water, and and probably overly cautious. Anyway, I digress…

I waited another ten months until I finally purchased a drone. I bit the bullet and bought another DJI unit – this time a Mavic Pro 2 – and what sold me was the Hasselblad camera that was part of the drone. For my business, I need to be able to print fairly large prints. While not huge, I’ve been able to produce detailed prints at 54” wide, and the panoramas stitched from several images have been printed up to 9 feet wide.

While flying, I take no risks, and I take a ton of shots. I’ve found that some photos will come back with just a bit of blur – nothing that would be noticeable in smaller prints, but for enlargements, I need sharp, crisp originals.

After several test flights and practicing with the camera settings and gimbal, I was able to take a few trips to put the new drone in use. A few shots from San Antonio under windy conditions produced this panorama showing the well-known Tower of the Americas and Alamodome.

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San Antonio Skyline – November Sunrise 1 : Prints Available

From southwest San Antonio, this view of the skyline shows the Tower of the Americas prominently. to the east (right) is the Alamodome. to the left (west, is the main skyline. In the distance, even the new Frost Tower, similar to the Frost Tower in Austin, is peeking out from behind the Tower of Life building.


The next weekend, my family and I headed to Houston to shoot the skyline around Buffalo Bayou along Allen Parkway. Here are a few images taken near sunset and at sunrise on a perfect 24 hours just before storms rolled into Texas’ largest city:
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Houston Skyline Panorama November Afternoon 1 : Prints Available

A lazy Saturday afternoon finds blue skies over the Houston skyline on a cool day in November. Below, Buffalo Bayou finds folks outdoors biking, jogging, or just taking a stoll along the paths lining the water between Allen Pkwy and Memorial Parkway. This image was taken with a drone. I am a Licensed FAA Part 107 pilot.

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Aerial Houston Skyline Sunrise 1118-1 : Prints Available

From high over Buffalo Bayou on a beautiful November morning, the sun breaks through the clouds and shines the first light of day through the highrises of the Houston skyline. Far below, Buffalo Bayou flows along, flanked by Memorial Parkway and Allen Parkway. The tallest building in the skyline is the JP Morgan Chase Tower at 1,002 feet high.
This aerial sunrise image was taken with a drone and a licensed FAA Part 107 pilot (me).


You can see more photographs, both from the ground and from the drone, in my Houston skyline images gallery.
And for the last few weeks, I’ve been enjoying the fall colors around the Austin skyline and Ladybird Lake. Though late in November, the red oaks and cypress were full of reds and oranges and made for great color in these sunrise and sunset photographs:
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Texas Aerials – Austin Skyline November Sunrise Pano 2 : Prints Available

The first sunlight peeks over the horizon and downtown Austin, Texas. This aerial panorama was taken with a drone and looks down on Ladybird Lake and across to the highrises of the capitol city. Taken in late November, the Autumn colors along the water are just showing up in the morning light.

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Texas Aerials – Austin Skyline Panorama, November 1120-1 : Prints Available

On a beautiful November evening, this aerial photograph of downtown Austin and the skyline shows shows the fall colors found along Ladybird Lake. The “Jenga Tower” (formally known as the Independent) tops out at 685’ and is the tallest highrise in Austin, narrowly eclipsing the Austonian (683’).


Overall, I’m liking the Mavic Pro 2. I’m not into the technical aspects, so you can get that information elsewhere, but I will say this little flying machine is fun to fly, easy and intuitive, and with a little post processing, can produce nice images that folks seem to like. And for me, that is the bottom line. I look forward to adding to my gallery featuring aerial photographs from across Texas.

Thanks for listening. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email.

~ Rob

Happy New Year (belated), Texas!

Happy New Year, Texas!

First, I have to say it is kind of cool when you visit a national park and one of your books is on display. I had no idea my publisher placed the Texas wildflower book in the Chisos Lodge Visitor Center at Big Bend National Park. I’m humbled and surprised.

My Texas Wildflowers book at the Chisos Lodge Visitor Center in Big Bend National Park.

Next, it looks like we are in the doldrums of winter. Everything is brown and the weather has been generally gray. So on a whim over the holidays I studied and last week took a test that allows me to legally fly a drone for commercial purposes. I owned a drone several years ago but sold it because I did not want to mess with all the legal aspects nor the certification process. On top of that, I don’t want to hear drones overhead when I am hiking or “zenning out”in nature. I do not want to be one of “those guys.” I fully support the banning of drones in state and national parks.

All that said, I’d been asked about obtaining various aerial images of Austin by potential clients over the past year. So, what the heck. I’d read how hard the test was, so a friend and photographer advised me to use the ASA Test Prep study guide. I ended up cramming over about 10 days, then took the test last Thursday. I have to admit that when I started studying, most of the material was foreign – 3D classes of air space on a 2d chart, airport systems, military operations, FAA regulations, etc. However, I finished the test in 37 minutes (you get 2 hours to answer 60 questions.) My proctor told me it was the fastest finish of anyone she’d tested. I figure you know it or you don’t. I made a 93, which means I got 56 out of 60 questions correct. I know one of the questions I just bubbled in the wrong answer. The other three I missed I have no idea what they were asking! Nevertheless, I can legally fly a drone and get paid for it. I suppose one of these days I’ll look into buying a drone ?

That’s about all for now. I hope everyone has a good start to the new year. As for me, I’m looking forward to wildflower season, multiple trips to Big Bend National Park and west Texas, and some summer fun in the Colorado Mountains.

Via con dios, friends,

Rob

Rob Greebon
Texas Images
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