By Dirk Dallas
If you are on Instagram then chances are you are one of his almost 900,000 followers or you have at least seen one of his photos featured somewhere around the web.
I first met Kyle for over 4 years ago down in Laguna Beach for one of my first ever Instawalks (people that meet on Instagram and then connect in real life to take photos). We hit it off right from the start and have been friends ever since. During these past four years I have watched Kyle grow into an incredible photographer. If you look back on some of his older work then you’ll see that he has always loved shooting at the beach.
One of the specific things I remember about Kyle’s early work was all the stunning beach bird imagery he would post. He always seemed to capture birds up-close at the perfect moment. It’s been great to see him develop over the years and in my opinion he is one of the best out there. I’m grateful to Kyle that he took the time to answer some questions for the From Where I Drone community. If there are any questions that I missed please leave a comment below and I’ll see if he can come by and answer it! Let’s get started…
I’m a 28-year-old photographer who grew up in Grand Rapids, MI and now I am currently living in San Diego. I love to travel and see everything the world has to offer. In middle school I bought my first camera, a film Canon Rebel and took it with me everywhere. I really loved taking photos and then getting the film developed. I even took some classes on the weekends to learn how to develop film in the darkroom. Watching my photos come to life is what sparked the passion that is now my full-time job.
I have always had a fascination for being up high. I don’t have a fear of standing up high on a cliff or riding in a plane or helicopter so when drones began to go mainstream I started reading about what they could do. I then saw some people post drone videos and stills on various websites and that is when I knew I just had to get one. So when the Phantom 2 came out I decided to pull the trigger and I got one.
I love aerial photography because it opens up a whole new perspective on how we can see the world. We’re able to shoot stuff from an angle that was very hard to achieve before. I also love that it’s still a newer photography genre so we can take a picture of something new that maybe hasn’t been done before.
The first time I took my drone out I was scared because I just spent thousands of dollars on a Phantom 2 and GoPro/FPV system. I went to the local sports field near my house and walked straight to the middle of the field so that I could be as far away from any objects as possible. When I started flying it I think I let it go up like 4 feet and then I moved it all around, got more comfortable and slowly added 4 more feet of elevation, and so on.
I finally built up the confidence to start flying it faster and father away from me, but all still with it being in line of sight. Now when it came to landing it I was worried about crashing but thankfully I had no problems because I was in a big open field. After that I ended up using the rest of my battery to just fly around learning the ins and outs of the controls and observing how the drone would handle. I don’t remember taking a single photo from that day because my sole purpose was just to learn how to control it.
I always try to create something that tells a story or creates a feeling of you being in that location. I like to take one step to the left or right of the norm when I’m on the ground taking photos, so adding the element of being in the air is perfect for me because I’m once again able to capture something unique.
When editing my shots I’ll either import them in to my MacBook Pro or my iMac depending on whether I’m traveling or not. I use Lightroom as my photo library and import my photos right into there while labeling them with the shoot name and date and what the location was as well. From there I’ll try to go through and flag my favorite shots while rejecting the shots I no longer want to keep.
Once I get through all my selects I’ll start editing my images in Lightroom or just send them to my iPhone. In Lightroom I will use VSCO, Litley or my own pre-made filters as a starting point and then I’ll go in and edit each photo even more one by one. When I bring the files over to my phone either pre-edited in Lightroom or not, I almost always find myself opening Snapseeed first if I’m going to do any edits on my phone. From there I’ll use a various number of apps for different reasons. Some of my favorite editing apps are: VSCO Cam, Priime, Retouch, Litley, & Looksee.
Right now it is against the law to fly in National Parks. I completely respect and understand their reasoning for banning drones and I will never do it without permission from them, but I would love to capture some imagery of the National Parks from the sky. I have also seen some amazing videos of whales in Hawaii and wild game in Africa and I think that would also be a surreal experience.
I use Instagram as a huge source of inspiration right now. I’m able to see thousands of amazing images each day. I also love a good road trip to clear my mind. Each month I set aside one day to just drive with no destination in mind, no time-frame to be home, just my camera and drone in my car. I will often just drive around with the windows down and see where the road takes me. It’s the best way to find amazing locations for future photo shoots as well or scout interesting locations for various weather conditions.
I first signed up for Instagram on January 24th, 2011. Once I downloaded the app I started posting really random photos…yes they are all still there :) This is back in the day when you were forced to use a filter and a border. Instagram sure has changed over the past few years. The explore page use to be called the popular page, and your photo could be featured on it depending on how many likes and comments you got within a certain amount of time. So I use to look at that page a lot and I started dreaming about trying to get my photos on there because the photos that made it were so good.
This ended up being what challenged me to push myself. People who were taking amazing photos with only their iPhone (back when Instagram was iPhone only). I then continued to push myself using just my iPhone and noticed that I started leaving my big camera at home more and more.
Once I started getting that instant feedback, I was hooked. I continued to do this day in and day out and I slowly started gaining a following. Then some of my photos actually made the popular page. I also began participating in all the Instagram weekend hashtag projects, not to try and gain exposure, but rather to use it to challenge myself. Eventually Instagram featured some of my photos but most importantly the weekly projects helped me push my creativity.
One day I got an email from Instagram telling me that they were going to add my name to the suggested user list, from that day on my Instagram has not stopped growing. Being on the suggested user list for a time was incredibly exciting and humbling.
I have had some amazing opportunities over the past few years and I’ll name a few that stand out. About 3 years ago, Nike sent 12 of us to San Francisco and Big Sur to help launch their Nike Running account. Another fun opportunity was when I got invited to New York by the Dos Equis social team. They planned a fun weekend that involved hanging out with “The Most Interesting Man in The World”. This year I have had the opportunity to travel to some beautiful places for work such as Finland, Egypt and Thailand. Lastly, some of my photos for Amazon’s national Kindle campaign were just published on billboards and in People and Entertainment Weekly.
I love to just go out and explore, always with a camera of some sort haha. I also really love to relax and watch a good movie or show like The Amazing Race or Survivor. I enjoy it because I love watching the creativity of others. You can also find me sometimes playing my Xbox, but my favorite thing to do here in Southern California is to spend time at the beach. It doesn’t matter what time of day, I just love being there. I love the sound of the waves crashing and it’s always so relaxing for me! Since my job is my passion, I love to work which results in me taking photos and videos pretty often.
I love all of the Harry Potter books, I’ve read each at least twice and wish so badly that Hogwarts was a real place we could visit! I also love a good mystery, especially James Patterson’s books.
Adam Senatori (@adamsenatori) Adam is one of the first aerial photographers that I came across and I instantly fell in love with his photos. Not only is he a great photographer but he is also a pilot which really helps him compose amazing photos from his plane.
Dan Marker-Moore (@danorst) Whether Dan is shooting from a drone, helicopter or on top of a skyscraper his videos and time-lapses are some of my favorites on Instagram. He is a seriously creative guy.
Jason Peterson (@jasonmpeterson) Jason is the king of b&w and one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever met. I love his style and his creative use of light. I never get bored of seeing his photos on my feed.
Cole Rise (@colerise) Cole is one talented guy who puts some serious thought into each image. His recent drone shots/videos from Hawaii are some of my favorites I’ve seen on Instagram.
I’m not sure if I’d call this my personal motto, but I said this a few years ago and try to live by it. “If you don’t give it your all, why try at all? Do what you love, love what you do.”
I currently have two drones with a 3rd on the way later this summer. My first drone is the DJI Phantom 2 with a H3-3D gimbal and a GoPro Hero 4 Black. My second rig is a DJI Inspire 1 dual controller setup. I use an iPad mini as my main display and an iPad Air as the second display when using the dual operator function (packed into my Go Professional Cases DJI Inspire 1 Travel Mode Case). Later this summer I’m getting the new 3DR Solo. I’m excited to try out the Solo to see how it compares to my DJI drones.
I am always so incredibly careful and try to be as safe as possible but with that being said I have had one drone failure :( Just over a year ago, I was flying my Phantom 2 out over a lake just taking photos of some fisherman in their boat (with their permission). I got the shots I wanted so I began flying higher so I could get some big wide shots of the lake. Once my Phantom reached the middle of the lake I noticed there was a low battery warning so I immediately began to fly the drone straight back.
Well on its return I noticed my drone was slowly starting to drop on its own. At this point it’s over 100ft up in the middle of the lake and starting to drop more and more. Unfortunately for me the battery literally was failing even though I should have had more than 10 minutes left to fly with it. This is when I realized that there is no way my drone was going to make it safely back to me on the shore. I then, along with my fishermen friends, watched my drone slowly drop lower and lower until it eventually hit the water and instantly sank.
I just stood there for a couple of minutes not sure what to do next. Since there was really nothing I could do I just went home and tried to forget about it and move on. The important lesson here though is that you never know what may happen when you’re out flying. So be smart and learn from others. Since that experience I only fly on a full battery that has recently been charged.
I think companies will continue to develop drones that produce amazing cameras but I would also love to see them get used by other professionals as a tool to help them do their job better. I recently read about a fire chief who used his personal drone to fly a life vest to a stranded father and son trapped by a flash flood. I also read about a freelance photographer who just happened to be shooting near a search and rescue operation and then ended up helping find a missing couple. How cool is that? I feel like that’s the kind of good PR drones need to be getting.
And now the drone race is starting to heat up with some serious competition in the market, which is awesome news for us as the consumer. That means that drones are going to keep getting better and better. I think the next big push we’ll see is improved video and still across the board as most consumer and prosumer drones have relatively similar flight times. I also see apps like DJI’s Pilot app being more advanced and more common across all drone companies.
I would say go slowly, but go for it! I love what I do and if it peaks your interest then try it as well. You don’t need to break the bank when you are just starting out so if something happens to your drone or you realize flying is not your cup of tea you haven’t really wasted much. Also I would say be creative when you to go out flying and try to create content no one has seen before. I keep trying to push myself and I love seeing others do the same.
But, my biggest advice is to know the law/rules where you are flying! It’s your responsibility to know where you can and cannot fly. Don’t push your luck or fly where you’re supposed to. If people continue to break the law then it’s going to be a lot harder for any of us to fly. I always have Mapbox.com as an open tab on my phone so if someone comes up to me I can show that I’m legally allowed to fly there.
If you’re flying on private property and the owner is not comfortable with you flying there then don’t. Be nice and courteous to others and they will do the same to you. I have people come up and ask me questions almost every single time and I love it because it gives me the opportunity to inform others and share some of the positive things about drones. Now I say go out and have some fun, create some awesome content and share it so I can see it!
I just want to thank you for the opportunity to share my story and thoughts and thanks to everyone for reading this. My contact info is below and you’re more than welcome to reach out to me. And please remember to be safe and smart when flying a drone because we all have a responsibility to keep others safe when flying!
Links to gear:
DJI Inspire 1 Drone// Apple iPad Air // Apple iPad Mini // DJI Phantom 2 Drone // GoPro Hero 4 Black // 3DR Solo drone // Adobe Lightroom // Go Professional Cases DJI Inspire 1 Travel Mode
Video of Kyle flying at his favorite beach:
If you liked this interview I would be grateful if you helped spread the word :) Also if you know of an awesome drone photographer that you would like to see interviewed then please let me know! Thanks for reading!
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