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Bird’s eye view: How drones are changing the way we view the world

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Over the last two or three years, the popularity of mainstream consumer drones has skyrocketed and they are literally changing the way we view the world. Sam Agars reports

Many commercial uses have been touted for drones as they become more advanced, with mail delivery and the like heading the list. But drones are also working their way into our everyday lives, with a growing number of enthusiasts now using them just for fun. While some have taken up droning simply as a weekend pastime, the more creative among us are using them to capture footage and take photos that are unlike anything seen before.

A video of DB made by HongKonger Jack Shirley, and shared on the Around DB Facebook page in September last year, captured the imagination of the community and offered a glimpse into just what these machines are capable of.

Expanding perspectives

According to Jack, drones have added another dimension to film-making, and opened up endless possibilities for amateurs and professionals alike.

For now, the most popular use for the off-the-shelf drone is to film from viewpoints once very difficult, if not impossible, to access.

“You can get almost anywhere now, and quicker,” Jack says. “Instead of climbing up the highest building you can stand at the bottom and fly up, but, if you did want to climb up, you could then get external footage of yourself. You can now film far out at sea without a boat. You can get smooth, beautiful shots, flying/ moving in a multitude of directions, without the use of extra equipment. And all this can be achieved by just one person, without a crew.”

And there is plenty more ground to be made, with affordable – what Jack calls ‘entry level’ – drones evolving all the time. He recommends the DJI Phantom 3 standard drone – the one he used to make the DB film – which can film at 2.7k resolution (better quality than HD), has a 1-kilometre range and costs just HK$3,800.

“Drones will continue to get smaller (able to film through slim gaps where you couldn’t get a cameraman), and have better cameras (including 360-degree cameras),” Jack adds. “Drones will also become very smart. Until recently, they only had obstacle avoidance sensors at the front, so the obvious next step, to avoid all obstacles, was to have the sensors all around the drone, as they are with the new Phantom 4 Pro.”

The perfect angle

While Jack enthuses that anyone interested should give droning a go, he stresses that it is not as simple as just launching your drone and pressing record. There are plenty of challenges when capturing the footage – such as battery life and the risks involved when exposing expensive equipment to the elements.

“I find the filming part can be stressful, I guess I worry too much,” Jack says. “Have I got every shot I need, was the lighting okay? I much prefer the editing part. Chill out, choose the shots I like, choose a song, edit to the beat.”

It’s clear that Jack’s training in video editing and post-production pays off. “Many drone users just upload their videos unedited and this is usually very boring to watch, as it takes time to take off and fly to your desired position,” he says.

Jack’s video is a perfect example of just what drones can offer, with the viewpoints utilised revealing a DB that most of us have never seen.“Many DB residents have been surprised to discover the pattern on the floor of DB Plaza; they had never noticed it until this video showed it from a bird’s-eye view,” Jack says. “Drones have the ability to show things from a completely new angle, allowing you to discover things you may have never noticed otherwise, even if you walk past them everyday.

“The thing I like most [about the video] is the transitioning from one Jack’s drone video brings the pattern on the floor of DB Plaza into focus shot to another, this was the first time I used these zoom-and slidestyle transitions in a drone film,” Jack adds.“They are very smooth and effective and I think they make this film stand out from most other drone videos.”

There are, of course, certain issues involved with flying drones, due in the main to the current grey area of personal privacy, but Hong Kong’s user guidelines are, for now, more relaxed than in many places.While you can no longer fly drones in and around either plaza, you can fly them everywhere else in DB. “The problem I see arising soon is that almost everyone will have one and inevitably some irresponsible flying will lead to stricter laws being required,” Jack says.

But the positive with drones becoming more readily available, more affordable and close to idiotproof is that anyone can enjoy flying them – and produce some interesting footage. “Film-making can be a difficult profession but with a drone, anyone can capture outstanding shots,” Jack says.

Find it

View Jack Shirley’s Discovery Bay drone video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=abFcy_yy-pg.

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