Flying a drone can be more than a little nerve-wracking

I started incorporating aerial drones in my photography a few years ago, and they’ve allowed me to do some cool stuff. But I’m always a little nervous I’m going to crash my expensive toy.

I got into drone photography when I was the photographer for North Dakota Game and Fish, and my boss sprung for a drone I could share with the department’s video guy. Mike was a little leery of playing with the drone. He was getting close to retirement, and he didn’t want to crash it and get fired so close to being able to cash in his pension. But I was the new guy, so I took that contraption out to see what it could do.

It didn’t take me long to get comfortable, and I started getting some really cool habitat shots from high in the sky. I used it on a few assignments to take some cool pictures showing hunters kicking up pheasants, and some neat angles of ice anglers out on frozen lakes.

Mike started to get a little confidence from watching me, so we went down to a high cliff over the Missouri River to see what kind of video we could get of a flock of about 2,000 Canada Geese that were hanging out on a sandbar.

I took the controls first and showed Mike how it worked. I flew it down to the river and cruised upstream, about 6 feet above the water.

We brought the drone back and landed it, and Mike took the controls and followed what I had done. He flew it out over the river, about six feet off the surface, and he started moving the drone upstream. He was doing great.

As he was watching the view the camera was seeing on the remote control display, he said, “wow, this actually is really easy.” I have no idea what he did at that moment, but just as he said that, the drone disappeared into the water. Ploonk. Gone. We both just sat there staring at the river where the drone disappeared.

The boss was actually pretty understanding about it. And they didn’t fire Mike either. They even got Mike a new drone to fly. But it certainly taught me a lesson. Even if the technology seems foolproof, it can go wrong in the blink of an eye.

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