The Top Drone Photos and Films of 2017

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A guest post by Part 107 Pilot and writer Kara Murphy.

Year after year, significant improvements in drone technology make them more accessible to creators at all skill levels. Photographers and filmmakers that started out working from ground-level, or chartered helicopters for aerials shots, are increasingly turning to the more affordable consumer-grade drones to capture unique shots that simply aren’t possible with larger, costlier manned aircraft.

The ingenuity that arises from the improved capabilities drones offer creators never fails to astound, and this year was no exception. I’ve compiled the best 10 photos and 5 videos that caught my attention in 2017. I hope they also encourage you to fly more, explore new places, and hone your craft.

The Top 10 Drone Photos of 2017

Silas Chau, High Island Reservoir

Hong Kong’s largest reservoir has been the main subject of many aerial compositions. The way Chau portrays this couple conspicuously skirting along the dam’s signature concrete dolosse blocks evokes a distinctive, modern-day Bonnie and Clyde aesthetic.

Instanusantara People, Sunrise Point Cukul

This ethereal shot, where fog and sunlight coexist harmoniously, was captured at dawn in Indonesia.

Emilie Brooke, Moreton Island

“There are no words…Pretty glad we made the barge with about 2 Seconds to spare.” Visibly sunken treasures, coupled with vibrant bodies of water, is part of what makes Australia a top destination for aerial photographers and filmmakers.

Logan Davidson, Great Salt Lake

While travelling through Utah, “we followed this railroad track for a good 45min not knowing where it would lead….After a few trains had passed we knew we had found something special. It seems that some of my best adventures start with very little planning and simply going for it.” Davidson’s approach is stellar advice as some of the most magical shots happen by accident.

Serena Coady, Sapphire Coast

Coady had only been flying her drone for two months when this photo was taken, proving that sometimes timing really is everything.

Kyle Hulse, Minocqua, Wisconsin

The Wisconsin-based commercial remote pilot caught “a handcrafted wooden kayak moving through patches of lily pads” and made a perfect masterpiece.

Kristina Makeeva, Neuschwanstein Castle

This picturesque, oft-photographed fairytale castle is especially exquisite when surrounded by peak fall foliage.

Mike Bishop, Iceland

“What do you see? The tree of life? Glacial meltwater flows into the ocean through a river mouth. For an idea of the scale of this river spot the tiny car driving across the bridge.” This photo was taken with an affordable Phantom 4 Pro, proving skill and imagination are still the most critical prerequisites for creating transcendent works of art. Shooting in an otherworldly place like Iceland helps too.

Travis Burke with edits by Chelsea Yamase, Arizona

Photographer Travis Burke captured this overhead image of The Wave, a wondrously textured sandstone rock formation, while Chelsea Yamase, a world traveller, put a creative spin on it with some colorful, imaginative edits.

Borsch, Central Air Force Museum

The Russian photographer asked his followers to caption this photo. His initial contribution, “Last Battle,” is clearly the most fitting.

Honorable mention: Reuben Wu

Most of Wu’s work is created at eye-level. Even so, when he flies a drone, the perspective he captures, including these solar evaporation ponds in Moab, Utah, is powerful. The composition, framing, mood, and narrative conveyed in every photo he takes will give you pause — in the best way imaginable. I highly recommend taking a moment to view his Behance and Instagram accounts in their entirety.

The Top 5 Drone Videos of 2017

Ilko Iliev, 2D RUN – MMP 3 (Mixed Motion Project)

Watching this brilliant film’s protagonist eventually lose steam after executing a series of death-defying stunts, on the run, is exhilarating. It’s unsurprising that 2D RUN won top prizes at all the major drone film festivals this year.

Nurk, Flight of the Year

Paul “Nurk” Nurkalla’s infamous video, where he unexpectedly encounters a train on a routine flight, and decides to continuously one-up every last stunt, drew equal parts praise and criticism across the Internet. Zoe Stumbaugh, another respected FPV pilot, asked him some tough questions in person at the third annual Flying Robot international Film Festival. Read about it, here.

Inva + Sla, Marinière

With Marinière, Athanasia Lykoudi and Nestoras Inva Kechagias, a duo of motion graphic designers best-known as Inva + Sla, continue their streak of creating stunning, mind-bending films in their home country of Greece. Read about their creative process in this profile from iQ by Intel.

Blackbeard, Stone Giants Join The Rebellion

If there’s one video (besides Flight of the Year) that exemplifies the close proximity drones can fly to objects compared with manned aircraft, it’s this one. Tie in the beautifully tranquil soundtrack, also created by the pilot, and you’ve got a blissful desert flight.

Daniel Riley, Winter Wonderland

Forget filming, mastering lighting and visual effects in post-production can turn ordinary subject matter into something surreal. Riley’s winning entry for Los Angeles Drone Film Festival’s Landscape and Architecture category makes you feel like you’re floating through a Winter Wonderland.

Honorable mention: Vic Moss

If you didn’t travel to a point in the path where the moon completely obscured the sun for over two minutes, this past August, or you want to revisit the experience from the comfort of your own home, watch Moss’ Eclipse Totality in Arnold, NE. Using a DJI Mavic Pro, the Drone U master replicated the complete experience in this short clip. It may not have a soundtrack or narrative, but it’s expertly crafted so you get the full effect without growing restless.

If you’re looking for a continual stream of inspiration, along with some helpful tutorials from top experts, I highly recommend joining the From Where I Drone community. For those looking to improve their photo editing skills in Lightroom, and delve into mapping, Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington are returning in 2018 with DJI Aerial Photo Academy. Tickets tend to sell out fast so act now if you see an event in your city.

I’ll be back in the New Year with more tips on how to up your game in all things drone. Happy Holidays.

Kara Murphy is a Part 107-certified commercial remote pilot and freelance writer residing in Michigan. Follow her aerial imagery on Instagram and learn more, here.


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