Two sports teams played in the Super Bowl this year (we’ve been told), but our eyes were on the drones. Hundreds of them lit up the sky during Lady Gaga’s halftime show. These days, drones can bring sparkle to America’s sports events and capture new views of the action, as they did for the the most recent U.S. Open. It’s all part of a larger trend: as drones become more ubiquitous, people are experimenting with their capabilities. For us, the most exciting part of the trend is a huge burst of creativity in aerial photography.
Drones are all about seeing the world from an angle we haven’t been able to explore before. We’ve had satellite and helicopter photos for a long time, but drones can get closer to the ground, so there’s the potential for more detail in what they capture. And they can go almost anywhere, so photographers are getting views they could never have found by climbing onto bridges or buildings. This flexibility is an artist’s dream, as Tobias Hägg, an aerial photographer and Adobe Stock Premium Contributor explains, “When I was younger, I used to wonder about how things would look like from above, from the nose down.” Now, that view is at the center of his work.
A number of key factors are aligning behind the drone photography trend — drone camera prices are down, the technology is solid, the public is interested, and artists are inspired. All of this suggests a sweet spot for photographers who want to give drones a try.
The demand for aerial images is strong — and growing.
Photographers are often early adopters of new technology, and drone camera sales show that drones are no exception. Holiday discounts this year helped drive online drone camera sales up by 108 percent year over year. With this, we anticipate significant proliferation of new styles and innovation in drone photography in 2017.
And designers are responding positively to the drone trend, which means the market for stock photography and videos is promising. Searches for drone photography in Adobe Stock grew 5% from the beginning of 2015 to the start of 2017. Based on similar trends we’ve tracked in the past, we predict interest in drone captured images and footage could grow as much as 14% in 2017.
Designers may be drawn to aerial images because they offer unexpected, eye-grabbing images. This means there are opportunities for photographers to continue to push the boundaries of the form. According to Ryan Longnecker, an outdoor and travel photographer and Adobe Stock Premium contributor who uses drones for his work, “Aerial photography is not at all new, but with the flexibility and accessibility of this incredible equipment, it’s going to take really learning the equipment and developing a style to stay on the front edge of innovation. It’s inexpensive enough that hobbyists will be alongside professionals, forcing them to progress, be experimental, be brave.”
Drone photography packs a powerful emotional punch.
The most talked about aerial photos over the last year were ones that captured our emotions. Some images, like Ryan’s views of the sea, gave us a sense of calm that comes from a bit of perspective. Other drone stories broke our hearts by revealing stark reality. For example, Cape Town-based photographer Johnny Miller’s series, Unequal Scenes, showed the difference between the rich and poor in South Africa. He used drones to capture the startling differences and physical divides between where the wealthy and the destitute live, showing how the lines drawn by Apartheid still define people’s lives today.
Our analysis of social media underscores the emotional power of aerial images. People mentioned drone photography on social media with relative consistency throughout the year, with minor spikes in spring and fall and, overall, social sentiments were positive. But in June, when “Unequal Scenes” began to trend, social sentiments turned notably negative, suggesting that the images made their mark on viewers in a deeply emotional way.
Of course, just like any photographic technique, there’s more to a creating an emotionally compelling aerial image than pointing and shooting. Aerial images take a lot of planning. For Tobias’ breathtaking images of Iceland, he first studied Google Earth to plan locations and shots, and then had to wait for just the right lighting and texture to coalesce.
According to Ryan, a good aerial photographer also has to consider the unique qualities of the art form. “There is a two-dimensional nature of a lot of drone/aerial photography, so thinking of your frame as a painter’s canvas helps create compelling images. Knowing what the subject of the photo is rather than just an aerial angle is another detail that I think sets apart amateurs from professionals. Whether that is repeating lines; a singled-out, long-casted shadow; or a landmark.”
What’s ahead for drone photography?
Drone photography is still in its infancy, and Ryan imagines lots of possibilities. “I could see massive 360° aerial imaging giving people interactive bird’s eye views, or the development of weather-capable drone setups to get some amazing, intense weather shots.”
Drones are also a trend to watch when it comes to search-and-rescue missions and explorations of hazardous places, so it will be interesting to follow how photographers might get involved in capturing images of these missions. And, as Johnny Miller’s work suggests, there’s a lot of potential for drone photography to address social issues. Ryan agrees: “I hope people can use drone photography and videography to highlight and emphasize the need to care for the environment, using it to highlight melting ice caps, eroding landscapes, pollution, etc. In a few years we could have aerial environmental activism.”
Over the course of February, we’ll be taking a closer look at the social and political power of drone photos, and get a sneak peek at drone-inspired digital art created by our featured artist Alex Palazzi. For more breathtaking, thought-provoking views from above, check out our aerial gallery. And if you’re intrigued by the drone craze and looking to try it out for yourself, be sure to read Ryan and Tobias’s tips on getting started with drones. .