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In our February Visual Trend Report, we wrote about the boom in drone photography and aerial footage. Affordable, good quality drone cameras are relatively new on the scene, so it’s an exciting time to watch where photographers and videographers are headed with the technology.

One huge area of exploration right now is the urban landscape. Of course, cities have always offered opportunities for photographers: amazing colors, contrasts, and details, and powerful human stories. But crowded spaces make it difficult to back up for a broader view.

Now drones give photographers a wider perspective on urban places, and the images are enticing designers looking for fresh visuals that grab attention. Views from above also help journalists tell big-picture stories about environmental, social, and political situations.

Patterns emerge from above.

Drone cityscapes help tell the story of population density and land use, and of how people organize their lives together in urban areas. From the ground, you experience infuriating traffic gridlock or a maddeningly easy place to miss your exit. But from above, beautiful patterns take shape.


Social justice finds a powerful voice.

Drone photographers are also finding a powerful niche covering social issues. As we wrote earlier this month, Johnny Miller’s series, Unequal Scenes (@unequalscenes), captures dramatic inequalities in South Africa, where roads, rivers, forests, and industrial parks serve as geographical barriers that keep the rich and poor separate.

Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course, photo by Johnny Miller

Inequality isn’t new, but to see it so starkly from above moves people to think about injustice more deeply: “Humans have this amazing ability to think we know a situation, having seen it so many times from the same perspective…When you fly, you totally change that. Buildings, mountains, forests—they all look totally different,” explains Johnny.

Drones weren’t Johnny’s first attempt to show social injustices, but they’ve been his most powerful tool so far: “I’ve spent a long time trying to take people’s photographs in a way that accurately captures people’s suffering, their story. And nothing really hit… But the minute I flew above them—into the sky so that they became little dots on the landscape—that’s when people started paying attention.”

Beyond his own photography, Johnny is working with Code for Africa, to build a community of drone journalists, mappers and storytellers focused on social issues across Africa.

Know the rules before you take off.

If you’re inspired to take to the urban skies, you need to know the rules of the air. In the U.S., new regulations went into effect in August of last year. They govern when, where and how you can fly, preserving safety and privacy as more people use drones for hobbies and their work. Know Before You Fly is an excellent resource for all of the details, including specific regulations for commercial photographers. The regulations vary by country, so if you’re outside the U.S., you’ll need to know your local requirements.

For more pointers, read these top drone tips from Adobe Stock contributors Ryan Longnecker and Tobias Hägg.


The sky’s the limit.

As drone technology continues to develop, and more photographers jump in, we can expect the field to change quickly. Johnny has his eye on a few potential game changers: “I’m interested to see what sort of art comes out of multi-sensor drone photography, including infrared and other parts of the spectrum…and time-lapse photography, as batteries get better and better.

Regardless of the tech, at their core, drone photographs will always be about seeing from a new angle. Tobias Hägg, an aerial photographer and Adobe Stock Premium Contributor, explains: “For me the drone trend is all about one thing and one thing only. It’s about the perspective itself. If you learn how to handle the aerial perspective and know what you want to tell with your images, I would say that’s the key to good compelling images right there.”


See more of the ways photographers are using drones to re-envision cityscapes in our dedicated Adobe Stock Gallery.

The Adobe Stock Team

The Adobe Stock Team

Adobe Stock is a collection of over 60 million photos, videos, illustrations and vectors. The Adobe Stock Team is responsible for managing, curating and promoting these assets. We are a global team with offices spread across Paris, Berlin, New York, Seattle and San Francisco.


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