By Craig McArt
Two photographers at Eastman are reaching new heights with their hobbies. Rick Karash and Steve Goldsmith enjoy taking photos and videos from unmanned quadcopters, which are small helicopters propelled by four rotors and commonly known as drones. In training their cameras over Eastman Lake, Eastman Golf Links, and The Center at Eastman, they capture stunning images of portions of the community from above. Before readers fret over being buzzed or spied upon, Rick and Steve want them to know that they are very sensitive to noise and privacy issues, and try to fly their quadcopters in places and at heights that avoid such problems. They have learned that they must be extra careful of where and when they fly their craft.
Both men have lifelong interests in flying. Rick played with model planes as a kid: he was tempted by radio-controlled model airplanes, but couldn’t figure out a suitable place to land them. He pursued his interest into adulthood, and when good, flyable helicopters were developed, he was attracted to those. His interest was so strong that he got his pilot’s license in the 1980s. Growing up, Steve had a couple of gas model planes and a small helicopter. Both were tethered to the ground, limiting their ranges while controlled by strings attached to the rudders or wires connected to throttles.
Thanks to advancements in electronics, motors, and control software, quadcopters now offer previously impossible stability, control, and features. “About a year ago,” Rick says, “we started seeing under-$100 copters with cameras that were quite stable and flyable. I took the plunge and had a good time with these, but at this price range, the cameras are simply awful. Then, last year, the models with good cameras like Steve’s dropped in price. Now I’m in.”
Rick uses a DJI Phantom 3 4k. At a weight of about one pound, it is very stable, will hold its position (altitude and GPS location), and is smart enough to fly back to where it started if anything goes wrong. It flies to 400 feet above ground, and its range is a radius of about 500 yards. Its recent price is $600, down from over $1,000. “Starting out, I lost a couple of the cheap ones,” he recalls, “so, I worked up carefully when I stepped up to the higher-quality model. The Grantham Recreation Park is a great place to practice flying.”
Steve flies a 3DR Solo with a remote-controlled 3-axis gimbal attached to a GoPro Hero4 camera. This gimbal stabilizes video on all 3 axes (yaw, pitch and roll), keeping the camera level with the ground while the remote control allows him to tilt the camera down or up to get the shot he wants without having to alter his flight. Before that, he had built a quadcopter from a kit, which was a good learning experience, although it was not nearly as flyable or stable as his 3DR Solo. He also has a couple of microdrones (very small, lightweight quadcopters) with small fixed-mount cameras on them. “They’re a lot of fun to fly and can be flown indoors,” he says, “but they’re very unstable and don’t provide very useful video or pictures as a result.”
Steve has done a lot of flying over Eastman. In addition to scenery shots around the lake, he documented the construction project at The Center at Eastman on Clubhouse Lane. All of the flights he did over The Center and the golf course were done with the permission of Eastman Community Association. “The last video I did of The Center project was right before we were heading out of town for a month,” he recalls, “The wind was gusting fairly strong that day as I did a couple of passes, but when I reversed direction to get a counterclockwise video, a gust of wind managed to push the quadcopter down about 20 feet—just low enough to clip a limb on the highest tree and get it stuck. Fortunately, a few weeks later there was a crane at The Center to finish up construction of the roof and it was able to knock the quadcopter free. Despite sitting in a tree for several weeks, being rained on, and falling to the ground, it worked fine!”
Rick has been photographing the beautiful natural shoreline of Eastman Lake for years from the ground, but aerials have added a different twist. He claims that from 400 feet up, the shoreline of Eastman Lake looks like an untouched lake in the north woods. He tries to avoid potential safety and privacy problems by keeping his quadcopter away from people. “I often fly out over the lake for shoreline photo or video, and I’m usually flying at sunrise or sunset for the best scenic light,” he says. “Another constraint, of course, is to avoid bothering the loons. [When I’m] flying over the lake, people in boats can hear the drone and look up to see it. Families have come down to the beach to see what’s happening.”
Rick has had a lot of experience with landscape photography, but doing video is quite different. He notes that in video, which needs to be smooth, you have the time dimension. “Setting the image at one moment against other moments are skills to learn. While stills are easier to display, videos have potential to do things you can’t do in a still image.”
What’s in the future? The technology is changing fast. Expect quality photo/video platforms at lower and lower prices. There’s an interesting possibility of “follow-me” drones that will go down the ski trail with a skier, photographing just behind his or her shoulder.
Can we expect to see an aerial photo of next summer’s Root Beer Float? Both Rick and Steve would be interested in the project, but with these reservations expressed by Steve: “There are a couple of launch sites that would make getting imagery of the event possible, but we’d have to make sure we could safely take off, get the imagery from far enough away from the crowd, not disturb the loons, and land safely. Getting shots that are otherwise impossible is a lot of fun and can be very rewarding, but it takes a serious commitment of time to learn how to operate and control the machine, and a serious commitment to operating safely.”
To view Rick’s videos over Eastman Lake, go to http://vimeo.com and search for “EastmanNH” and for his still photos at http://tinyurl.com/KarashEastman. Steve’s videos can be found at https://goo.gl/qNBtEq.