1. Drone journalism is set to go mainstream this year.
Using small unmanned aerial vehicles allows photographers to capture amazing footage without spending too much money. Which is very appealing to cash-strapped news organisations.
Lewis Whyld, a photographer at the Daily Telegraph, is one of the pioneers of British drone journalism. He went to the Philippines at the end of 2013 to capture this footage of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
4. But Whyld reckons the use of drones to cover recent floods in England marked the technique’s coming-of-age.
“As soon as the Telegraph did it then the broadcasters jumped onto the bandwagon,” Whyld told BuzzFeed. “It was funny to see it spreading like wildfire after no one used them for years.”
5. Photographers tend to use small craft that resemble mini-helicopters – not military drones.
Whyld says a self-build drone suitable for journalism could cost “below a thousand pounds, plus about £350 to stick a GoPro camera on the front of it” – news that will please media organisations that are short of funds.
But he says there’s two approaches to making drones: “The BBC has quite a big budget with three of these machines and I’m just building stuff in my front room.”
“People that don’t know what they’re doing are drawn into spending lots of money. You can get a Hollywood-standard system by buying cheaper equipment and building it up and knowing the components. Otherwise you can spend thousands and thousands – and if you crash it’s all gone.”
6. Basic drones for beginners – described as “toys” by Whyld – cost as little as £250.
7. But once journalists have learnt to fly then they can take shots that just wouldn’t be possible on foot.
“You can get into areas that you couldn’t with a helicopter,” explains Whyld.
“When I turned up at the floods there was a car submerged in the water and I had no idea whether it had been there a while – so I used the drone to fly up to the window and have a look in and check that no one was stuck inside, which saved me calling the emergency services.”
8. Drones also produce footage from a completely new vantage point, which is very attractive to broadcasters trying to catch people’s eyes as they flick between channels.
“At the moment this type of shot is new to the eye because it’s around the tree line: it’s taller than you’d get from the ground and lower than from a helicopter,” explains Steve Bennedik, head of technology for Sky News.
“These shots have an impact on the eye because they’re new to the viewer, although the impact could lessen as viewers get used to it. The drone shot could become part your tools to go along with the helicopter shot, the ground shot or an iPhone shot.”
Sky deployed drones to cover the Somerset floods and cut the footage with prsenter Kay Burley’s live broadcast: “Normally we’d use footage taken earlier that morning. But this time we were able to offer live pictures while Kay was talking. The next stage would be if the presenter was live with the drone taking off next to the presenter and the presenter talked over the images. I can see that as the next step.”
9. Lewis Whyld has also used his vehicles to capture amazing timelapse shots of approaching storms.
And he reckons that aviation rules means environmental stories will be the main focus for drone journalism in the UK.
“In the UK you can’t fly over congested areas and crowds,” he explains. This makes it nearly impossible to use drones to cover major events in city centres.
More problematically it’s illegal for journalists to be paid for drone footage until they attain Civil Aviation Authority qualifications.
“It’s about £1,500 to do the exams and there’s other charges on top of that. Your initial outlay may be over £10,000 to get one person trained up with one camera on one helicopter. It’s not that straightforward. There’s only the BBC and the Telegraph that are doing it in house.”