Drones have completely changed the way we look at landscape photography and videography. They are gaining popularity among photographers because of their ability to shoot from a bird’s eye view. Imagine seeing the Himalayas, or any natural wonder from an aerial perspective; stunning!
Though mountains offer a brilliant opportunity to shoot breathtaking pictures and videos, they are still not a photographer’s favourite destination for drones. Why? Simply because trekking to high altitudes and filming on drone is not easy.
To fly a drone at high altitudes, you need to be creative. Here, you operate under high physical and mental strain. You must also know how to keep the drone safe from rain, snow, dust, debris, and extremely harsh winds.
Drones are fragile. This makes it tricky to carry and fly them on treks. If you own a drone or are planning to buy and use one, these basic pointers will help.
1. Packing your drone
This can make or break your plans. Make sure you carry only the required equipment. Don’t add unnecessary weight. It comes in the way while handling other equipment. Carry a light and shockproof case too.
Drone batteries discharge quickly in cold temperatures. So, carry backup batteries and keep them warm by packing them separately, maybe wrap them in woollen socks. This ensures proper insulation.
If available, pack a pair of extra propellers as well. They might get bent or damaged during transit.
2. When to charge, what to carry
Do not count on finding electricity at all the Indiahikes base camps. In remote villages situated at a high altitude, electricity is erratic. And voltage fluctuations make it difficult to charge your drone. So, charge your drone batteries beforehand. You could also charge them on the way to the base camp when you stop for breakfast or lunch.
Don’t lug your chargers all the way up on a trek. I usually leave my charging hub at the base camp just so I’m not carrying unnecessary weight. Remember, every gram counts.
Never offload your drone case, even if it is empty. It could get damaged while being transported on a mule.
Here are some things you must do before flying your drone on the trek –
1. Compliance with DGCA and local guidelines
Treks like Kashmir Great Lakes go close to the international border via army checkpoints. Here, it is important to get relevant permissions for using the drone. As rules and guidelines are regularly updated, check for the latest updates on permissions required.
2. Planning your shot
Every minute counts when you have limited drone batteries. This calls for judicious planning. Plan your shots in advance. It saves a lot of battery.
Following points can help with this planning:
- Visualise your shots using Google Earth Pro.
- Get an idea of the altitudes and terrain.
- Speak to your Trek Leaders and trek guides about viewpoints, and other vantage points from where you can shoot a video.
3. Flying in the line of sight
Drones can fly and transmit footage to a range of 8 kms. But try to stay well within the range limit since larger distances increase the chance of crashing a drone into rocks or trees. In the mountains, recovering a lost drone is almost impossible. So, keep your drone in the line of sight.
4. Surviving bird strikes
The Himalayas are home to hundreds of species of birds. Eagles are the most common. Drones often provoke birds, who tend to chase and attack the equipment.
How to tackle this? Do two things :
- Don’t panic.
- Shift your drone to sport mode on the remote. Then increase the altitude (birds cannot gain altitude as quickly as they can lose it by gliding down) and get the drone back as soon as possible.
However, while sport mode increases the responsiveness of the drone, it disables the obstacle sensors. So, be extremely cautious while shifting modes. This also reiterates the importance of flying in the line of sight. Till now I have carried my drone to three Himalayan treks. And I assure you that filming possibilities with a drone are countless, all you need to do is develop your skill and creativity.
5. Battery Life/Duration of Flight
Drones perform well in the city by delivering close to what’s expected. But it isn’t so on the treks because the air at higher altitudes is thinner. To compensate for this change in atmospheric atmosphere, drones utilize juice from the battery. This substantially reduces the flight time.
Apart from the thin air, cold temperatures at high altitudes also drain the battery even when the drones are simply idle.
Here’s what I do in such a case:
1. Use a case with thick and tight foam stencils. Tightly pack the batteries into this case.
2. Wrap your batteries in a woollen sock, and store the wrapped batteries in an airtight box. This keeps the battery at a constant inner temperature and insulated from the cold temperature at high altitudes.
Remember that drones are expensive. So, keep the above points in mind. And if you have any other information regarding permissions, tips, or if you have used a drone on a trek, comment below to share your experience. On the other hand, if you have questions, drop those in as comments as well. I’ll help you out.