It doesn’t take long for one to appreciate Daniel Peckham’s work. His images are breathtaking and after you read this, you’ll see why. Daniel is a still photographer with a keen eye for color, light and landscape. Once he started to experiment with drones, his creativity skyrocketed and he had a new outlet for his talents. We’re lucky enough to see the end products!
We are happy to spotlight Daniel Peckham in this week’s Behind the Controls! His images (many taken in Southern California) are bright, clear, creative and eye-catching. Learn more about how he got started with drones, his most epic crashes and advice for those who are thinking about getting into the drone space.
Behind the Controls: Daniel Peckham
First, a random fact about me that no one would know: I was born in Papua New Guinea and spent most of my early years living in the remote rain forest of West Papua, Indonesia. This has profoundly shaped my outlook on life and given me an appreciation of people and places all over the world.
How would summarize the work you do with drones – business, pleasure or both?
My drone photography is first for myself, and business second. When I head out with my drone, I am primarily pursuing my passion to create beautiful images and cultivate creativity. Of course, it still helps to make some money, so I do keep that in mind.
For example, though I tend to focus on still images, I always try to shoot some good-quality video also, since the demand for high quality video seems to be greater than for stills.
How did you get involved with flying drones?
I’ve been interested in photography for many years, and I’ve always tried to capture unique angles to make my work stand out. I’ve always loved flying on airplanes (big and small), and choose the window seat every time.
When I first found out about the DJI Phantom (back when the only camera option was a GoPro) I was blown away by the possibilities. I immediately funneled all my photography profits towards getting set up with drone photography.
How has it changed your life?
Drone photography has re-kindled my creativity on a deep level which spills out into traditional photography, and also to the rest of my life. I think anyone who has done something (like photography) for a long time can get burned out on it, or lose creative juices.
For me, aerial photography has sparked a new level of creative thinking that has boosted me in many ways. My drone photography has also helped my work stand out more than it would have otherwise, and gain a larger following online that I have ever had in the past, which has been very rewarding.
Finally, it affects where I go. I find myself picking places to go (on my days off, or for vacation) primarily because I think they might be great places to fly my drone.
You’re in Southern Cal – what’s the best part about shooting there?
The best part of shooting in Southern California is the coastline, in my opinion. There is so much beauty and variety to capture from the air, whether it be beaches, piers, cliffs, rocks, wildlife, beach bums, surfers, sailboats, etc. Flying above water gives me the opportunity to shoot with slow shutter speeds to blur the waves for more interesting results.
What are your favorite shots to capture?
My favorite shots tend to be top-down perspectives because it is such a unique vantage point that we don’t usually see. I try to include people in my photos as much as possible for perspective and human interest, and I like to use slow shutter speeds for some blur. I love using shadows as well.
Have you been certified (Part 107 and/or 333 exemption)?
Not yet, though I will most likely get the 107 soon.
What does your drone kit look like? What do you fly?
I fly the DJI Phantom 3 Professional with an iPad Mini and PadHat sunshade. I often use ND and polarizing filters. Perhaps the most unique part of my setup is my trusty Pringles can which is a perfect size for the props. I look forward to upgrading to the Phantom 4, mostly for the faster write times which make a big difference when shooting brackets or panoramas.
How have customers/fans responded to your drone work?
The response to my drone work online has been phenomenal, especially on Instagram. One of my Laguna Beach ocean pool shots continues to go viral from time to time, which has been lots of fun.
Where do you think commercial drone work is headed?
I think there are so many opportunities for drones beyond the visual arts such as for search and rescue, inspections, etc. But what I care most about is better-quality cameras (especially in regards to shooting stills), a higher quality live video feed, the ability to control the aperture, and longer battery life within the smaller-sized drones. I want to stick to a drone that I can throw in a backpack and take anywhere with me.
What has been your favorite shoot?
One of my favorite shoots was with @MichaelMatti exploring the city and surrounding rain forest in Hong Kong for 3 action-packed days in which we both flew our drones as much as possible.
Forest + Skyscrapers + Harbour = Vertical Hong Kong. To get a slightly different perspective on the classic Victoria Peak view of Hong Kong, I flew my drone out closer to the edge of the skyscrapers to capture more of the vertical perspective. Thanks to @MichaelMatti for inviting me along to explore this incredible city. I have many more photos to share in the coming days. #VictoriaPeak #HongKong #HK #HKG
The Big Buddha of Hong Kong. Moments after I took this photo the clouds completely covered the mountainside. Thanks to a friend for picking me up at the airport and taking me on his motorcycle to some of the out-of-the-way spots outside the city. This was our last stop of the day. I’ll be sharing more from our day of exploring soon. Tian Tan Buddha, Lantau Island, Hong Kong #lantau #bigbuddha #HongKong #lantauisland
Most recently, I met up with @cgballing who contacted me through Instagram and we did a fun shoot in Laguna Beach that involved him sitting in a bright pineapple inner tube in an ocean pool while I zoomed from 4 to 400 feet with the drone.
One of my most challenging shoots was launching my drone from a moving boat in windy conditions in Fiji to get aerial shots of para-sailers who were attached to the same boat.
Parasailing above the reef in Fiji. This was one of the toughest flights I’ve ever flown with my drone, since I was launching from a very windy boat (I had someone hold it above their head for takeoff) that was also moving, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t hit the parachute (I didn't think @MichaelMatti would appreciate holes in the parachute) or the line holding them to the boat.
My saddest crash happened on my first day of a 2-week trip to New Zealand and Australia in which I crashed against a cliff along the rocky coastline and lost the drone forever into the ocean below.
I ran over a mile along the coastline to find a place to get over to where it crashed, and went back at low tide, but never found it. Not only did I not have the drone for the rest of the trip, but I also lost some footage that I hadn’t downloaded yet to my computer. It was a sad day indeed.
What do you hope to accomplish in your drone work in the next few years?
I want to pursue creativity and try new things. I feel like there’s a lot more to explore in terms of using a drone for photography. A couple things on my mind currently are 360 videos/photos from the drone as well as mounting a bright light on it to use it to light scenes at night. I have too many ideas and too little time.
Any advice for those just starting out with drones?
First of all, spend a good amount of time flying in a safe place such as a big field in a park. Get to the point where the controls are second-nature. Once you’re comfortable flying, start thinking about unique places to fly, and just start exploring.
Expect that once you get in the air, you’ll start seeing new things that you wouldn’t have anticipated from below. Give yourself time to explore around and try different heights and angles. Don’t forget to look every direction. Focus on top-down shots. And follow basic photography advice like shooting early in the morning or late in the day.
Use Google Earth or satellite view to scout out locations beforehand. Find people online that are doing great aerial work and get inspiration from them. Put people in your photos. And of course, use common sense when flying. Don’t be an idiot.
Check out Daniel Peckham on the web!