Expert Interview Series: David Stock of Divergent Travelers On Using Drones To Capture Inspiring Travel Photography
David Stock is a co-founder and content creator of Divergent Travelers Adventure Travel Blog. Together with his wife, Lina, they have traveled to 75+ countries on 6 continents. They are currently on a mission to experience and document the Top 100 Travel Adventures in the world. David is a professional drone pilot who has flown all around the world including the Philippines, Russia, Germany, Mexico, and the USA.
You’ve been travelling the world and taking photographs since 2001, and full-time since 2014. To start, what was your photography background before 2001, and what inspired you to want to take your photography to the next level?
Before taking on the world to travel full time I never picked up a camera. I’ve always been someone who is image driven but never tried capturing it on my own. I’m more likely to stop and look at an image then take time to read a caption. Ever since I was a kid, every time I saw amazing travel photos I would be sucked in imagining what it would be like to be there. That gave me the inspiration to travel.
How much has the world of professional photography changed since 2001, and in what ways? Are you optimistic about the current state of travel photography?
Equipment wise, the world of professional photography has changed a ton in just the past few years and it’s going to change even more in the years to come. Cameras have gotten smaller and easer to use without losing the quality. There has been a lot more rules and regulations being put in place every year and that makes taking professional photography hard. Rules and regulations are good but soon I feel they will limit us, especially when it comes to drone work.
When did you first become aware of drone photography? Did you see the potential immediately, or did you think it would either be a fad, or something that only the very wealthy would be able to practice?
I saw a huge potential in drone photography when it first came out, however units were a lot larger and required teams to operate them. We have wanted to get one for a while but the price and the technology was not friendly to our traveling. When the DJI Phantom drones first hit the market, we were traveling in Africa and it wasn’t possible to purchase one but we started seeing more people using them in the industry and realized it is the way of the future for quality content producers.
When did you first get started with drone photography, yourself? What was your first model of drone, and how did you feel about it?
We first got started with drone photography in 2015 due to our travel schedule. We would have started sooner, but we were traveling in places where it wasn’t possible to buy a drone. We have taken many amazing aerial photographs and videos from helicopters and airplanes so adding a drone just made sense. Our first model is a DJI Phantom 3 Professional. The DJI 3 pro is a great drone that can produce great still photos or videos.
Likewise, what kind of cameras do you like to use with your drone photography? What are some things someone should keep in mind, when deciding what camera to send with their drone?
Cameras are important and it’s not as easy as just throwing your drone into the sky. When you’re shooting aerial photography you need the most room for adjustments. Every time you send it up adjustments will have to be made to our surroundings. We only use drones that come with high-quality, built in, manual cameras.
When you first started piloting drones, did you take any classes or anything? How much did you have to practice before you finally felt comfortable piloting your drone?
Every flight is different every time the drone goes up in the air. I’ve had a little education years ago when I was trying to get my private pilot license. That education has helped me understand how drones operate, how weather conditions affect things and what some of the laws are. Practice makes perfect, so I fly all of the time trying to get comfortable behind the controller. I really did not get comfortable flying our drone until around 50+ flights in different aerial conditions and even to this day it’s a little nerve racking when I’m flying in some countries.
On a recent post, ‘25 Amazing Drone Photos Of the Philippines‘, you mention creating “great content so people would see the Philippines as more than a third world nation on a side of the globe they have not considered visiting.” First of all, how can drone photography help get candid photographs other photographers might not be able to get? Secondly, can you talk about photography as a kind of activism, as a force to do and spread good in the world?
Drone photography takes basic photography to a whole new level. Instead of getting that canned shot from the ground you can put a camera in the air and capture a view not many people have seen. Aerial photography is a very unique perspective and is eye grabbing. We use aerial photography to really showcase a destination that we visit because it gives a very unique perspective of the things we see while traveling and people love that.
Do you store all of your media on-board your drone, or do you use any kind of cloud server to backup your work? When might someone consider integrating some kind of backup, so they don’t lose all their work?
We store everything on portable external hard drives. We travel with three total that house our videos and photography. It’s always good practice to have more then one copy in case one hard drive dies or if content accidentaly gets deleted. Anyone that produces content should be thinking about backing up their stuff, whether it be to hard drives or the cloud. We personally are not using the cloud because we travel so much and it is not easy to find fast enough WIFI connection to load RAW files. So everything is done with hard drives. It takes up space, but it’s worth having.
What have been some of the most inspiring places you’ve visited and photographed, and why? What are some unexpected ways that travelling and photography have enriched your life?
Africa was incredible for photography and a place that changed the way we see the world and the people that live in it. Another place we love is SE Asia. There is so much beauty to be seen and experienced in this part of the world and it goes far beyond the party beaches of Thailand. Every day that we spend on the road enriches our lives and gives us a better understanding of humanity and the world we live in. Photography helps us capture these moments and share them with the world.
For adventure and travel photographers travelling to different countries, can you recommend any useful resources for investigating that country’s drone laws? Also, when might it be a good idea for a drone photographer or pilot to consider drone insurance, and for what reason?
It is imperative for anyone who is traveling with a drone to know the country’s drone laws before you enter the country. Some country’s consider drones contraband and do not even allow them in. Others have strict laws that require permits and flight plans. This applies to anyone who has a drone, both for hobby and professional use. I always start with a simple Google search weeks before a trip. (Can I fly a drone in Cuba?) Look for main websites like the FAA or CAA. Drone rules are changing so fast so you must triple check the information you find on the web. Most of the time that will give you the right information you are looking for. Sometimes, however, you cannot find any information, so from there I head to forums where past travelers can tell you what their experiences were in that country. I also reach out to tourism boards and embassies to see if they have the most updated information.
Insurance is something every pilot should have. Drones are mechanical devices subject to failure or, in a lot of cases, they just fall out of the sky. You need to be covered in case that happens.
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