Drones can be controversial. As unmanned flying vehicles that can stealthily spy or drop weapons on people, they’ve been the subject of intense ethical and national security debates. But drones don’t have to be military machines. In the hands of photographers, smaller unmanned vehicles can capture beautiful, unique images that would otherwise go unseen.
For the third year in a row, the international Dronestagram contest has recognized outstanding drone photos in this emerging field.
“A great drone picture is a picture that you immediately identify as a drone photo,” says Guillaume Jarret, Dronestagram’s head of marketing and development. “It is taken at a low altitude, near the target of the picture.” If you know what to look for, you can figure out that these pictures couldn’t have “been taken with a device other than a drone.”
Patrick Witty, one of the contest judges (and also National Geographic’s deputy director of photography for digital), says that capturing these types of photos is “incredibly difficult.”
“Until you are floating above a scene, it’s impossible to know exactly what you’ll see below,” he says. “Photographers not only have to pilot the drone but, more importantly, compose a photo that transports you to a place you've never been before.”
The nine photos in this gallery showcase the top three winners in each category: Nature-Wildlife, Sports Adventure, and Travel. They were selected from 5,900 entries spanning 28 countries. Together, they speak to what Jarret says is the purpose of this contest: “to celebrate the beauty of drone photography, a new photographic language.”
First Place, Nature-Wildlife. Wielding his Phantom 3 drone, Michael Bernholdt took this photo of Demark’s Kalbyris Forest. “To my luck it had snowed all day so that the pine wood really stood out,” he says. PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL B. RASMUSSEN
Second Place, Nature-Wildlife. Szabolcs Ignacz spotted this swarm of sheep while traveling down the road in Marpod, Romania. He quickly set up his drone and captured this winning image. PHOTOGRAPH BY SZABOLCS IGNACZ, DRONESTAGRAM
Third Place, Nature-Wildlife. “This picture was very difficult to catch because of ascending hot-air and 50Km/h wind,” writes Jonathan Payet of his photo, taken above the Piton de la Fournaise volcano on Réunion island. “There was also sulfur next to the volcano so I need to have a mask while piloting.”PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN PAYET, DRONESTAGRAM
First Place, Sports Adventure. When Max Seigal spied this crack in Moab, Utah, he knew he had to get a shot of it. “Two years ago I started flying drones, and I quickly realized their potential to capture stunning, never before seen views,” he writes. “I've been hooked ever since!”
PHOTOGRAPH BY MAX SEIGAL, DRONESTAGRAM
Second Place, Sports Adventure. While covering a competition in Cúcuta, Colombia, Juan Pablo Bayona took this photo of swimmers. “Instead of taking the same photo as always, it occurred to me to fly my drone to try to achieve something different,” he says.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOS MANES DEL DRONE, DRONESTAGRAM
Third Place, Sports Adventure. Tj Balon took this picture of his friend outside of Cordova, Alaska. “My fingers always get cold while I fly up there but the results are ALWAYS worth it,” he writes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY HIGH ANGLE SHOT, DRONESTAGRAM
First Place, Travel. It was a foggy day after Christmas when Francesco Cattuto went for a walk near the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy. But when he sent his drone above the clouds, “the view was spectacular.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANCESCO CATTUTO, DRONESTAGRAM
Second Place, Travel. Todd Kennedy took this photo on his honeymoon in Cable Beach, Australia. When he and his spouse went on a sunset camel tour, he brought his drone and captured it from above.
Third Place, Travel. On a trip to Gran Canaria Island, Karolis Janulis captured a shot “of one of the most amazing beaches in the world—Playa de Amadores.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY KAROLIS JANULIS, DRONESTAGRAM