Old drones

The recent explosion in consumer drones on the market is exactly that: recent.

If you wanted a decent quadcopter with a camera on it, say, a decade ago, you’d have been looking at spending tens, possibly even hundreds, of thousands of your given currency.

But just because consumer drones are a new thing doesn’t mean that there weren’t ways to take aerial photos back in the day. That day specifically being one of the 365 examples from 1907.

The helicopter wouldn’t make an appearance for another 30+ years, so this wasn’t rotary-engined – it was feathery.

Here’s the link (warning: may include pigeon).

Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary, submitted a patent application for a new invention: the pigeon camera. The device was precisely what it sounds like—a small camera fitted with straps and equipped with a timer so that pigeons could carry it and take photos in flight.

Yes, seriously:

And back then, this technology was every bit as revolutionary as the stuff the DJI is offering us now.

The images his pigeons captured…  are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement. That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures.

And they also had problems with propellor-shadow. Or the avian equivalent, at least:

It’s a good reminder that while we might like to think that we are pioneers in any given subject area, there’s actually every chance that it’s been done before.

Two panos

I’m not a huge fan of panorama photos.
Well, I like the idea, but all too often, the actual product never really matches up to what I was hoping for (or even expecting).

Unless you’re going to plan ahead and take your own individual photos and stitch them in lightroom, it’s not going to be a great result.
That said, if you’re willing to acknowledge that you are using a mobile phone and not a DSLR, then your pano app can be fun for sharing a scene on whatsapp (or… er… a blog).

I popped the Mavic up above the early morning mist at home this morning and got this. It’s 21 images stitched together by the DJI software, but then you only get a 0.6MB image.
Still, what a shot (though I say it myself)…

One of those occasions where you really wonder if anyone would notice if you sent it up another 80m.

I didn’t. Obviously.

And then this, from Camps Bay this lunchtime. We had a spare half hour and so we grabbed a quick ice cream and a walk on the beach.

Full size here (10928 x 3520 nogal).

We’d forgotten how amazing Camps Bay can be out of season.
It was nice to be reminded.

 

UPDATE: I went back the next day and took a real panorama. You… well, you can see the difference. 🙂

Persistence

“Never give up!”

So goes the oft-quoted, dangerously positive and hugely misplaced piece of advice. It’s nonsense, of course. Giving up is always an option – often a very sensible one. And yet we’re taught from an early age – and bombarded by  examples like Wiley Coyote and Tom the cat – that it’s tantamount to failure.

No. There are many times when giving up is a perfectly acceptable choice to make.

I wish Lily would understand that. They’ve been back in touch again (using yet another different email address to avoid my filters), this time offering me essentially free* shares in their company if I buy a Lily drone, under the tempting subject heading:

got Lily Drone yet?

No. No, I haven’t. And the “yet” is wholly redundant.

Looks cute, sure but it’s rather expensive and it’s not actually very good in comparison to the drone I do have.

You have been one of the original supporters of Lily. As part of your support, we believe you should own a piece of the company that is bringing the vision of Lily into the future. We have successfully launched the Lily Next-Gen™, and we’re planning many more exciting products. That’s why we are providing you with this unique offer.

I have been, yes. But then, over a year ago I realised my error and moved on. Just like you should now.

There’s no shame in giving up on this lost cause, Lily. I promise.

 

* terms and conditions apply, obvs

Fire Pano

One of the sadly inevitable consequences of the cape Town drought is the exacerbation of our fire season. With no recent rain, the local veld and fynbos is a veritable tinder box ready to go up at the slightest provocation. The Overberg FPA recently documented the huge number (40) of major wildfires they have had to deal with so far this year.

Yesterday afternoon, it was the turn of Cape Town once again, as firefighters, 3 helicopters and a spotter plane worked hard for several hours to contain a fire in Cecilia Forest. We couldn’t actually see the fire from our garden or our house, but I popped the Mavic up and suddenly, all became clear (Well, as clear as it could be with all the smoke drifting around). And so I did what any sensible fellow would have done, and banged the pano button. 21 separate photos, taken automatically by the drone and stitched in the app gave me this:

Those are Wynberg School fields in the foreground (Junior on the left, High School on the right), with the fire clearly visible on the on the mountain beyond, and smoke drifting everywhere, but mainly southwards on the light breeze through the Constantia Valley and down towards False Bay.

This is a great example of how the Mavic can give you a different point of view on things. I knew there was a fire somewhere close: I could smell it, and the air was hazy with smoke. But I literally couldn’t see anything from ground level. I’m in no way suggesting that this a great image (it’s not – shooting straight into the sun is never a good idea), but at least I could see what was going on, and could document it. (And without getting in the way of any helicopters.)
Last time I saw a wildfire, I had to drive to get there.

It would be nice, however, if there weren’t too many more wildfires to ‘tog in this way (or any other).

 

UPDATE: Sullivan Photography at Ground Zero

We went to Theewaterskloof

Theewaterskloof being the biggest dam supplying Cape Town with water.
And we weren’t alone. Because Drought Tourism is a thing.

Some TWK stats for you from Wikipedia:
Total capacity: 480 406 000 m³
(for lovers of comparisons, that’s about 15 times the size of Ladybower Reservoir in the UK)
Catchment area: 500 km²
Surface area: 5 059 ha

Of course, that’s what it should be like. It’s not like that at the moment.

Theewaterskloof is divided quite neatly into 2 halves by the R321 bridge.

Most of my photos (link below) were taken from near the red dot (just left of centre) on the map above. Those of the dam wall and associated infrastructure were taken near the green dot (bottom right).

And while there is still some water in the Eastern (lower) half, the Western (upper) half is one big – very big – sandpit. Of course, we knew this before we headed out there, but it was still a wholly shocking sight and nothing (including my photos, I fully admit) prepares you for – or allows you to grasp – the sheer scale of what you’re confronted with.

What you’re looking at here is the only water in the “top” half of the dam. The water is about 100m wide at its widest point, and that sounds ok, until you realise that the far side of the dam is over 5km away. Aside from that 100m strip, it’s all just sand. And laterally, there’s almost another 6km to the left that should also be covered in water. But there’s none. Nothing at all.

And everywhere you look, dead trees. Usually they’d be submerged, but they’re high, dry and seemingly petrified. It’s weird: very disconcerting, yet also strangely beautiful.
It’s like every photo you’ve seen from the Namibian Tourist Board.

I’m not going to be like that “vlogger” and tell you how much water we’re “losing” through the outflow from the dam wall, and how the coffee and chocolate farmers of the region are “stealing” “Cape Town’s water”.
I’m not going to ask you how much water you’re using: if you’re in Cape Town, you should know that already, and if you’re not in Cape Town, then it really doesn’t matter to me.
And I’m not expecting my photos or words to effect any change in anyone. If you’re not panicking even just a little bit by now, too few blue pixels on a computer screen aren’t going to make any difference to you.

But even for a realist like me, it was a very sobering sight.

On a more practical note, photography was incredibly difficult. The light was completely overwhelming, there was nowhere high nearby to get a decent vantage point, and what should have been water is now just a wide open space with no landmarks to get any sort of scale or perspective.
Even the Mavic up at 120m struggled to take it all in. No wonder NASA used a satellite.

Theewaterskloof is very, very big, and it’s very, very empty.
Consequently, it’s my humble opinion that we should all be very, very worried.

Photos on Flickr here. Video to follow.
And hey, if you’re the guy who chatted to me on the dam wall this afternoon and asked where he could see my drone photos, you made it. Welcome!