Blog Post

These beautiful photos show why we love drones

A jury of National Geographic staffers this week chose the winners of a Dronestagram photo contest. They included stunning snaps like this one of a Mexican waterfall, which took the prize for “most liked”:

Mexico Waterfall

The contest, which attracted more than 2,000 entries from around the world, shows how “drones” are about much more than spying and warfare. In the hands of photographers, they offer a beautiful new way to discover the world around us. Here is how my colleague Signe Brewster captured a sunset over San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood:

North beach drone photo

This new breed of consumers drones, which can weigh less than five pounds, are not just for taking pretty photos. They are also very useful in a range of industries, from search-and-rescue to news gathering to films to farming.

But who should be able to use the drones? I have very mixed feelings about this photograph, which won 1st Prize in the Dronestagram contest:

Eagle and drone

The photo, taken in a national park in Indonesia, is certainly original and lovely — but one wonders if the photographer was in the right to bother the bird in this fashion. Such concerns are what led the U.S. National Park service to ban drones outright last month — and North Carolina to stop their use in hunting and fishing.

But while it’s clear that some rules are needed to avoid the skies turning into a free-for-all, we now risk the other extreme. In the U.S., the FAA has dragged its feet in making rules and is now lashing out with heavy-handed (and likely illegal) restrictions that will limit not just the perils of the drones — but their potential promise too.

The best thing to do is for governments in the U.S. and elsewhere is to hurry up with a permitting-style system to ensure that people use drones responsibly, and so we don’t miss out on future elegant photos like this of Sanary Sur Mer in France:

France drone photo

Featured photo courtesy Flickr user XRay4000

15 Responses to “These beautiful photos show why we love drones”

  1. Calling the police to stop a drone from shooting video through your home window of your wife taking a shower would be useless because the pervert would have gotten his video and his drone out of there by the time before the police arrive. However, you may be able to rush outside and fix the problem yourself in the future.

    That’s why we’re working on a new product to address the problem yourself….

  2. Keep in mind that these mostly carry GoPro or lesser quality cameras. Invasion of privacy is not greater of a threat than Google Map airplanes. When someone intentionally flies up to your window and actually invades your privacy, call the police as you would any other privacy offense. The drone is not the issue, its the operator.

  3. Claude Rallins

    The photographs are nice at showing a bit of the beauty drones can reveal. But the immersive video stream at intends to actually heal the “visual wounds of war”.

  4. John Patrick

    I think drones are cool as hell but there a countless ways to abuse them. Probably one the best ways to avoid abuse is to remove anonymity. Require all drones to have transponders that return the make, serial, position and owner of a drone when queried via coded signal.

    These pictures are dramatic and beautiful, but it’s just as easy to use them to invade privacy.
    As an example there’s already enough issues with paparazzi snapping public photos of celebs from cars and on foot. Without restrictions those could easily become over swimming pool back yard shots or candid through-bedroom-window shots via use of camera equipped drones. And that’s just for starters.

  5. You’re anthropomorphising that bird, I doubt that it thinks very much about any odd object in the sky nearby. “Strange bird, probably not good to eat.” Existing regulations around protected and endangered species are going to cover people’s behavior with these things.

  6. I’ve noticed that in the last few weeks, Gigaom has posted quite a few drone articles – and most of them seem to take a ‘pro-drone’ slant.

    Considering the potential for abuse, such as privacy invasion, I’d like to see Gigaom take more of a neutral stance, or even play devil’s advocate more often with this issue. Just because a form of new technology seems ‘cool’ or ‘neat-o’ , that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is willing to run out and embrace it.

    • Google knows everything about your searches and emails, Facebook knows all your friends, Your ISP knows your entire online history and your phone knows where you are at all times. Are drones really that big of a concern compared to other threats to privacy? Probably not.

      • I have to disagree. I can opt-out of using Google, Facebook, etc by simply not using those services.

        Can I opt-out of having someone fly a drone over my backyard?

    • Hi Rick, thanks for the comment. Yes, I agree that our recent drone coverage has been mostly favorable — and that we should consider looking more closely at the privacy implications.

      But be ensured we’re not simply praising drones because they’re the new, shiny thing. We really believe that unmanned aerial cameras, properly regulated, offer a range of useful applications. Unfortunately, the FAA’s response has so far been unnecessarily reactionary.