On my most recent visit to Valley of Dreams in the northwest New Mexico badlands (see previous post here), I brought along my Mavic Mini 2 drone, which I've been learning to fly for video and still photography.
Since receiving the drone as a Christmas present, I have begun to reflect on (a) the visual aesthetic of motion video versus still photography and (b) the benefits and challenges of aerial still photography. Most of what I've discovered is obvious if you stop to think about it, and it's probably stuff you would get in a Filmmaking 101 class, but until I actually was able to use the drone and its camera, then review the results, I had never had occasion to think about it.
Indulge me, then, on some early epiphanies.
1. The viewer's experience of an unchanging still image is very different from the viewer's experience of an always-changing, moving image sequence that unfolds over time.
Technically, the viewer's experience of a still image also unfolds over time, because we know from lots of scientific experiments that our visual system (eyes and brain) does not receive and process a scene instantaneously, but rather it rapidly scans different parts of an image and assigns significance, relationships, and associations to construct an understanding or comprehension of it. But that happens so quickly that it seems to be instantaneous.
And the still image itself does not change under the viewer's gaze. It is available for inspection and consideration as long as the viewer wishes to look. The aesthetic, then, of a still image is the organization of all its elements into a perceivably coherent whole. In photography as well as painting, this is called "composition."
On the other hand, with a moving image there is no opportunity to stop and ponder unless you hit "pause" on the playback system, whereupon the moving image simply becomes a series of still images and thereby defaults to the aesthetic of still images (i.e., composition).
Composition in moving pictures is important, of course, but the dominant aesthetic of moving images is revelation: the moment-by-moment act of setting the viewer's expectation and then, frame by frame, fulfilling or re-setting that expectation (or both).
(By the way, Ken Burns and many other filmmakers do this quite artfully even with still images by moving the camera . . . in effect, slowing down and guiding what would otherwise be a near-instantaneous process of the viewer perceiving a still image.)
So the difference in aesthetic between still and motion photography is the difference between this . . .
. . . and this:
2. Aerial photography is cool, but not every aerial view makes a good still photograph.
For landscape photography, being able to photograph from a higher vantage point allows you to show features in a larger spatial or geographic context . . .
. . . or see things that are simply not visible from the ground:
An aerial perspective also allows you to create more abstract-like images by looking straight down:
But look-down images can be uninteresting or disorienting if it's not clear to the viewer what they're seeing:
In general, I'm coming to the conclusion that with aerial still photography, simplicity is better:
At this point I am still experimenting with with motion video and still images from the air. I can't predict where I'll end up, but I imagine I will use the drone primarily to give me access and perspectives for still photography that are unavailable from the ground.
Nevertheless, I expect from time to time I will indulge in the excitement of motion video (with a little boost from a music track) such as this one from Valley of Dreams:
If you would like to see these images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.