On Friday, June 19, 2015 the "Perspectives" exhibit had its debut night. This is a traveling exhibit showcasing some incredible aerial photography through DJI's SkyPixel photo & video sharing platform. 

SkyPixel's mission is to bring aerial photography to everyone by creating the platform that connects those exploring the sky. And with this exhibit SkyPixel is now talking the community into art galleries in North America, Europe and Asia with the "Perspectives" by SkyPixel world tour. 

I was honored to not only have several of my images on display, but I got to also present and introduce SkyPixel and do a story telling kind of presentation. 
Since this event was in Santa Monica, we invited some of our local friends in the industry. And it was nice to see so many people from either within Hollywood or the aerial photography community. Thank you all for coming out. 

As mentioned the "Perspectives" by SkyPixel is a traveling exhibit. Below are the currently scheduled dates. Some dates may change. 

July 11 - 19th;  San Francisco
July; Hong Kong
August; New York 
August; Berlin
August; Philadelphia 
September; Beijing 
September; Chicago 
September; Milan 
October; Tokyo 
October; Paris
October; London
October; Singapore
November; Seoul 
November; Barcelona 

Connect with SkyPixel on Facebook here
This account starts on the morning of April 17, 2015 of us (the Team ABC Good Morning America with Maria, Morgan, Josh and Romeo from DJI) starting the survey expedition into the Hang En and Son Doong caves. The purpose of this was to determine if a live-broadcast of “Good Morning America” would be possible from inside one of the two caves. It had taken us 3 days to make our way to Oxalis Adventure in Phong Nha, Vietnam. Oxalis served as the staging area and point of departure into jungle. I flew from San Francisco to Hong Kong, connected to Hanoi, stayed there overnight and then flew into Dong Hoi City. We were picked-up by Oxalis and driven into the UNESCO World Heritage site of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National park. 


Day 1 (April 17) - at Oxalis Adventure Hotel 

I decided to get up early and low and behold, dusk was already setting in. I quickly ran up the one last set of stairs to the roof of Oxalis Adventure hotel so I could enjoy the pending sunrise. I was greeted by one of the most picturesque scenes - this was how I had envisioned Vietnam to be; green, thickly jungle populated mountains with sharp ridges, a big winding river, fields of rice stretching next to the river, everything covered in an interesting early morning haze. There was a small fog layer half way up the mountains and the church on the other side of the river towered majestically over the small town below. 

After that it was time for final packing and preparations for the adventure of a lifetime. All our personal gear for the trip into the caves was already in the hands of the porters. The night before we had to pack all our clothes, toilet articles, personal gear and also most of the technical. Now it was time to put everything we would not need the next few days back into our suitcases and leave them safely secured at Oxalis. 

Breakfast was served and I enjoyed the wonderful fruits, eggs, bread and the ice cold and super tasty coffee while looking at the small boat traffic on the river just meters below us. It was a surreal feeling to think about where I was and where I would be in just a few hours… 

Right before we left I got a spare part delivered for the Inspire. Amazingly it made it in just a little over 15 hours from Hanoi all the way to our location! Thanks to one amazing woman named Linh working at one amazing DJI dealer in Hanoi. I quickly repaired the Inspire and put everything together for transport. 

Then I was told that my lost luggage had now made it to our local airport and would be delivered before we were heading out. That was fantastic news and so we waited until the delivery of the spare Inspire in the GoProfessional case and my small suitcase filled with technical equipment, some snacks and most importantly, my small, beloved buck-wheat pillow! Yes, I had slept the first two nights without it and that had never happened in the past 19 or so years. And no, I have had different pillows but they were all the same size and made off the same filling. Just how I like it. 

Now it really was time to get onto the bus and drive into the secured National Park, on a road where there were no cars at all. The park is off limits to everyday people and so you only find a couple of tour buses or rangers driving the surprisingly well maintained road. The jungle here is thick with plants and once in a while you see a big cliff. It was a beautiful drive and we stopped a long the way for some pictures. It was already getting hot and humid - nothing compared to next month (May) but already very hot. Oh boy… 

We reached our destination, put our gear together, got our helmets and off we went. My backpack was about 30 lbs with all my gear, spare batteries for the Inspire, camera stuff, medical equipment and most importantly, bottles of water. I knew it would be a hard and long day… The first almost hour everything is down hill. Which means that the last 1.5 hours will be brutal on the way back. Parts of the downhill were very down that hill (better mountain side) and sometimes took big steps over rocks. It was already pretty draining and hot and in my opinion this was the hardest part of the day. But the jungle was beautiful and sounds were so very unfamiliar. At the bottom we were treated by the first tinny river and the cool water felt like the idea cream you desire on a hot summer day; except you don’t drink or lick that water. You just drench your hat in it and enjoy the cooling feeling over your head when you put it back on. 
Shortly after that we arrived at a native village; just a handful of houses out in the deep jungle with the most beautiful people living there. They have their own language, live off their fields and produced the most adorable kids. We had a light lunch there and I flew the Inspire over the village, showing the families what it looks like there from the air. They loved it. But it was so hot and I was already exhausted, my flight did not last very long. In fact, the heat was so hot, that I experienced the iPad screen cracking. I could see the crack growing from the bottom left up. Amazing! 

We left for what we were told to be the hottest part of the journey with the most river crossings. And yes, they were right on both parts. Each time we got to cross the river, it was a slice of heaven. The water was nice and cool, so inviting to just sit down. It took us about a good 1.5 hours to make it to the possible helicopter landing site. There our master technician Josh quickly checked the satellite situation for the live broadcast part. This area turned out to be one of the possible location for the dish. I kept on going as I there was no reason to stay out in the sun when just one km away a natural AC was waiting; our first cave. 
We made pretty good time  and got to the entrance of the Hang En cave and enjoyed the cooling feeling of it. I got to enjoy a little break, got my hard hat and the caving light and gloves ready. Then it was time to descent into the cave. 

It was a pretty spectacular site to be way on top looking down on the sandy bottom of the cave, tents aligned like a little village, surrounded by the blue/green water of the river. From the left the entire inside got light up by the big opening even higher above us. Now that was surreal. 
We made our way to the bottom and were greeted by the porters already there. I found my tent, got my gear in, took my wet boots off, slipped into my slippers and went straight for a bath. That felt so good. Bathing inside a big cave - and the water felt so very comfortable. I would have never expected that. 

After a really well cooked meal with lots of choices, we all went into our tents and turned off our head lamps. What a day! 

Day 2 (April 18, 2015) - Hang En to Son Doong

I work up early and decided to go to the bathroom. The toilet is in essence a bucket filled with rice, under a western style toilet seat. Around it are four wooden poles with a plastic cover giving  you privacy. Next to the toilet is a big bag of wooden chips. When you are done with your business you scope some chips over your business and you are done. Well, at 5 AM there was a mouse in the bathroom and luckily I had my camera with me. So I took a picture - while thinking of Maria (which turned out to sound funny a little later when I told her “Hey Maria, I was on the toilet and was thinking of you…”). After having taken a couple of pictures I turned around to put my flashlight in a safe position and I heard a “plopp” sound. I turned around and the mouse was gone. My first thought was to jump up on the toilet and scream… but decided not to do that. I think the mouse jump into the big bag of rice… 

After that I set-up a GoPro camera for a time-lapse of the cave getting brighter and brighter from the daylight reaching us on the ground. In between I also flew a few practice missions with the Inspire. The location I flew from was not the perfect location as it was very difficult to judge how close I was to the walls and the ceiling of the cave entrance. But it was fun getting more confident in flying in a cave. 

After breakfast we got ready and and Howard (one of the British cave experts and explorers) and I got on our ways. We first went through the river and then up a steep and rocky hill inside the cave. Once we got to the job I was already exhausted and sweating like a pig, which actually worried me. Not even 30 minutes into it and I was already that exhausted?! From up there we could see the other end of the cave and so we did a quick test flight there. It was fun and I flew out of the cave and a little down the valley. There were so many birds flying around me! 
 From there we walked along the river and crossed it a few times. It was already hot outside and so walking through the river actually felt good. Except I noticed a blister forming from all the sand inside my shoe. So that was not fun at all. We took one last rest next to the river before tackling the very steep mountain side up to the next cave entrance. That hike up was draining but so pretty! The path sometimes was as wide as your foot and it felt like Indiana Jones at times. The last push up was the hardest but on top awaited us a wonderful lunch area, overlooking the cave entrance. Of course I did a quick flight to see how it would look like and all the white butterflies fell in love with the white Inspire… 

We had another very tasty lunch with mango, passion fruit, bananas and spring rolls. After lunch it was time to get really geared up and we put all our harnesses on. Because for the next hour we would be rappelling straight down into the darkness of the next cave… 
I asked to go first so I could take pictures from the bottom. I think it was the right call as I was the quickest one to get down. We had our guides attach a safety line to our harnesses and down I went. It was challenging; very steep, slippery, wind gushing up from beneath, pushing clouds up. It was surreal. Looking down did not reveal a bottom - it was so dark. Only later did I learn it was over 330 feet down. 

When I arrived at the bottom I was drenched and the break felt really good. I kept myself hydrated very well today. Once everybody was down, it was time to cut through the darkness of the cave. The temperature was very comfortable at approx. 23 C and at no point was I cold. 
Once we got down to the river we had to do a few crossings and in between it really felt like the most thought through obstacle course ever. Some were very challenging; both for mind and body and there were several times when I had to push myself and focus very hard on my footwork, holding on to anything and everything and really planning my next few steps. But it was truly a fun experience. Every so often we would wait up for the rest of the team to catch up on their experiences. I watched Morgan, Maria and Josh all push themselves too and even though they are not mountaineers or big hikers, they managed themselves very well. Sometimes it was also good that we did not know that we were transiting cliffs over 300 ft tall… 
 We got to a river crossing which Howard deemed the last possible spot to clean up for the next two days. Before he was done with that sentence I was already undressed and swimming in the river. Yes, that’s right. Inside a big, black hole, I was swimming in a cool river and I loved it. It felt good to put some shampoo in my hair and clean myself up. I am so glad Maria had shampoo in her backpack… c’mon now, how awesome is she?! She could have had her cleaning supplies in the other bag of belongings which gets transported straight to the next camp site by the porters in the morning. But no, she had shampoo with her inside the cave… bless her heart (and soft hair!). 

After a few more climbs, seeing amazing rock formations, fault lines and incredible structures we arrived at the 1st campsite.

There was only one work to describe the view down onto our campsite; fiction! It’s hard to describe it but on a ledge we could see several tents, behind the tents, far in the distance we could see a huge opening in the ceiling letting sunlight in. A little above the “village” was this amazingly looking cloud layer and all together it felt like I was in a Hobbit movie. 
It was only a short walk to the campsite and once there, I gladly got out of my dirty and wet clothes, drying my feet and using special powder on the feet to prevent fungus. My legs felt heavy but my head was high. 

My tent was the one closest to the (still very far away) area where the light comes down. It’s perched right on the edge and when I sit on my “balcony” I have the most amazing view. 

Of course I flew a couple of flights. Nobody had ever flown at this location before. In fact only a couple other teams have gotten permission to fly in here and they chose different locations. On this trip I was not going for the money shot but rather use these flights to get a feel for the conditions, build up the confidence and really just get an overall idea of what the area looks like. 

Believe me when I say - flying in a cave is unlike any other place I have flown. Proximity perception can be off, making it very difficult to navigate safely. Also, not having GPS and flying in ATTI mode, a mode where GPS is replaced by the pilot manually controlling flight and counter acting to winds and directional movements, can be challenging. Especially when you are 600 or more feet away and you know you are drifting but the gimbal is doing such a superb job at stabilizing the footage. So Maria has become my spotter and that has helped a lot. Also, there are very different thermal activities within a cave. From no wind (yay) to gushes of wind, pushing you aside or up, to clouds making it difficult to see your machine. 

After flying we got dinner and once again, there was plenty of food for us and it all tasted like heaven. We were hungry and tired. And now that I was in my tent, on my mat, I could feel so many different muscles of mine... ouch! 

It was an epic day and we were promised even more tomorrow. I couldn't believe it though… 

Day 3 (April 19) - Son Doong Campsite 1

The day started early and I was excited about the adventure going deeper into Song Dong. After another wonderful breakfast (c’mon, pancakes with orange, banana and brown sugar served on a silver platter is pretty freaking spectacular far down in a cave!), we started our journey. 

Sadly Maria and Josh had a rough night and both were very dehydrated and made the right call; staying back to re-tank energy. So Morgan and I, together with our guides and porters, started our day at 9AM. 

Going from Camp 1 to Camp 2 starts very challenging; in order to cross this huge path of crazy holders, we had to actually go down into a tinny cave, barely big enough to fit a person. I felt a little uncomfortable at first but then just followed Deborah, the British cave expert. It was amazing in that cove, inside a huge cave. Luckily it wasn’t that long and we excited pretty quickly again, just to find ourselves doing some technical footwork getting ourselves down to the bottom so we could climb the next big climb. I was drenched in sweat already and droplets kept falling off my helmet. Amazing! 

Getting up that hill side was so hard. It’s so humid and the path is so very steep, at times you needed a rope to pull you up and the steps were very big. Once I got to the top I was beat. 
Up there we had to quickly get the Inspire ready because the rest of the team was about to start coming up and we wanted to get aerial footage of their ascent. There was pretty much no space up there and we used a matt as the launch pad, surrounded by little trees and people. Oh boy! But the view was amazing and you could see the other group way far below with their headlights on. I was sweating so much I actually felt embarrassed. Once they caught up we went down the other side to the next location - one of the most famous places. And there it was where we awaited the beam of sunlight falling into the cave. And not much after we got there, we experiencing it. Just incredible - with the mist inside the cave it made the sunbeams really stand out. 

After getting some of the most amazing drone footage, the warm air inside the lit up area and the cooler air in the shadow played a joke on me - the Inspire ended up clipping an overhang and down she went. Not a full loss but the memory card actually broke into two pieces… I was so upset and sad. 

So I flew the spare one and quickly got some more sunbeam light segments. This Inspire did fly slightly different  and I had to first get more comfortable with it again. From there we went down into the next cave and that location was the most beautiful one. We could still see the beam of light but now we were far below it. After some lunch I flew there and captured some of the most beautiful beam of light stuff. 
Inside the Son Doong cave you constantly see a change in its own weather system. There are clouds and fog - making the case really look like it's alive. Here is a time-laps I shot with the iPhone. 
After lunch it was time to go up another huge hill. But first Bambo (an amazing guide and really good kid with great English) and my Inspire helper and I went up onto a ridge. It was hard getting up there and I was so tired. Flying from there made up for it as we, once again, tracked the group going up the hill. 

After flying it was our turn to go and this hillside got us to the 2nd opening, which is really an island of a jungle in the middle of the cave. Just amazing. From up there I flew out of the cave and it took 300 meters to get out. Thick jungle was the only thing we could see above ground. Stunning views.
Click on the image below to see a 360 VR from above Doline 2. A brand-new view! 
We left our backpacks at that location and walked through that jungle island to get to Camp 2. We did some more filming there and then turned around for our return to our Camp 1. It was already after 3 PM. The return back is almost the same except instead of going down that first hill, the path goes way to the side and through some climbing areas with drops over 50 meters. It was a little nerve-wrecking but also a lot of fun. Plus, I totally trust in our guides - they are very good and extremely capable. It was challenging for sure, slippery, wet, dark and scary. But very satisfying once we got back to Camp 1. 

Maria and Josh were awaiting us already and it was great seeing them. They looked a little better and hopefully by tomorrow will be all fine. You have to drink and drink and drink some more here. It’s hot, humid - but inside the caves it feels comfortable. But you still sweat. Yes, the toilets are not what we are used to - but you have to get over that and drink and drink and pee and pee. 

Day 4 (April 20) - Campsite 1 back to Hang En

I had the roughest of nights and kept waking up with not only an aching body, but I also felt sick to my stomach, my head was burning up and I truly felt like I was about to go down for the count. I will not bore you with all the details - so let’s just say one does not want to feel like this inside a cave, about to have to hike, climb, and rappel up and down and out of the cave. I was only able to eat a little breakfast and my body craved the two oranges I actually had. Then it was time to get on our way out and trust me, every step was torture. I had to focus so hard to keep balance, to keep my body straight and to actually make the step needed. My upper body strength was depleted and I had to trust my shaky legs would keep me on the right path. About 1 hour into the trek I had to give up my backpack. I could not carry it anymore. It was way too heavy for my weak body. Thanks to Luke (one of the great people here at Oxalis) I was relieved of my backpack and that felt better. 

The trek out of the cave felt long, every step required extra effort and concentration and during each short break I tried to rest as much as I could. I knew I had conserve my energy. During the longer breaks I actually got a couple of naps in. It was really needed. The team was really amazing and they did whatever was necessary to help me. 

As we got to the final climb out of the Song Doong cave I pulled all my energy together because I knew this would be part of the hardest 30 minutes of this expedition. I put on my harness, was checked that everything was secure, life-line got attached and then it was time to pull myself up, holding the rope as right as possible, keeping my footing as wide as I could and leaning back. It was hard and my arms felt weak. I got to the first transition area, tethered myself to the safety rope and transitioned across. Only one more big climb was ahead of me and I knew I could do it. I got reached to the another life-line and climb up towards the light. Once I got to the end of rope, I secured myself and made sure I had good footing. I made it to a safe location and with the help of the team took off my harness and rested until everybody made their way up to my location. I was spent. 

From there it was only another 15 minutes to a checkpoint camp right outside the cave. I actually got to sleep there for about 90 minutes before hiking down the mountain side into the river and trekking along the river back to the Hang En cave entrance. That nap really made all of this possible. 

Once at the Hang En camp site I found my tent, undressed, went to take a bath and then sleep for another hour before having some dinner. I was shivering like it was freezing temperatures. I was given some meds, ate some soup and went straight to bed again. It was 6 PM and the next time I woke up it was 7 AM. Clearly my body needed the rest.

Day 5 (April 21, 2015) - Hang En back hike back

I woke up feeling a little better. I was glad about that as we had to hike out of Hang En, along the river and then up that mountain. I knew I would need all the strength to make it back. Luckily it was overcast and so the temperatures were about 10 degrees C cooler! We left early and made our way through the exit of Hang En, passed the helicopter landing area, crossing the river again over 30 times before stopping at the native village for a little break. 
Just outside the village we met the pilots of the Mi-17 helicopter we will be taking on the production trip from Phong Nha to the landing site just outside Hang En. That was so cool to run into them and chat with them. They were on a survey mission themselves, trying to get a feel for the area and how to best approach the landing site. 
After that short meeting it was time for us to climb back up the mountain to the site where we had left several days ago. It was a grueling hike back up; hot, humid and when you are not feeling well, everything is twice as hard. But on top a cold beer was waiting for me. 

We made it. The survey trip was a big success! 
In early May of 2015 ABC started to promote the live event from a Hidden World with a 30 second promo segment. This video includes aerial footage I took during the survey trip. 

Take a look here: 
So much has happened the past 3 months. It's hard to list it all. But let's start at the beginning. 

I started my new job at DJI as the Director of Education in January and started off with a trip to DC for a conference. From there I went almost straight to DJI's Headquarter in Shenzhen, China. 

What an experience that was! I had no idea what to expect. But let me tell you, I had an amazing time there. 

Below are a few pictures capturing just a part of my almost 5 weeks stay at HQ. I did learn a lot, got to do some fun things; from being on a NBC Nightly News segment (watch it here), to working an Adobe event in Hong Kong - to learning lots, working long days and partaking in many productive meetings. It sure was a fantastic time. 

Sorry, it's been a while since I posted on here. Not because there hasn't been anything to talk about and share - but rather, because I have been just very busy with all sorts of things. 

Let's start with the big news. After almost 13 years working on the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory space mission out of Stanford University, I have given my notice - I will be starting a new chapter - a very different chapter. 

In early 2015 I will be joining the DJI Global Team as the Director of Education. I will be managing and overseeing overall education, training, and education related outreach efforts across hobby and industry. I will likely be a key player in online and social components of education and outreach. Yes, I will probably be traveling a lot. 

Yes, I am super excited and yes, I am also nervous. It's not easy to leave something you have done well and successful the past 13 years and venture into something very new, very different. 

There is a saying I have always lived by "There are no wrong decisions; but not making a decision is wrong!". 

While I absolutely believe in it, I have realized that there is actually a very important step right in front of one being able to make a decision. That step is the one that sometimes is the hardest to overcome. It's that decision to actually make a decision. 

There are many people who have played a big part in my life over the past decade or so. One who has always been on my side is my Visual-Aerial partner and best friend Mark Johnson. 

He is the one who got me into all of this fun technology stuff. I remember the first time he brought one of those drones and flew it in front of me - boy, was that a procedure and adventure. But I was hooked right there and then. About 6 months later he introduced me to the original Phantom 1 and I remember we played with it in a parking lot like little kids. 

Many adventures laters - here I am! Thank you Mark for always being a big supporter and great friend. And for the many laughs and the many frustrating moments when we had to open the Phantom shell just one more time... 

Some Memorable Moments

Below are some memorable moments from the past almost 13 years. Since I started the mission mascot Camilla Corona SDO (rubber chicken) and she really kind of represented me, I am not in all that many pictures. So if you see just Camilla, well, it could have been me too! ;-) 
Aerial Picture of mine taken with the Inspire 1 in Switzerland
As part of the WebSummit In Dublin, Ireland, the Drone and Data Conference invited 50 individuals from around the world to join them in Achill after the Web Summit.  The group was made up of startup investors from Silicon Valley, Ireland and Israel, and the UK. CEOs of well known and up and coming technology companies, as well as leaders from the technology and government in Ireland, were also attending. 

The conference started out in Castlebar and an incredibly and beautiful castle. 

The group of presenters was a very impressive one and they all had very interesting information. Some were very technical and very future oriented - and it is now clear to me that there are some incredible ideas out there and a lot of people working hard on making these ideas reality. We do live in exciting times. 

The list of presenters included:

Mr. Christian Sanz, C.E.O., Skycatch
Mapping the World with Robots

Mr. JoeBen Bevirt, C.E.O., Joby Aviation.
Developments in Vertical Take Off & Landing Personal Aircraft

Jay Bregman, CEO of Hailo
Drone Regulation - How the private sector can help

Tony Harkin, Irish Aviation Authority
Ireland’s approach to Drone Technology

Mr. John Ging, Eirgrid and Eddie Kilbane, Dataplex
Big Power and Big Data - Data Centres in Ireland

Edgars Rozentals  
Follow Me Technology

Romeo Durscher, Product Evangelist, DJI Drones
The future of aerial photography
I had decided to make my presentation about the future of aerial photography a fun one with first a look back in time. I called it: 

"Has the Future of the Jetsons Finally Arrived? A Brave New World of Aerial Photography" 
One of the personal highlights for me was right before the presentations started. The presenters were all taken into the castle's library. There we waited for a few minutes until the Prime Minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, entered and started to have a very lively discussion about the integration of this technology in Ireland. It was a very fascinating discussion and clearly the Prime Minister had a lot of knowledge about the technology and its benefits. I was introduced to the Prime Minister as not only one of the top aerial photographers, but also as a very strong educator in STEM. It was a real honor to talk to the Prime Minister - and I could not resist showing him a picture of Ireland from Space... luckily Astro Reid had just sent me one. He loved it. 
As part of my attendance and presentation I was not only interviewed for the Irish Newspaper SiliconRepublic, but also for the Irish TV station. It truly was a fantastic event. Click here to read the Siliconrepublic article

Aerial Impressions

A few impressions from Ireland - all flown with the new DJI Inspire 1 (pre-production unit). 

"Lights, Aerial Camera, Action!" 

PictureImage by Adam Pass
The 3rd pre-Photoshop World workshop about aerial photography and videography was all about getting lots of stick-time, flying in 110F heat over an awesome Ghost Town,  and learning from some very talented instructors. And it was a ton of fun too... 

While Mark was chosen to be the Guru of Repairs and Q&As, I got to lead an all-female pilots group. 

I had suggested that all female pilots should be in one group. No, not because they need extra attention but it had been my experience that one gets better results by taking that "competition" and "intimidation" factors between male and female pilots out. 
Image by Adam Pass
In a previous class I had a mix of female and male pilots and there was some tension between them, as the guys were trying to show off and the female pilots were just so very precise in their maneuvers, resulting in the guys getting even more aggressive. So having an all female group was the optimal solution - in my opinion. 

Of course you never know how something plays out until you are standing in the middle of it; in this case, in the middle of my group of trainees. The moment we were all together, I had a feeling that this would just be one awesome class. 

I had the privilege of working with Abbe, Anette, Devin, Dianna, Kim and Stacy. They showed lots of patience and desire to learn something very new. Stacy had flown before and even shot some incredible shots with her original Phantom without any FPV capabilities. It truly was a joy to see them develop their skills throughout the day.  
Image by Adam Pass
When you have any group with a wide skill level, you pretty much have to cater to the one with the lowest skills and bring those skills up to the level where the rest of the group is. That is not always fun as not everyone is getting the same amount of focus and attention.

In our case we had a very even skill level between our six ladies and that made leading the workshop a lot of fun. I was able to go over some of the basics and still capture everybody's attention and keep them busy.

As I mentioned earlier the goal of the workshop was to have a final movie with segments shot from each and every group. For that we also practiced a few maneuvers - but before you can master any maneuver in mid-air, you really have to learn how to take off and how to bring back your machine first.

Note: The final movie can be seen at the bottom of this post. 

We spent some time doing just that before we "dove" into some of the aerial videography maneuvers; we practiced landing. Landing in a designated area, landing despite some gusts. Landing under pressure of low batteries, no FPV etc. And so it was to no surprise that it was suddenly 4 PM in the afternoon and we had not yet shot one single second of video. 
Image by Adam Pass
So now it was time to start flying the DJI Phantom Vision+. Up until this point we had practiced with the original Phantom, then upgraded and flew the Phantom Vision and learned about FPV (First Person View) flying via the iPhone. 

It was remarkable to see the difference in flying capabilities between the original Phantom (with the latest DJI self tightening props) and the much more powerful Phantom Vision. Since there were some gusts, all my students did extremely well with that upgrade and seemed to be flying with more confidence. 
Image by Adam Pass
Other groups were buzzing all over Nelson capturing some really great views. And once our team starting to roll and shoot footage, it really became a party. I had already envisioned a couple of shots that I wanted the ladies to get and so we practiced those. One was from behind the town, over the mountain ridges to the side of Nelson, flying straight over the town to the other side. That one turned out really good! Another one was flying straight up towards Nelson and over the most eastern barn, just barely over the roof. Challenging but a ton of fun. 

Then we moved location to execute the last shot. The "Killer-shot"! We moved to the western part of the Ghost Town. At that area the shadows of the mountains was covering the town first. 

The light was just great and it was now time to take something else out of my bag of surprises... it was time to fly with the EPSON Moverio BT-200 glasses. If you are not familiar with them - these are see-through glasses which also display the view of the camera; right in front of your eyes. The big advantage is that you still see what is going on around you, and you see what your aerial machine is seeing - both at the same time! If you want to learn more about them - go here. 
Image by Jennifer St. James
One of the most memorable moments was when Abbe put on the Moverios and for the first time saw the beauty of FPV flying through glasses. Her first words were "Oh fuck!". - I couldn't blame her for that expression as this is pretty much what I said the very first time I put on goggles and was flying at the same time. 

Once everyone got a chance to fly with this FPV set-up, we wrapped up for the day and joined the rest of the workshop teams. We ended up being the last team still out in the heat, flying and capturing the beauty of the sun setting over the desert. 

Write-ups about the Event 

Wonderful ESPON blog write up "Drones on a Plain" by Jennifer St. James. 

Abby Lyle's blog "Bringing the Passion Back to the Workday! - Work Hard Play Hard" was inspired by her attendance at our workshop. 


The Final Movie "Take Flight in Nelson"


Video by Randy J. Braun - the one and only! 
In February I flew the first time off a boat in Cabo San Lucas. What I learned you can read here

That was a motor boat and it was easy to just "park" it and fly from it. But what about flying off a sailboat? And that's exactly what we got to do this weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are a few things that you need to keep in mind. One of the most important - this boat continues to move and move and move. More info in the Tips and Tricks section

Before you attempt flying off a sailboat (or any other boat), you should do a few adjustments in your DJI Assistant software. Why? Because factory settings only let you fly a distance of almost 5,000 feet away from "home". 

Why does this matter? When you start up your multirotor it connects to the GPS satellites and locks a location as HOME. That is the spot it will return to if it looses signal. This is also the spot it will start counting distance. 

HOME is not where your radio is, but rather where the multirotor determined that "I have enough satellites to locate this spot and make it my home". 

So as you keep flying and following your sailboat and the sailboat is doing a straight line, going further and further away from that home location, the distance, obviously, increases from that point. The multirotor doesn't know that you are moving along. And at some point you will reach that 5,000 feet and it will be like hitting an invisible wall. Your multirotor will just bounce against it and stay at that location while you keep traveling. 

If you have ever been on a sailboat, it is very maneuverable but it takes time to initiate and do a 180 degree turn. That's what you will have to do. If you keep going then at some point the distance between your multirotor and the radio will be too big and you will loose connection. What will happen next is almost a certain disaster; the flying machine will turn around and fly 5,000 feet back to where it had recorded its home location. In essence it will fly away from you all the way the opposite direction. Good luck trying to catch up to it. 

I will address all of this in the "Tips & Tricks" section. 
Another thing is taking off and landing. As you can imagine (and as you can see in the image above) there are many lines holding the sails into place. You are limited in free space to take off. My suggestions are: 

- Lift off with the wind or to the side
That means try to launch from the back of the boat. While you go up, the boat will move away from you. Even better if you can launch from the back and fly to the side. This way you will clear the boat, the mast, the sail and all the lines. 

Taking off from the front of the boat means you will have to stay ahead of the boat and that can be a challenge right there. 

- Have somebody hold your machine
You won't find a place to put it so just have it hand launched. Same for landing. Make sure this person knows the difficulties with this. Have them wear safety goggles. 

- Landing is not easy. 
Keep in mind you are moving, the boat is rocking and now you have to bring back your machine. Don't wait until your battery power is at 30%. You want to have enough power for a few landing attempts. 

If you know that the sailboat is not faster than the top speed of your machine, then you can approach from the backside and slowly catch up. But again, if the boat is faster than your flying machine, you will have a problem getting behind! 

Fly along side the boat and slowly get closer. Try to get it just slightly above head-lever and have your helper grab it out of the air. 

Update August 4th, 2014: 
We got a note from our friend Archer with MultiRotorCam. He made a very good point. The only thing I would add to this: If you are not an experienced pilot, you may not want to practice flying ATTI mode on shore first: 

Archer, thank you: 

"Thanks for that! I'd like to throw out one incredibly important point to this flying-off-a-boat information (which I gather you are unaware of). The max radius limitation is actually easily overcome by merely flying in ATTI (non-GPS) mode. Yup. I've tested and confirmed it on my own sailboat operation off the stern of the O'Neill yacht. You can confirm this information on page 26 of the Phantom 2 User Manual (v1.1)." 
One thing I need to keep reminding myself - an image does not always have to be an image the way I actually saw and captured it. Thanks to today's software technology, so much more can be done with a single image. Or in this case, with several images stitched together into a panorama and then turned into a Tiny Planet. 

These are fun projects with cool results. 

I first came across this when our good friend and Photoshop Guru Russell "Doc" Brown did one. I was instantly fascinated as it had that "from space view" kind of feel to it. It's like you are traveling on your spaceship and you come across this little place in the middle of nowhere. That actually inspired me to create the Tiny Planet called "Nerdation", which of course is a reference to Stanford University overlaid on an image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. I kept the "atmosphere" so actual life could be sustained on Planet Nerdation. 

If you have been following our adventures, you know that I am not a big Photoshop user or expert. Scratch that. I am now a bigger Photoshop user as I was one year ago. But I am still not an expert. I am learning something new every week. And there are several people that make great online tutorials for me to follow and learn. And whenever I am with them, I try to also pick their brains. I do learn best when I can watch somebody do it and then get my hands on a similar project. 

Below is my latest Tiny Planet and also the panorama which lead to the creation of it. As you can see it's the very same view, but displayed in two very different ways. And both are actually pretty cool and with very distinct differences. 

Where can I learn how to do this?

Good question! So here are a couple of links that will give you great information on how to do these artistic displays. And just with almost everything else, there are several ways to do something: 

Colin Smith with PhotoshopCafe explains things so well and really helps me understand the workings of Photoshop so much better. His instructions of how to make a Tiny Planet is great! 

Andrew Trice with Adobe shared his workflow here. Andrew always does some fun stuff and he has been a great fellow instructor at our Adobe Aerial Photography workshops. Here is how he does the Tiny Planets

Photojojo has another good workflow how to make these Tiny Planets

Photographymad also gives you great information on the Tiny Planet project. 

Check them out and let me know how your Tiny Planet turned out! I might come and visit... 
Here is my very first Tiny Planet from the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. It did not turn out too bad for a first try. 

This was shot with the DJI Phantom with a GoPro Hero3 on it. 

Often I like to share my aerial views from right in the field. In my opinion there is something very captivating about being able to share an image either while still flying or minutes after landing your aerial machine. And that is not only true for the pilot, but for the people then seeing the image online; it can make them feel part of the experience as they know you are right there at that very location. They can feel included and are sharing this moment with you in almost real-time. 

Of course being in the field means having less tools available to process your images. But wait, you can still do some amazing things! 

On Saturday morning I went to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. I was on the outside of the Park, took off and flew to the lighthouse a little over 2,000 feet away. There I snapped a few pictures as the Sun was just peaking through the fog. 

I landed the Vision+ and went into the album folder on the Vision app. The Vision app allows you to check out your just-taken-images while in flight or after you have landed. In there was one picture I really liked; it was of the lighthouse and I had aligned the lighthouse so the Sun was just right above it. But the shot also revealed one of the arms and two propellers in it. I was still happy as I wanted to test a new app and see if it would let me remove these unwanted "guests" in my image. 

So let me tell you a little about what I am using when I am in the field. And please know that I am no expert in any of this and I am only using these apps because I personally like them and they do the trick for me. You might have different favorites (and if so, please let me know so I can check them out too). 

iPhone Processing

If my image doesn't need too much processing, I just use my iPhone. 

I downloaded "LensCorrector" to take the fish-eye effect out. This is a very simple app and works not only on images from the GoPro  but also the Vision camera. 

I also use the new Adobe Lightroom Mobile app. This is a really awesome and helpful app because if I import an image into a Collection in Lightroom Mobile, it will sync it with my Adobe Cloud and it will add the image also into my Lightroom desktop version (see below). 

I also use Snapseed, which is a very nifty app and lets you make some very nice adjustments to an image and even lets you target only certain areas of your picture. It's easy to use and pretty powerful. 

Between these three apps you can truly create a very powerful image and share it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other social media outlet. 

Here is what the image looks like in Lightroom Mobile and within seconds it also pops up on your Lightroom program on your desktop:

iPad Processing

With the brand-new Adobe Photoshop Mix app, the iPad has become an even more powerful tool for image processing. There are some really great features which had only been available on the more powerful laptops or desktops. For example you can now use a Content Aware Fill feature to get rid of unwanted objects in your picture. Below is an example of how well (not 100% perfect) it works. 

Since your iPad doesn't have the processing power for the Content Aware Fill feature, the Adobe Cloud comes into play and in essence uploads the image into the cloud, processes it there and downloads the result back into Photoshop Mix on your iPad.  In this example you can see that I outlined part of part of the arm and the propellers and then let the app do its magic. The result, albeit not perfect, is very impressive. 

Below is a sample of the original shot, what I came up with using the iPad apps and the third one is using the original image and processing it on the desktop with Photoshop CC. 
What kind of apps do you use? Please share your experiences in the comment section. I am curious to learn more. 
Image by Astro Reid Wiseman - Day 1
May 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM Pacific Time - the countdown clock on the big screen in my office read 00:00:01:01. A mere 61 seconds left until soon-to-be-real-Astronauts Reid Wiseman, Alexander Gerst and already-space-flown Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev would start their biggest and probably most fun journey of their lives... 

And then their Soyuz rocket lights up, 20 engines are roaring and pushing and 27 million horsepower catapult the crew of Expedition 40/41 upwards. In just a little over 8 minutes they reach space, zero gravity, their home-environment for the next 5 1/2 months. And only 6 hours later they are approaching their actual "house" in this harsh zero-g environment; the International Space Station. 
Many of you know my passion for space exploration and my interest in educating and inspiring others about the need for pushing our boundaries further out. And working on a space mission myself, I get to learn and be inspired by others in this field weekly. 

And over the past two years Astronaut Reid Wiseman had been a big motivator, helping me with one of my projects, communicating with me, educating me and virtually taking me along his training for this mission. I had come to really admire and appreciate him and when he asked for a favor, I would make sure to show my appreciation for all of his help. 
While Reid, Alex and Maxim were unlocking the hatch of their Soyuz to make their way into the Space Station, I was watching my friend George Krieger fly his DJI Phantom over Monterey. Live. And I was 50 miles away in San Jose. How? He broadcasted the live footage from the Phantom via Google Plus. Isn't technology awesome?! 

On my laptop (see below) I had a window with George's Phantom 2 view on the left and NASA TV with the hatch opening on the right; both streaming live! 
Needless to say launch day was pretty exciting, emotional and fun. And the hatch opening, seeing Reid floating in Space and seeing George fly over Monterey was just the perfect ending for that day.