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Abstract Aerial Art: A road trip with a difference

“The point is not to work out what it is, but to show how weird and wonderful the world can look from above”

The DJI Drone Photography Award is now open for entries, giving two photographers the chance to realise their dream drone-shot photography project. To provide inspiration, British Journal of Photography spoke to a number of photographers each approaching drone photography a little differently.

In 2016, Mike and JP Andrews set off on an adventure. Equipped with a DJI drone, the brothers spent the next year travelling across Australia photographing remote pockets of the country from a perspective few have ever seen. The pair bought a secondhand car and driving deep into the outback clocked up close to 70,000km.

An abandoned zinc mine in south Australia. © Abstract Aerial Art.

The photographs that form Abstract Aerial Art are far from everyday drone-shot images, nor are they pure wanderlust. Instead the brothers sought landforms so unique that they appear other-worldly. With the use of a drone, the landscapes that feature in the series become figures of art: abstract in form they are awash with colour and sweeping curves. The Andrews have since travelled all over Europe adding to the series.

Abstract Aerial Art shows the world from a perspective that few would otherwise see. For the DJI Drone Photography Award, British Journal of Photography is similarly seeking submissions where the use of a drone elevates the creative possibilities of a project. The competition welcomes submissions whereby, in using a drone to capture perspectives impossible on foot, the photographers will open the viewers’ eyes to new possibilities.

The competition’s two winners will each receive a DJI Phantom 4 Pro, £1,500 project funding and an exhibition at a London gallery. The Phantom 4 Pro is surprisingly lightweight – constructed out of a titanium and a magnesium alloy – and is the drone of choice for many travel photographers, JP and Mike Andrews included. 

With the deadline for the DJI Drone Photography Award fast approaching, BJP spoke to the Andrews brothers about their creative approach to drone photography.

Rio Tinto River, Spain. © Abstract Aerial Art.

When and why did you first start working with a drone?

We set off for Australia in March 2016 with a one year visa and the intention to go and see something completely different. It wasn’t until November 2016 that we started using a drone. We briefly returned to England midway through our trip and it was at this point that the idea to invest in a drone came about. We had spent the previous six months travelling around the Australian wilderness and were extremely excited to get back out there and see what we could capture. The plan was to bring photographs from the beautifully remote parts of the country to a wider audience who may not be inclined to visit the areas we had.

What about drone photography appeals?

The ability to show others how incredible the world can look from a perspective that few have the opportunity to witness. We find it fascinating how an aerial view completely changes the way we see something from ground level. Marshlands are a great example of this.

There is a lot of drone-shot travel photography out there. What’s different about Abstract Aerial Art?

We offer a view of planet Earth that is rarely seen and focus our entire work around bizarre looking places and structures. You will rarely find us in a tourist hotspot. Our dedication to get to the most obscure, unusual and often unwanted locations is what, we believe, sets us apart. As a result of this, the images we capture tend to be photographs that very few, if any, have ever seen.

Aluminium tailing pond in Gladstone, Queensland. © Abstract Aerial Art.

Why does drone photography and travel work so well together?

Every country offers something completely different to the next when it comes to shooting aerial images. It is therefore essential that we travel to find unique photographs from a variety of places. That said, we have found travelling to many different countries with a drone quite difficult. There are no standard, worldwide regulations regarding drone operations and each country has a different take. Operating safely is always our priority and a lot of research before any trip goes into making sure we do this.

Drones have the power to alter our perceptions of the world and show things in a whole new light. How does this manifest in your work?  

All of our abstract images are taken with the camera from the drone pointing directly down towards Earth. This is not a perspective often seen by many and completely changes how even the most mundane things can look.

Marshland in south-west Spain. © Abstract Aerial Art.

You bought your drone just two weeks before returning to Australia. How did your drone photography evolve throughout the trip? Was it a case of trial and error?

As our Australian adventure progressed we became far more efficient. Initially it was completely trial and error, however, we quickly came to realise that this way of working was not going to successfully maximise our time. Bear in mind, we were on a visa-restricted timeframe and wanted to make the most of the opportunity we had to photograph as many locations as possible. Australia is a very big place to drive around so we used satellite imagery as a research tool to find potential areas of interest. This massively sped up our workflow. We still use this technique religiously. The amount of time that can be saved is invaluable. Although not foolproof, it certainly helps to have an idea of what you may be able to capture from a nearby location.

What drone do you use?

We are currently using a DJI Inspire Pro 1 and a DJI Phantom 4 Pro. As of late, we have found ourselves using the Phantom 4 Pro a lot more due to the fact that it’s much easier to travel with.

It’s interesting that you position your photographs as art. Why is this?

Our name came about purely due to the fact that the images we had initially taken reminded us loosely of abstract artwork. We never set out with the intention of positioning ourselves as artists. The more we thought about what we were doing and how we could develop the idea, the more it made sense for us to compose our images as if they were artworks rather than traditional photographs. This is not something we had seen anybody else doing with a drone and we felt it worked well for the type of images we were taking.

Tidal channels in Tollesbury, Essex. © Abstract Aerial Art.

Oil pond in Wyndham, west Australia. © Abstract Aerial Art.

The photographs you take typically tend to be during road trips – does that mean that they are spontaneous? How do you identify what to photograph and where?

To date, all of our trips have been spontaneous to a degree. We never set off with an exact plan of where to head or where we’ll end up! Although this may sound foolish, we have never been very good at sticking to a plan. This approach has led us to locations we never would have planned to go to and it’s what works best for us. All that being said, there is of course hours of research into potential areas of interest before any trip begins.  Think of it as well-researched, unplanned and improvised adventures!

What appeals about abstract photography?

Capturing the most unusual and thought-provoking images possible. There’s something about bizarre looking photographs that has always appealed to us, long before we ever thought about flying a drone. We are constantly amazed at the beautiful, often unreal looking colours, textures and patterns found on this planet and we are certain that we’ve barely scratched the surface. There is so much more out there to be discovered and we are forever inspired to find these locations and show how weird and wonderful the world can look from above.

Elevate your photography with a new perspective! The DJI Drone Photography Award gives two photographers the opportunity to realise their drone-shot projects. Submit your proposal here!

DJI is hosting an intensive half-day workshop in Rickmansworth, north-west London, on 9 December. Test out the Phantom 4 Pro and hear from experts in aerial photography. Tickets are free, but places are limited. Book now to secure your place!

Mountain textures in Navarra, Spain. © Abstract Aerial Art.

Pink Lake, France. © Abstract Aerial Art.

The DJI Drone Photography Award is a DJI competition supported by British Journal of Photography. DJI is the world’s leading manufacturer in high-end drones. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.