In December 2012, what looked like a giant beetle buzzed low over the Arena Castelão, Ceará, Brazil, as a camera strapped to its belly recorded the stadium’s inauguration. The hushed crowd gasped as it veered toward them at high speed, then cheered as it crashed. Laughing onlookers poked the broken drone with their feet, unaware of their lucky escape from the spinning rotors of what Matt Waite at the US Drone Journalism Lab describes as a “flying lawnmower.” Drone journalism is in its infancy, and as its applications – tracking police in protests, investigating disaster zones – are discovered, so are its pitfalls. In January 2013, a drone belonging to a US television station in Palm Beach, Florida, was forced to land by a swarm of bees, and in November 2012, a drone flown by animal rights activists was shot out of the sky by Pennsylvanian pigeon hunters.
Alexandre Thomas is the co-founder of Flying Eye, a custom-drone hire business in Antibes, France. In 2011, paparazzi hired him to photograph Paris Hilton on a private beach. Although limited by battery life (about 20 minutes) and strict French privacy laws, his drone was unpacked and up in the air in 10 minutes, beaming live video back to its handlers. Unfortunately, it was not powerful enough to carry a telephoto lens. “We saw people, but not Paris Hilton,” says Thomas. He may have managed to shoot Hilton’s sister, Nicky, though: “She tweeted a photo of our drone, so she’s probably in one of the photos.”
From the pages of COLORS #86 - Making the News.