Fiona Lake is Australia’s best-known outback photographer with 30 years of aerial photography experience and a multi-strand entrepreneurial business. In 2018, her Rural Drone Academy project was a state award finalist and she has been named a state “Digital champion.” In 2017, she received two state ‘storyteller? awards. She has published three books and thousands of copies have been mailed worldwide. Fiona has judged numerous photography competitions and spent many years campaigning for better competition terms & conditions, via a national professional commercial photography association. Her exhibitions have been opened by many eminent individuals, including a Governor-General of Australia. Australia’s Ambassador to the US opened Fiona’s photography exhibition in the Australian Embassy in Washington DC in March 2018. In addition to producing advertising images and magazine features, Fiona has run workshops for more than 15 years and leads international farm tours. Less than 2% of Australia’s fully licensed drone pilots are women, and Fiona is one of them.

She spoke with us post-InterDrone and shared her thoughts about the industry as well as key takeaways from the show.

InterDrone: How did you get into the commercial drone space?

FL: Lots of frustration over the lack of autonomy when taking aerial photographs! For more than 30 years, I’ve been taking aerial images from cattle-mustering helicopters, which means flying at a time of day and on the route that the pilots need to do their jobs. Chartering choppers is rarely economically feasible due to the remoteness of the regions I work in. I missed many, many fantastic photography opportunities. Unfortunately, many of the scenes I saw on these cattle stations, the largest in the world, can”T be photographed now due to changes in work practices.

DJI’s Phantom 4 was where price, technology and image quality finally intersected at a point which made drone usage feasible for my business. Still not as good as pro gear from a chopper, but it”Ll be there soon.

What are your thoughts on its development so far (whether it be technologically, legal, or use cases)?

FL: Going from film cameras and landline phones to the internet, social media and being able to stand 200km (120 miles) from the nearest town in any direction and get a tiny smartphone to connect to 10-20 orbiting satellites within seconds, before launching a drone ? it’s amazing. Seeing so much innovation makes me excited about what’s around the corner. I never want to lose that sense of appreciation for innovation. But it’s all like a wild horse ? we have to stay in charge and drive it where we want, not let it run away from us. Laws and regulation haven”T kept up.

As in all new industries, the drone industry contains a fair few venture capitalists, spouting hyperbole and opportunistic users just in it for a quick buck. But a sifting-out has already begun. It’s people who’ve integrated drone usage into pre-existing skills and interests who will be left standing. For example, buying a drone then looking around for how to make money, then getting into photography, is very unlikely to be successful long-term. I always recommend people instead look at ways to integrate drone usage into what they already do.

With regard to BVLOS, there’s aircraft all over the planet, including the most remote parts of Australia. To me it’s a no-brainer that every single thing that’s airborne ? from A380s to gyrocopters, hot air balloons and drones capable of flying above tree height ? will be fitted with a signaling device (transponder). There’s always the risk that software or hardware will fail, and as a regular airline passenger, I”M unimpressed with the push for BVLOS before transponders, which allow aircraft tracking apps to tell the full story of what’s up in the air.

What do you envision the commercial drone space to look like a year or five years from now?

FL:

  • Increasing specialization ? subjects, industries, regions.

 

  • Snake-oil sellers ? gone.

 

  • Videography ? boring subjects, self-indulgent lengths and ridiculously unsuited soundtracks ? gone.

 

  • Still photography – vastly improved image quality and aerial views only when it’s the best angle to achieve the aim. At the moment, the internet is flooded with fairly purposeless images; storytelling will rise to the fore.

 

  • Drone technician and service industry businesses spread across regional areas, rather than just capital cities.

If you had one “Wish list? item to have in/happen to the industry today, what would it be?

FL:

  • Standardized global drone pilot licences, so that professional, fully-licensed and experienced pilots could fly in other countries after a simple online test to ensure they knew local drone laws (e.g., the UK has shorter VLOS flight distances). Pie in the sky, I guess, as standards of licencing vary widely across the world. Australia is exceedingly strict ? full licencing is two-tier, involves a lot more admin than other countries and costs more than $4,000AUD. Australian licensed drone pilots have to also undergo a hands-on flight assessment.

 

  • Healthy industries have a mixture of old and young, men and women ? the drone industry would change for the better if there was more diversity. Less than 2% of Australia’s drone pilots are women. Surprises me that there’s so little attention paid to this as it has big implications for tech development and the adoption of ag tech on farms. Men and women usually ask me very different questions in workshops. Both points of view are needed.

 

  • Incentives for drone pilots to become licensed (rather than disincentives, as currently the case), and the active and consistent enforcement of drone laws among recreational flyers. (I”M sure all licensed drone pilots would love to see this happen, all around the world.)

You spoke at InterDrone this year, what was your topic? And aside from teaching all the attendees, what was your best takeaway from the show?

FL:

  • Professional aerial photography is my forte and I prefer to emphasize practical tips based on experience that can”T be found on Google. Particularly, how to avoid mistakes commonly made. There’s always a wide range of experience sitting in front of me during workshops, so the challenge is to include something of interest to experienced photographers as well as novices.

 

  • I learned a great deal at this year’s InterDrone (including that some people have difficulty understanding my accent) but above all, returning this year brought home the benefits of coming back to the same conference, rather than darting off somewhere new. Because it was like being greeted by old friends. Not only is this fantastic socially, but it helps you to learn even more and gain a better insight into drone life in other countries. Ultimately, you can”T beat learning in a social environment. Human beings will always like to get together in person and seek out like minded friends. Otherwise, these days, we”D all stay home and listen to webinars.

 

  • The bottom line is: If you really want to succeed in the drone industry, it’s like every other and it requires long-term dedication; you have to keep chipping away in the one spot; stick to it through thick and thin.

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