Drones are appealing to a wide gamut of people, from creatives to tech-heads, to aviation enthusiasts. For me, it was perhaps a blend of all three, but something I couldn't easily justify. Nevertheless, I bought one anyway, and it turned out to be the best poor decision I've ever made.
I'm late to the party. Well, I bought a drone 14 months ago, but even then, I was late to the party. Drones had such hype around them from relatively early on, and I desperately wanted to dive in, but I knew I couldn't justify the expense. I would watch reviews and behind-the-scenes footage of content creators and photographers creating great imagery with them and wonder, but I couldn't quite sign off.
Then, a little over a year ago, I had a realization: I like photographing things I can't see with my eyes. I enjoy capturing macro images of the tiniest creatures, stars, and celestial bodies with astrophotography, and even long exposures of movement. I doubt it's a quirk exclusive to me, but seeing things in ways my eyes cannot motivates me to capture more. In that regard, a drone made perfect sense. But, what would I do with a drone? I live in a bland and uninspiring landscape, COVID has got in the way of most travel plans, I don't create video content. What images would I create?
I concluded that however desirable and interesting, there wouldn't be enough work where my drone would be useful to justify the purchase, and that was the end of it. I am a business, and I must treat my purchases accordingly.
Then, I bought one anyway.
Not GAS, But Not Sensible
It has been a long while since I've suffered from Gear Acquisition Syndrome. That isn't to say I don't long for cameras and lenses; I'd bite a hand off for a Hasselblad 907x 50C with an XCD 80mm f/1.9 on the front. Honestly, I'm not above biting you for one. However, I've developed restraint over the years, and though I do make purchases that aren't necessary in the strictest sense, I do ensure they have utility to my business and will earn their keep.
So, what happened with the drone purchase and am I recommending others do the same? Well, I'm not entirely sure the answer to the first half of the question. Perhaps it was the creeping malaise that engulfed me over the months of lockdown and a yearning for the great outdoors, but I started dreaming about flight and how I could incorporate it into my work. Before I knew it, I had a DJI Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo en route and a large, black cloud of buyer's remorse above my desk.
The buzz of excitement I felt when it arrived was heavily offset by guilt. In many ways, it ruined the experience, as I was constantly debating whether I was being careless — something I'm not when it comes to business. Then, as if a divine warning for my behavior, I had an issue on my maiden voyage with the Mavic.
I traveled to some local woods where there is a clearing, and I wanted to capture the nice colors of autumn that were creeping in. I carefully set up my drone, and when I booted it up, my phone showed me a close-up of some grass, the propellors span decisively and unexpectedly loudly, and I was ready to go. I stood nearby, for reasons I'm unsure of, and I began lifting off. Unfortunately, I had incorrectly installed the propellors (fear not DJI, no lawsuit coming your way, as it was a silly mistake of my own making), and it took off at an angle. With my new purchase out of control, I impulsively reached out to grab it. I'll leave the rest to your imagination but with this final note: had I not had a disposable face mask in my pocket to wrap tightly around my wound and slow the bleeding enough for me to get home, I suspect I'd have needed an ambulance.
So, a difficult to justify, reasonably expensive purchase that I didn't need, that maimed me for my stupidity. In what way was this a good decision?
The Intangible Benefits of Indulging Your Passion
After I had stopped bleeding, I tried again. The first flight was nothing shy of incredible, despite being somewhere desperately boring. I was enthused by and for photography, in ways, I hadn't been for some time and seldom outside of portraiture. I couldn't wait to see what I could create and what I could see, and I wanted to take the drone everywhere. And I did.
Suddenly, every trip, close or far, I was scheduled to go on, I was scouting locations for drone photography. My thirst for taking pictures had regressed to when I bought my first camera, and after over a year, that hasn't slowed in any way. The truth is, I have barely used the drone for my business so far, although it had come in handy a few times. It hasn't been a purchase that was worthwhile when I look at my accounts and spreadsheets, but its impact is arguably invaluable.
This isn't a call for every photographer to go out there and indulge their every whim, buying what they fancy without thought. But it is a reminder — particularly to photographers who run their photography as a business — to remember the lines are necessarily blurry. You most likely forged a career with your camera because of your love for the craft and for creating. To cultivate that passion, that intrigue, you ought to let yourself experiment.
This doesn't have to be purchasing gear, but in my case, it was. I could afford to invest in a mid-level drone, but my hesitation was because I was assessing all purchases linearly: what is their financial return? A year on, I couldn't say with any confidence that the drone has paid for itself, but it has ignited my longstanding passion for photography, which had been stagnating during the pandemic.
Have you made a decision that didn't work on paper, but was well worth it nonetheless? Share it in the comments below.