Aerial photography provides a breathtaking perspective on a familiar world, lifting viewers above the trees and buildings so they might reimagine the landscape.
The art form dates to 1858, when Gaspard-Félix Tournachon photographed the rooftops and boulevards of Paris from a hot air balloon 1,600 feet above the city. Photographers have in the years since attached cameras to almost anything that flies, from pigeons and kites to airplanes and rockets. Still, aerial photography remained the purview of professionals, a tool for armies and spies, or a hobby for the wealthy until drones brought it to the masses.
Now anyone with a few hundred dollars and the skill to fly a drone can make stunning aerial photos. Many of them eagerly share their work on Dronestagram, where users have posted some 60,000 images since 2014. (You can find another 900,000 or so under the Instagram hashtag #dronestagram.) Ayperi Karabuda Ecer, the former editor-in-chief at Magnum Photos Paris, collected 250 of them in Dronescapes, a coffee table book arriving May 9 from Thames & Hudson. “Drones can make you share the scale of nature in a way that you couldn’t do with normal photography,” she says. “We all have that need of showing something larger.”
Ecer pored over 100,000 photos, selecting images from 130 photographers with an eye for unusual perspectives or subjects. “People tend to go to conventional images of aerial photography, inspired by the world above, all about space and beauty,” she says. The images she chose—ice fishing in Russia, a salt marsh in Italy, a wedding in Ghana—provide a mesmerizing view of familiar things. Even though you may have experienced the vantage point, and perhaps even the scenery, the scale makes it new and fascinating.
“You’re seeing the human world that you’re used to, but in miniature—or you’re a giant,” says neurobiologist Mark Changizi, who wrote The Vision Revolution. He says that tweak to visual stimulus draws the eye. “At drone level, it’s a normal perspective you have all the time walking through the world,” he says. “What makes it interesting is the illusion [of size].”
A viewpoint that makes us feel like giants? Sure. Or maybe a flying robot that takes pictures is just really cool.