Dominic Grimm is a former Australian representative rower, who now works as an IT specialist for one of Australia’s biggest news and digital content publishers. Currently undertaking his Bachelor of Business at the University of Technology, Sydney, he is majoring in Economics and IT. Formerly working for Rowing NSW, the organisation that oversees the sport across the state, it was this combination of IT and sport that led him to flying drones. All photos and video used by permission – scroll to the bottom for exclusive whale footage!
What got you into aerial photography, and what steps did you take to become a skilled drone pilot and photographer?
I’ve always been a bit of a gadget geek, and would also take any opportunity given at Rowing NSW to photograph regattas. With the advent of accessible, (relatively) easy to fly aerial photography platforms, I put forward the case to my boss and ended up purchasing a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced to improve our race coverage.
I was hooked from my very first test flight.
I think videoing and photographing rowing races enabled me to learn and fine-tune the skills required to pilot and photograph at the same time – being able to co-ordinate both the camera and aircraft movement to create sweeping shots of boats as they race underneath was definitely not something that came naturally! As with any other skill, it really does come down to practice; I have hundreds, if not thousands of hours of flight time under my belt now.
The Australian coastline features heavily in your work. What is it you love about this subject?
I think we’re very lucky to live in a country as beautiful as Australia, and I just enjoy showing it off. Our coastline is incredibly varied, so there’s no shortage of material for me to capture.
I’ve found that, in the right conditions, any coastline looks magnificent; I love the contrast between the ocean and land, and I always seek to emphasise that contrast. Being able to capture the power and movement of the ocean and the immobile strength of the shoreline in a single frame is quite special.
What conditions do you look for to capture a great aerial moment?
Lighting is very important – it can’t be too dark, as the colours will come out rather dull, but also can’t be too bright, as reflections will often ruin the photo or video.
I actually work with my partner Kathryn to really grab the best shots. While I pilot the aircraft, she’s the spotter and art director. If we’re on a road trip, looking for inspiration, she will be the one who finds the best location to shoot from. One of my favourite shots we’ve done, Pink Lake, is a classic example of this. Driving along the highway in South Australia, Kat spotted the pink water through the trees – I had no idea it was there. We pulled over to the side of the road and got some of the most beautiful photos I think I’ve captured.
What has been your favourite capture? Tell us about what you did to get it…were there any challenges or fortuitous conditions?
That’s a tough one, that’s like choosing a favourite child! I think it comes down to a split decision between Southern Right Whales Frolicking and a video I put together of the Australian Men’s Eight training for Olympic qualification. Two vastly different shots in vastly different conditions.
Southern Right Whales Frolicking was taken off the Bunda Cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. It was the first time I’d flown off the coast and I was a bit nervous – maintaining a line of sight to my aircraft was definitely a priority! The fact that we happened to come across those three juvenile whales was a bonus, so luck played a very large part in the capture. Greenpeace Australia Pacific also licensed this photo for a campaign, which is something I’m very proud of.
Filming of the Australian crew took place in a much more controlled environment: we were on a closed regatta course, with just the two boats on the water. The challenge that day came from tracking and filming the crews – at full speed, the men were travelling at close to 30km/h, with my aircraft moving alongside their boat, 50cm above the water. Keeping pace with the surging speed of the crew was not easy, but it was enjoyable seeing the action from such a unique angle.
Where do you see your interest in drone photography taking you?
Now that I’m no longer with Rowing NSW, aerial photography is purely a hobby for me right now. I’m both studying and working full-time, so we sadly haven’t had the time to really get anywhere new recently. However, I would love the opportunity to travel and discover coastlines across the world, and am hoping to take some time off to do so soon.
Do you have a bucket list location? Where is it, and why?
Within Australia, we’re planning to eventually make our way to northern Western Australia. There are desolate stretches of coastline up there where the red desert meets the ocean – the beauty is just unmatched anywhere in the world,
Iceland is another destination that I would just love to photograph – the glaciers and volcanic ranges of the Icelandic coast are as different from Australia as you can get, but are as equally impressive and beautiful.
What do you fly, and what do you love about it?
I’m currently flying a DJI Phantom 3 Professional. It is incredibly easy to fly, and the 2km range has held up strong over the years. While the camera can film in 4k, I generally choose to film in 1080p at 60fps; the resulting shots are incredibly smooth. The 12mp still camera also does very well in good conditions, and the ability to shoot in RAW lets me get the most out of every photo.
I am hoping soon to upgrade to a DJI Mavic Pro. While the camera has a slightly smaller FOV, the portability of the aircraft will allow us to take it along on every hike, camp and overseas trip.
How do you see the drone technology expanding or changing in the next 5 years?
I think the next big advancement in consumer drone technology will be an exponential increase in battery life/flight time. We’re already seeing big strides in the area, with the new DJI Mavic Pro Platinum rated for half an hour of flight time, nearly twice as long as my Phantom 3 Pro.
I’m hoping to also see an increase in the built-in safety requirements of the aircraft. DJI again are leading the way in this, with mandatory no-fly-zone updates, and hopefully other manufacturers will start to follow suit. While the majority of drone pilots are following the rules, the recent airliner collision in Canada shows that we’re not quite there yet.
The next 20 years?
Miniaturisation, automation and increased range. We’re already seeing big changes in these areas, but as drones are used more and more for surveillance, we’re going to see them get smaller and even more automated. While these changes will be introduced for aircraft designed specifically for surveillance, the technology will continue to trickle down to consumer devices.
Where can readers find out more about what you do?
About Dominic Grimm
Dominic is a former Australian representative rower who began piloting drones to film and photograph regattas, offering spectators and competitors a new perspective on the racing. Following a change of career, he and his partner Kathryn now spend their time exploring the Australian coast, searching for the most beautiful aerial shots possible.
Together they have traversed the NSW, Victoria, SA and WA coastlines, seeing a side of our stunning country that would otherwise not be possible.