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Stories of South Africa: Interview with Sharyn Hodges, Drone Photographer

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High Flyers

Aerial photography is a niche skillset that requires a combination of UAV piloting skills, a creative photographic eye and technical editing ability. All DroneBelow High Flyers are selected on the basis of their professionalism, talent and creativity. We invite these drone photographers to interview with us to find out more about what flies their kite.

Stories of South Africa: Interview with Sharyn Hodges, Drone Photographer

Hi Sharyn, thanks for giving us the opportunity to interview you. As a wedding and portrait photographer, how did you make the move from stills to drone photography?

Thank you so much, guys, for getting in touch with me! As any photographer would probably tell you, we never stop learning new things in our industry and we continuously add new skills to our portfolio. Drone photography was an obvious choice for me.  I live along the most beautiful coastline in South Africa and I LOVE putting people into amazing landscapes to show scale.

What challenges did you face when new to drone piloting and photography?

Not crashing! On a more serious note, creating interesting angles is probably the biggest challenge for me. And getting your client safely to a position in the landscape where you can do your magic from the sky.

Your love for your home country of South Africa shines through in your images as seen on Instagram. Talk us through your choices of subject matter and what draws you to capture these themes?

Absolutely! South Africa is so diverse; not only in landscapes, but culturally, too. The peace and quiet of a sunrise is probably my favourite type of landscape photography. Sometimes I would have to hike an hour to get to my desired location and in that time you really get in touch with nature and the appreciation for where I am and what I am doing really personifies how blessed I am and a constant reminder that I can do this on a daily basis if I wish to.

We loved viewing your recent videos of dolphins and humpbacks on Youtube. What did it take to get these special sequences?

The sea is definitely in my veins. And the fascination of what lies beneath can only be compared to someone having an interest in the stars. We don’t know what’s happening out there; it’s a mystery and that is probably what excites me most. And I am fortunate enough to live where I get to see the sea out of my kitchen window and on most days, the dolphins swim by and in our winter months we get the Southern Right Whales that migrate to our waters to calve and mate. To view these magnificent creatures from above, from such a unique point of view as made me love them more. It has enhanced my appreciation that they are gentle giants, they move with grace and they are so playful, especially the calves. If I could watch them all day, I really would!

Do you have any particular favourite images? Tell us more about what makes them stand out.

Wow, there are so many. The snow in the Drakensberg  (below left) is probably one that stands out for many reasons. Firstly, it snowed in November (which is almost our summer months), we drove for about 11 hours to get to our accommodation, slept for about five hours and hiked up the mountainside for 14 hours in snow, in a blizzard, everything was cold and wet! It was one of my toughest days, but I got to share something that only six people in the entire South Africa experienced (there were only six people on the mountain that day). I was with one of my great mates and even though we were amateurs and got snow blindness the next day, we are only starting to chuckle at it now.

This Southern Right Whales and Bottlenose Dolphin picture (right) was the second last image I took with my Phantom 3, I crashed it into the tree. But as always there is a good story.

I just got back from a month in Tanzania (stunning country) and it was whale season in Plettenberg Bay and I have been dying to take a “top-down” photograph of these beautiful creatures and then one morning I saw six of them playing right in front of my house and literally dropped everything, fired up the drone, only to be told the battery was too cold, so there I am cuddling my battery on my stomach trying to warm it up, eventually get it up in the air and I am witnesses the most amazing scene of my entire life, six whales playing and the dolphins are around them, giving a person the much needed scale to actually appreciate the size of whales. I took about 9 photographs and then my SD was FULL! So raced the drone back, purely to unload and go out, but I forgot there was a tree behind me and next thing I knew I had a drone in a couple of pieces.  I took my SD card and left the drone on the front garden, I needed to see the photographs.

What are your most successful images on Instagram? Why do you think this is?

Viewing the above from left to right: These coloured houses on the Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town is one of my favourite images. Drone photography offers such unique perspectives and it was a stunning sunrise that I could to share with a very good friend.

The second image, again has some serious luck, I was making lunch and happened to see the dolphins go by and I was in two minds, should I fly or not, as you can by the image, the water was absolutely clear.  Decided to fly and along came this red Kayak and well, as you can see it made for an amazing photo.

On the third photo: I am a huge fan of story telling and to be honest with your followers, this photo was taken during a particular difficult time for a friend who happened to be with me on this morning, this is one of her favourite spots, Kalk Bay Harbour.  This image reminds me of that time, it’s so peaceful and serene.

I like to call this fourth image “Traffic in Keurboomstrand” (the suburb I live in). The Bottlenose dolphins absolutely love surfing the waves and what I love about this photo in particular is the how crisp and detailed the dolphins are.

In this next collection, the first is Robberg Nature Reserve, what I would describe as my happy place and often you can find me here during sunset, this place is full of beauty and for me it’s the most beautiful part of the Garden Route. I can get lost here for hours on end. I don’t know how many times I have sneaked into the Reserve for sunrise missions.

The sunset image: When the Portuguese found Plettenberg Bay, the named it “Bahia Formosa”, meaning Beautiful Bay, who am I to argue with that!

This third, the panorama, shows another amazing view of the “wild side” of Robberg Nature Reserve.. That little “Island” on the right hand side, is my favourite spot on Robberg.

Fourthly, one of my favourite Southern Right Whale photos of last season. I watched these two play from my front garden for about two hours, I couldn’t resist getting a little insight to how these two interacted with each other. Calves are so playful with their mothers.  I got a little squishy inside. One of those awwwwwww moments for sure!

Lastly – well this is the ocean, and of course we have to respect every single creature that calls the ocean home. Again another lucky photograph, I was actually wanting to photograph the cormorants and were dive bombing into the sea and then I got to see these two juvenile great white sharks just behind the breakers.

Here, the first is titled “The Wedding” – capturing moments. As previously mentioned, adding the drone to my photography equipment has allowed me to use my imagination to create moments and photographs that were impossible.

The second – my fascination with what lies beneath is incurable!

I love this last one I titled “Angry Bird.”  I am sure if you have flown your drone around the ocean, you might have encountered some of these Angry Birds. I try not to panic. Usually Ill just bring the drone home and find another spot to fly.  During breeding season they are more likely to come and dive bomb you, which is understandable, they are only looking after their eggs and little ones.

What do you fly, and what do you love about it?

I am currently flying the Phantom 4 Advanced from DJI. For me, it’s always been about quality and with a 20 megapixel camera and an amazing dynamic range, it was an easy decision to make.

What would be your next drone purchase? Why?

Wow, it’s difficult to say at this moment, I can’t imagine how the drone technology will evolve in the coming years! I am sure the boys and girls are working flat out to bring more features to the drones, so for the moment, I’ll wait and see what comes our way.

Do you have any bucket list locations you’d like to shoot from the air?

Oh my goodness, what a question! Plenty of bucket list locations, of course. New York, New Zealand, Japan, Austria, Ireland and Singapore. But not all are drone-friendly areas, so lots of homework to be done before I make any final decisions.

How do you see the drone technology expanding or changing in the next 5 years?

I am excited for the next five years for drones. I personally think it’s the way forward for many reasons.
The way I would like to go, would be for the use of delivering small parcels (no population), used more for scouting the oceans for sharks or potential dangers to bathers. Used for rescue missions. Used for marine research – I believe that there is so much that can be done and technology will only get better, I see designated air space for them, for delivering goods, better cameras, would love them to maybe be waterproof or the ability to go under water.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I know that drones receive a lot of negative publicity, which I really think sometimes is unjust. People should get the negative publicity, it’s the people that fly them.

I fly with respect and I have three rules that I ask myself before I fly.

  1. Am I endangering anyone?
  2. Am I endangering any animal?
  3. Environment conditions – too windy, there are low flying aeroplanes over the ocean, etc.

I always make sure that I can see my drone at all times, if it goes around the corner, I walk around to keep an eye on it, so I’m always on the lookout for obstacles and danger.

Where can readers find out more about what you do?

My website www.sharynhodges.co.za and my Instagram account @sharynhodges
I also write blogs for Manfrotto, you can access them here.

About Sharyn Hodges

Sharyn Hodges likes to describe herself as “just lucky”. Home is Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, a sleepy little sea-side village where the sun rises and sets in colours one can only imagine.

She is inspired daily by nature’s ever changing canvas of textures, colours and patterns.

Her work varies from weddings and events to nature and landscapes, but her heart lies buried in the vast expanses of Plett’s beaches and the sheer splendour of the surrounding Garden Route and South Africa.

Photography is in her veins; her mission is to capture those fleeting seconds of beauty which characterises this fragile adventure we call life.

More from Sharyn Hodges

@sharynhodges

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