Exploring the World from Above: Dirk Dallas’ Drone Photography
Originally published on PassionPassport.com
Dirk Dallas’ first memory is from when he was four years old, sitting on his mother’s lap on an airplane. He remembers looking out the window, observing the Earth from above.
“It’s interesting that my first memory is the memory of when I was in the air,” Dirk said.
Dirk has always been fascinated by flight. He was always drawn to photos of astronauts in the International Space Station looking out at Earth — there was something that attracted him to the perspective.
His hobby for many years was flying RC airplanes and helicopters. Then, around 2013, he got a toy drone with a camera he could control with his iPad. The photos and videos weren’t good, but it was the perspective that took him aback. Soon after, he bought a Phantom Drone and attached a GoPro.
“Everything just took off from there because I saw the potential of what this could be,” Dirk said. “It was perfect because it allowed me to combine my love of flying with my love of photography.”
Thanks to his flying camera, familiar landmarks and landscapes Dirk always captured from the ground suddenly became new again when he started photographing them from the air.
“When I was able to get a drone up in the air and capture imagery from a completely new angle, it started to make things fresh again,” Dirk said.
There weren’t many ready-to-find aerial photography rules, and Dirk quickly became fascinated with the idea that he could explore a new medium and make up the rules as he went along.
After he’s gone through his flight checklist and gotten the drone into the air, the first thing Dirk does is look for a subject. He knows that if he can create a clear subject in the frame, he’ll be able to draw the viewer’s eye in.
“When you’re 250 feet up in the air, everything is compressed and you can’t really make out anything,” Dirk said. “That’s why you want to compose the frame so that there is a specific spot for the eye to go.”
Sometimes he has a subject in mind already, a place he’s already scouted on Google Maps, like the Bean in Chicago or the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. Other times, he has to search for a good subject. He’ll often wait for a red car to drive into a shot before taking a photo, because he knows red will pop more than white or black.
Once, flying his drone in a desert and not finding anything that could be a suitable subject, Dirk watched as a house came into view on his screen. It was in the middle of the desert, completely isolated.
“I want to have my photos evoke something that makes people stop for a minute,” Dirk said. “And sometimes they just stop in the beauty, but if I can pose a question, I love that.”
Dirk’s background in video, animation, and graphic design influences the way he shoots. He’s always thinking about the story his images could tell. But if he can’t find a subject, he defaults to his next option: patterns.
Dirk uses basic photography composition principles — lines, contrast, balance, and symmetry — to create visually interesting images that don’t have traditional subject. The lack of clearly established rules for drone photography allows him to push his creativity in ways he wasn’t when he took photos from the ground.
Now, when he’s out-and-about, Dirk can’t help but find himself wondering what things look like from the air.
And when he’s exploring through the camera on his drone, he loves seeing how the world is designed. Perfect grids of streets. Crooked roads.
“You can pick up all those details you would never capture, or even know about, from the ground,” Dirk said.
In a world constantly going more digital, he loves seeing the human touches in our world.
Dirk remembers feeling so small the first time he took his drone up into the air.
“When I get my drone 400 feet up, which is the max we can go, you can’t even see me on the ground,” he said. “It reminds me that I exist in a world that’s bigger than myself.”
As Dirk posted his photos on Instagram, he created #fromwhereidrone as a cheeky joke to compete with #fromwhereistand. A few months later, he clicked on the hashtag and was shocked by the amount of photos from other people using the tag.
“It let me connect with other drone pilots,” he said. “At the time there weren’t a lot of other people doing it, so it wasn’t like I could easily go find a drone pilot to talk about drones or even be inspired be their imagery.”
The feed inspired Dirk to create the @fromwhereidrone account on Instagram, and that eventually led to a website because of all the questions he was receiving.
“My background is in teaching as well. I love to share and teach and help people,” Dirk said. “I feel like it’s really helped combine all these things into one.”
Dirk is currently based in California and can’t do much traveling due to his three young daughters, but hopes to make it to Dubai, and Fiji, or Tahiti in the future. His favorite places to shoot have been in Iceland and at Mount Tam outside of San Francisco — where the clouds hung so low he could shoot from above the clouds. It felt like he was flying as he watched the feed.
Recently, a woman reached out to Dirk about his drone beach photos. She’d been sharing them with her mom, who is battling cancer.
“She said that my photos actually bring her mom joy. And she just wanted to say thank you for that,” Dirk said. “It was really encouraging because you’re posting photos and [you] have no idea who’s on the other side and it was really touching to know that, in some small way, a photo I took brought someone joy.”
Dirk uses drones by DJI and Yuneec. He edits video using Adobe Premiere and photos using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.