The best way to film the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, the Philippines, said Lewis Whyld, a British photographer, was from the air. But Whyld did not want to beg for a ride on a military helicopter, taking the space of much-needed aid. So he launched a drone. In addition to providing shots that showed the scale of the damage, broadcast by CNN recently, his drone discovered two bodies that were later recovered, he said.
“The newspaper was for still images,” said Whyld, who builds his own drones, “but the Internet is for this.”
Whyld and CNN are not alone in exploring the potential of drones. The Associated Press and News Corp. have used them to show the scale of large disasters. Sophisticated nature documentaries use them to get intimate shots of wildlife. News Corp. uses drones to film sporting events in Australia. Paparazzi use them to chase celebrities in Europe and they are increasingly being used for civilian purposes.
The machines have proved most valuable in providing film footage or photography of things that are difficult to reach, like wildlife and geographic formations. In the future, they may include sensors that can help with environmental coverage, for instance, by providing air quality readings.
“What drones give you is anywhere, anytime access to the sky,” said Chris Anderson, a former editor of Wired magazine who runs a drone company. “That perspective is something a journalist just wouldn’t have unless he waited for officials, or hired a plane.”