She learned to fly first before graduating to drone photography, but once Joanna Steidle, 50, got her first camera drone, the deal was done. Her life completely changed, as Steidle told The Epoch Times. She became an aerial artist specializing in marine photography and shadow plays from above while becoming a winner in a global drone photography competition.
“I live about three miles from the ocean,” said Steidle, who hails from the little town of Southampton, New York. She heads to the shoreside with her drone in the mornings in search of marine life, namely, bait balls—gargantuan schools of bunker fish that number in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
“That’s what really attracts the predators,” she said of the sharks—typically dusky or spinner sharks—whose menacing presence often results in fish art when viewed from above. The humongous, amorphous fish blob, fearful of the predator, will warp and shapeshift to grant the undersea hunter a wide berth, often producing spectacular and surprising aesthetic formations.
Usually, the shark will “pave” its way through the school, leaving a valley of water in its wake, but sometimes the predators will perform a sneak attack from below, producing rare results. “This shark just popped up from under the school,” Steidle said of a photograph with a shark that mysteriously found itself sealed inside a bunker bubble shaped like a heart. “I love the shot, and I held on to it since last year.
“I saved it for this year for Valentine’s Day.”
She recently posted that image on her Instagram where she features more wonders of the sea such as the fevers of cownose rays, numbering in the hundreds, that migrate up from South America for the summer season. They appear almost magical as they float in the sunlight. “This was taken on my birthday,” she said. “So, it’s very special.”
Steidle’s artwork would garner her coverage not just online, but also in her local Southampton art scene and even in a major drone photography competition. What started with capturing bait balls from above off Southampton’s breathtaking coastline eventually led to her placing among the top 15 winners of SkyPixel’s DJI Global drone photography contest, which draws from some 15,000 to 20,000 entries each year.
Meanwhile, locally, Southampton has a huge, bustling art scene for its relatively small size. “We have seven galleries in one little town,” she said, adding that most of those galleries don’t hang drone photography on their walls. So, Steidle saw a niche she could fill and began finding ways to edit and scale up her work, sometimes to as large as 4 by 6 feet.
One of the obstacles preventing many from taking up the aerial art form, she says, is the cost of camera drones, which can exceed $15,000 for a professional-grade machine. Steidle’s DJI Mavic 3 set her back about $3,500 so she relies on raw images, often cropped from the air, her zoom lens capable of 28x magnification, and postproduction software such as Lightroom and Photoshop to get rid of water spots and whatnot to get the biggest bang for her buck. “A lot of it is in the edit,” she said.
Strategic planning in her sorties can also make a world of difference in capturing an unblemished shot. Flying the drone out toward the sun first and then turning around to make a pass in the other direction has helped Steidle to eliminate glare over the water.
Looking forward, the drone photography artist hopes to expand her horizons by one day visiting Iceland, Vietnam, Australia, Bali, and not least of all Hawaii. “I’d like to get some big wave surfers,” she said. “That’s something that’s very interesting. I like the surfers.”
But for now, she admits it takes a ton of fruitless flying to seize on something good, adding that “some days I spent the whole day, I found nothing.” Fortunately, the feeling of being airborne, afforded by her built-in display, can be a thrill in itself, she said. “It’s like flying a fighter jet with no chance of getting hurt.”
(Courtesy of Joanna L Steidle)
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