Most people don’t document vacations with an $8,000 souped-up drone.
Tim Browning is not most people.
His day job involves working as a concept artist and art director on blockbuster movie sets, including “Spectre,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Skyfall.”
His work as a drone operator for National Geographic and BBC means he specializes in getting the best possible equipment to some of the world’s most remote destinations.
It comes as no surprise that his side gig is equally cool. As a drone cameraman for Black Tomato, an adventure tour operator that creates tailor-made vacations, Browning tags along on people’s holidays five or six times a year.
First, he films trips to places such as Myanmar, New Zealand and Argentina with his super fancy drone, which tilts and pans independently, holds a DSLR camera and has a slew of high-tech flight modes to get just the right shot.
Next, he edits the broadcast-quality footage. When travelers return home, he sends them a slick, cinematic mini-movie.
The sky’s the limit
For some, it’s the ultimate vacation souvenir and the perfect way to continue reliving vacation memories over and over again.
For others, it’s about having incredible footage to share on social media. Half the fun of going on holiday, after all, is sharing stories after the fact.
Either way, besides getting blockbuster-quality footage, the other major benefit of having a professional along is that you get sit back and enjoy it all without digging out your phone every 10 minutes.
The pricey version
Black Tomato’s “Drone the World” service allows guests to capture the highlights of a trip via a drone photographer, filming guests spending time in exotic locales doing exotic things like snowmobiling across Iceland’s Langjökull Glacier, driving 4x4s through Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and mastering the art of kung fu in Luoyang, China.
Have your own idea in mind?
There’s a good chance Black Tomato can figure out how to make it happen, whether it’s a marriage proposal on top of a mountain or a 60th birthday shindig spent on a private yacht in Myanmar, as long as it’s a destination that allows drones to operate.
Sounds pricey, right? It is.
Black Tomato trips start from about $2,800 per person, and an average 10-day trip starts at approximately $6,000 per person. Tack on the drone option for an additional $5,500, which includes Browning as a tag-along guest. But more moderately priced options can be arranged, too, if you don’t want to shell out that much money.
“Stealth-mode” photo shoots
If you’d prefer to focus on photos rather than video, companies like Flytographer are the way to go.
Flytographer connects travelers with local photographers in more than 200 cities around the world and will arrange planned or “stealth-mode” photo shoots (in the event that you want to surprise someone special) starting at $250 for a 30-minute session.
Travelers meet up with a local photographer, and the camera starts clicking. Five days after the shoot, an online gallery of edited photos appears in your inbox.
“Most customers are celebrating an occasion such as a surprise proposal, honeymoon, anniversary or multi-generation family trip,” says Nicole Smith, Flytographer founder and CEO. “We are also seeing an increase in solo travelers.”
So far they’ve racked up more than 10,000 shoots and planned more than 1,200 proposals globally. Like Black Tomato, it’s all customizable.
For instance, when a couple asked if they could incorporate penguins in their Cape Town photoshoot, Flytographer managed to get the beloved flightless birds in the background.
And when an opera singer wanted to propose in Milan by pretending to be a street performer in front of the Duomo, they captured all of that, too.
“While people are becoming more comfortable taking their own still photography and footage on their phones and cameras, we have seen a desire from clients to professionally capture their adventures,” says Tom Marchant, Black Tomato co-founder.
For those who’d still prefer to do it themselves, the good news is: Drones are more affordable these days and easy to travel with.
Some are so small, in fact, they can fit easily in a jacket pocket.
That said, it comes as no surprise then that the high-flying gadgets are more popular than ever.
“Before drones, the only way you could get an aerial view of something was to rent a helicopter at a rate of $200 every 15 minutes,” says Dirk Dallas, a professional photographer who owns 12 drones and posts to Instagram via @fromwhereidrone.
“Having the ability to fly over a rocky beach cliff or fly 300 feet up over a landscape to see what it looks like from above is still so fresh and untapped that even familiar spots feel new again.”
It’s easy to see why loads of people are taking up the hobby from millennials looking for epic Instagram posts to baby boomers who want to explore their surrounding from the comfort of a chair.
In 2017, US dollar sales in the drone category increased 32 percent compared to 2016, according to The NPD Group Retail Tracking Service.
Just another camera?
“Lots of professional photographers and videographers are buying them to add to their toolkit just as if it were another lens for their DSLR camera,” says Dallas.
Keeping a drone in the air is relatively easy. Anyone can do it. The tricky part is getting pro-style footage.
“A good pilot needs to practice flying a lot, so that flying is second nature,” says Dallas. “From there it’s important to understand basic photography principles like ISO, aperture, shutter and composition.”
Once you’ve got that down, you’re on your way to mini-movie greatness.
Freelancer Sarah Sekula covers stories about travel, fitness and extraordinary people, and her assignments have taken her to all seven continents. Follow her adventures @wordzilla (Twitter) and @sarahsomewhere (Instagram).