Of all the advancements in photography and videography over the last couple years, the rise of the aerial drone has proven to be one of the more exciting. While the technology itself is not without controversy, the footage captured has transformed not only how we see the world but our accessibility to it.
Drones, many of which can be bought for less than $2,000, come equipped with high-definition cameras, generous flight times, and real-time monitoring that allow users to go places never previously possible. As you'll see in the videos below, everything from the hidden crevices of ice caves to the tallest spires of cathedrals are now within reach.
1. The massive ice caves of Alaska
One of the big advantages of drones is taking them places otherwise inaccessible to humans. Glacial ice caves are a perfect example — where crevices and ever-shifting ice pose considerable dangers. Fireflight Films, a new production company, recently shot the first documented drone flight through an ice cave as part of their six-episode online nature series "Roaming." The filmmakers plan on taking viewers deep into Alaska's forests, mountains, oceans and caves using only iPhones, drones and GoPro cameras.
2. The haunting Chernobyl exclusion zone
Almost 30 years after Chernobyl experienced the world's worst nuclear disaster, the city and its surrounding areas are ghostly reminders of just how quickly nature replaces man. While we've seen photos and videos from the ground from individuals entering the "exclusion zone," witnessing the decay from the air is completely different. British filmmaker Danny Cooke recently took a drone to the nearby ghost city of Pripyat, capturing haunting scenes of a region that was once home to more than 40,000 people.
3. Flying through fireworks
Ever wonder what it would be like to fly through the gorgeous firework displays we all watch from the ground? One person decided to risk the loss of his drone by navigating it through the explosions — capturing a perspective never before seen on film.
4. Eruption at Bardarbunga volcano
What happens when your drone camera gets a bit too close to an erupting volcano? It melts. That's what pilot Eric Cheng discovered the hard way when he took his quadcopter to film the active lava eruptions of the Bardarbunga volcanic system in Iceland. While the GoPro he used suffered damage, the SD card was intact, resulting in some incredible footage of one of nature's most destructive forces.
5. The great dolphin stampede
Dave Anderson wowed YouTube earlier this year with his montage video of aerial shots of marine mammals off the coast of California. Included are stunning views of a dolphin megapod, a migrating trio of gray whales, and a touching scene with a humpback whale and her newly born calf. But that scene with the dolphins? It almost didn't happen. The $1,700 drone Anderson used to capture it failed to return to the boat and landed in the water. So he dove in to retrieve it.
"I had my hat and glasses on, I was fully clothed with long johns on to keep warm and my cell phone and wallet in my pocket," he explained on YouTube. "It was a stupid move, but the copter started sinking so fast it was my only hope to get the amazing footage I had just shot."
6. Boulders of destruction
One of my favorite drone videos involves the aftermath of a rock slide in Northern Italy that looks straight out of a movie. Instead of small rocks and debris, this particular event included two absolutely gigantic boulders. While one crashed through a 300-year-old barn and into a vineyard, the other much larger rock stopped less than two feet short of destroying the home. This drone footage offers a fantastic view of the entire scene — including a previous massive boulder that appears to have been there since before the home was build. You'd think they might have taken that as a warning.
7. A flight over Niagara Falls
As someone who grew up in Buffalo, New York, I've had many visits to witness the beauty and power of Niagara Falls. This aerial shot offers an entirely different perspective; getting in close and taking us right over the edge. While not particularly tall (167 feet), Niagara Falls has the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with an average of four million cubic feet of water plunging over every minute.
8. The Dom Tower of Utrecht rising through the mist
According to Dutch filmmakers Jelte Keur and Reinout van Schie, it took 10 months of patience waiting for the perfect weather conditions to capture the Dom Tower of Utrecht rising out of the fog. At 368 feet, the structure is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands — an impressive feat considering it was built between 1321 and 1382.
While the video is absolutely stunning, the pilot apparently did not seek out special permission to film — going against the strict laws on drone photography the Dutch have in place. Said one Aviation Officer: "He could risk a fine of maximum 8,000 Euro, however such a fine has never been dealt out to date."
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