Syracuse University student and author of The Handbook of Drone Photography wants everyone to get a new perspective on life.
For a son of journalists, having a critical eye and strong sense for what makes a good story may be second nature. But it wasn’t until drones came into his life that Chase Guttman’s earth-bound passion for photographic storytelling truly took flight.
“Drones are really like this brave new world,” said Guttman, an award-winning travel photographer and author of The Handbook of Drone Photography.
“They help me appreciate the breadth and scale of the world around me.”
By the time he’ll turn 21, Guttman will have visited five continents, all 50 U.S. states and 70 countries around the world. He was named Young Travel Photographer of the Year three times, a World’s Top Travel Photographer by Condé Nast Traveler, a Rising Star by Instagram and won the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Storytelling and Exploration. His work has appeared in National Geographic publications, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, The Guardian, CNN, BBC, ESPN and other major media outlets.
Drones are pushing his passion of photography to new levels and pulling him into new pursuits.
The Syracuse University senior is the president of the Skyworks Project, a student research and development group exploring the technological and social possibilities for drones. It’s where he blends his skills and passion for photography to shape the future of drone technology.
“It’s really just a bunch of drone nerds appreciating the world around campus and beyond,” he said.
The adventure seeker is always looking for an excuse to escape campus and fly his camera drone around the Syracuse region — at places like the New York State Fair, Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls, Ithaca’s Gorges, Quebec City, the New York State Capital and Thornden Park.
At an early age, Guttman was bent on finding new ways of looking at people, places and things.
“Everything has been shot to the death, so the way to really make a photograph or video stand out is to find an interesting perspective,” he said. “That perspective is what makes drone photography so fascinating.”
With hundreds of millions of photographs uploaded every day to Facebook, he said drones are allowing people to capture and share more mesmerizing photos.
Before drones, when standing would no longer do the trick, he hoisted his tripod in the air like a fly fishing rod to get more intriguing angles on his subjects. When drones came along, he said the technology was a game changer.
“I could basically be anywhere and the camera could be somewhere else. I could see things from totally new vantage points, and it opened up my eyes to different ways of telling stories. Drones have led to the democratization of perspective,” he said.
The self-proclaimed technology nerd always strove to be the first person on his block to try out new things. He got his first starter drone in 2014, when he was 17.
“I learned how to fly really by crashing into trees around the park. Now I’m using an Inspire 1 Pro by DJI to fly everywhere.”
For Guttman, drones own the airspace that’s just out of reach of the longest selfie stick and the lowest hovering helicopter.
“I like a range that’s not too high, where everything looks compressed in the photo, and not too low, where the perspective hovers just above ground level,” he said. “That sweet spot is really where I’ve lived and have developed my craft over time.”
Piloting a drone over Mont Saint-Michel in France led to one of Guttman’s most extraordinary experiences of his life.
“There’s an amazing abbey that’s like an island marooned out in the sea during high tide,” he said. “It was spectacular to see with my own eyes at sunset but the photograph captured from above with my drone was majestic.”
He sees drone technology evolving quickly, making drones more capable and easier to use, which is allowing anyone to become an excellent drone photographer.
“There are sensors for obstacle avoidance and features that allow you to track people or objects around you, making videography much more of a breeze,” he said. “Battery life, range and all these different features that make drone photography so much more powerful and impactful are getting better all the time.”
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His book provides strategies and techniques for taking spellbinding aerial photographs. The book has led to many opportunities for Guttman, including TV interviews and lectures at the National Arts Club and the George Eastman Museum.
“I just want to keep going out there and telling people how drones can really, truly change the world,” he said.
Becoming a Flying Shutterbug
He suggests beginner pilots learn to fly with a cheap trainer drone then upgrade to a more expensive drone once they’ve mastered the basics. He said having a good laptop and editing software are essential.
“Once my drone is safe, I upload my photographs first to an external hard drive then use Adobe Lightroom on my laptop to edit before publishing onto social media platforms like Instagram.”
Shutterbugs curious about drones should abandon any apprehension, he said.
“The number one thing you could do is just get out there, explore and develop your craft. Research where you want to go and plan a variety of different shots.”
[Read tips from Guttman: 8 Tips for Traveling with Camera Drones]
“Flying a drone is like riding a bike,” he said. “Once you learn it, you’ll never forget.”