Ask Appy: Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Drones

Ask Appy: Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Drones


MM Asks: What does your “typical” day look like?

MK: There is not really any ‘typical’ day. I shoot probably 1-4 local gigs a month (LA) and then usually do one bigger travel job every month. I divide my life into two kinds of days…days where I set an alarm (flights or shooting) and days when I don’t, hah! So on days when I’m not shooting, I just wake up whenever I want, meander around a bit, get a nice breakfast, then start answering emails around 10-11am for a couple hours. A lot of this is estimating, bidding, chasing payments, dealing with contracts, etc. Sometimes I get bored and go on reddit or write an APA post like I am right now because I’m waiting for clients to get back to me on edit requests or something.

On travel gigs, the day before is usually spent preparing, packing, wrapping up any emails that I won’t be able to handle on the road. Just trying to reduce possible stress before it flares up while I’m on the other side of the world. Sometimes it’s a quick nonstop flight, sometimes it’s two connections and an overnight to some crazy location. For overseas shoots, I get one rest day after traveling to catch up and explore the local area or sleep off some jetlag. Then it’s usually up for sunrise, breakfast, shoot some more, take an extended 3-4 hour break, then shoot maybe 4-5 more hours until sunset to get the best light. Rinse and repeat 4, 6, 8, 10 days in a row.

I can sometimes string together travel jobs which has me on the road for a month. It’s way easier to keep going when you’re on the road than to start from zero at home. I can live out of a suitcase almost indefinitely, so when I’m on the road wherever, I’ll try to line up another job on the road somewhere else directly or before. I’ve often done 3 jobs back to back (North Carolina, Mexico, London) or something like Dubai, straight to Vegas, back to LA, whatever. I just got done doing LA – San Francisco – Fort Myers – Dublin (for vacation, right in the middle of two shoots) – South Carolina for another shoot. Back to LA in a couple days. I’m cooked.

A familiar sight…

It’s both an incredible life and moderately infuriating not having a ‘home’ to come back to every day on the road. Not to mention the relationship strains and whatnot but I’d rather do this than work in any office ever so, head down, get on with it, drink a coffee and get to work! 

RL asks: What’s the biggest screwup you’ve ever had on location?

MK: Are you trying to feel good after a colossal screwup? I guess it’s time for group therapy, eh? If it makes you feel any better, here are a few of my finest moments:

-Completely destroyed a rented Phantom 4 Pro in front of my client on this shoot. Tried to play it cool and probably failed. “Oh yeah Mr Client, this happens all the time, just needs some new blades”. Meanwhile the gimbal is sparking and there’s putrid smoke coming out of a hole in the ground. This was the last shot before I backed it straight into a pine tree:

Thankfully this was also the last day of aerial photography, so we got everything else we needed before I Hindenburged this thing into the ground. But honestly, if you own a drone, you’re going to crash a drone.

-Shot an international magazine advertisement assignment – literally one photo was all I had to do – in JPEG (thankfully at full resolution). Honestly, in the final TIFF, you can’t even tell. Pro tip: When you send a camera back to Canon to get repaired, they reset everything to factory settings. When you shoot tethered, there’s no way to tell since you’re not touching the camera itself, but controlling it from a computer. The little “Jpeg L” icon was buried out of the way and since you aren’t actually using the camera (thanks tethering!) you wouldn’t have noticed that your back button focus isn’t what it used to be, the focus confirm doesn’t beep anymore, etc.

-Not really “my” screwup but still “my” screwup, cause well, it was my crew: I told my assistant to move our rental car out of the shot (it was barely in the edge of a twilight and I didn’t feel like cloning it). In the blindspot was a retaining wall. Yeah. Rental car, over the retaining wall. To be fair, only about two feet tall. I was there with my client de-constructing and jerry-rigging a solution to get the car, which was balanced on the oil pan, off of a granite retaining wall. Three hours and countless pulled muscles later, we did it. The bottom of the rental car looked like I drove it over a retaining wall, (I did), but not a scratch on the paint. No charges from the rental car company, the retaining wall was put together as if nothing happened, and the next day we re-sodded the completely screwed up grass.

-Another assistant classic: dropped a 40lb porcelain vase in a Miami penthouse onto the tile floor. One literal million pieces. Client did not even come close to caring, by some miracle, and basically laughed it off.

The site of some serious vase destruction

17mm tilt shift was sitting on top of a Tethertools table. Went to move tripod with laptop on it (which was secured via straps, didn’t move). Well, the 17ts was not secure. Onto the cobblestones it goes. I don’t use a tethering table any more. Hell, I hardly even tether – just to an iPad with CamRanger. $500 and a trip to Canon later, she’s as good as new.

That’s enough embarrassing myself for one day. I’d love to hear any of your screwups in the comments below!

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About Mike Kelley
Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.