Wilmington, NC | November 23, 2016 | 6:43am
Photographers have atypical reactions to weather. Bright, direct sunlight is great for my tan, but terrible for my photos. A cloudy, overcast day is ideal for taking portraits. A cold, misty night can work well for light painting with lit steel wool. The most dramatic sunrise and sunset shots don't come from perfectly clear skies - you need some clouds to bounce and refract the light.
And then there is wind - a weather element I had all but ignored until this past year. My DJI Phantom 3 drone can fly in up to 15-20mph gusts, but I don't want to push it. The ideal scenario for flying my little drone is no wind.
Through a combination of luck and timing, the two days I spent in Wilmington over Thanksgiving, the skies were clear and still.
When Dave Johnston taught me how to fly my drone, he said, "If you want to get good at this, you need to fly as often as you can."
So I utilized those two days - 48 hours away from the typical daily grind - to fly as much as possible. I flew at sunrise and sunset both days. I flew the drone low over the water, and then 300 feet up. I took it to the beach and flew my little quadcopter through dunes and sea oats. I logged seven flights in those two days, and I felt good about it. I'm finally getting the hang of this, I thought.
The next weekend I went rock climbing at Pilot Mountain with Victor and Jenny. Emboldened by my string of successful flights, I brought the drone along and planned to film some epic footage of us climbing. There were a few gusts of wind blowing up from the valley below us, but nothing terribly strong. I went through the routine motions of removing the drone from its case, attaching the propellers, and starting up the controller and motor. As soon as I initiated the "take off" function, a small gust of wind whipped up, and the drone immediately flipped over. With the propellers grinding into the rocky dirt, I struggled to regain control of it, and finally shut down the motor by removing the battery. Not good.
Fortunately the drone didn't suffer any significant damage. The incident served as a humbling reminder that I'm still a novice pilot, and wind - any amount of wind - is the enemy.