Getting braver but it could’ve all ended in disaster!

So with a month of flying under my belt I thought it was about time I expanded my flying repertoire by trying to get some cinematic shots, following some techniques I’d seen on YouTube (the best place to learn for free of course!).

Armed with my drone, the dog and a can of Jungle Formula I headed off to the local gravel pit adjacent the River Nene for some early morning quadcoptering (I know it’s not a proper word but ‘droning’ isn’t much better 🙂 )

Anyhow, I had pre-planned my shots for two locations; one from the side of the Thrapston gravel pit and the second from the river bank and fortunately neither had any fishing men nearby (both locations are popular with piscatorial folk). Both flights required flying over water, which I’d only done once before and so it was with nervousness that I sent the Phantom up for the first time.

Here is the first flight (edited on the DJI app so click here to view). The quality isn’t brilliant but I think that’s due to the app not the drone.

Mission one accomplished we moved on to location two, a short distance to the river bank. Here I wanted a slightly different shot and the plan was to do a flyover up the river but the shot didn’t quite come off so I tried another selfie with Rio.

Here’s the second film, this time posted on YouTube.

I was quite pleased with that one 🙂

And so on to last night and with the evening brightening up, I took the opportunity to get out for an hour and go explore. I headed for a local footpath I’d never been to before as it looked a quiet location and would be idea for flying.

I also took my handheld video camera this time as one of the YouTube channels suggested using footage taken from the ground to enhance the filming. It was a challenge at first to control the drone and the camera but I will agree it does add something extra to the overall quality of the film.

And so to the near disaster…

I spend some time flying around and practicing some flyovers and other filming techniques before heading back to the first field for more of the same before the second battery went flat. Just before I finished for the evening I decided on one last flyover and it nearly ended up…. well rather than give the game away take a look at the longer edited version of the film I made…

My heart nearly sank as my pride and joy nearly came a cropper but thankfully all turned out well in the end. A lesson learned to be a bit more careful in future!

I also made a shortened version which I posted on Facebook which gives the near-fail a bit more of a dramatic edge.

I am continually researching new places to go and fly; the Peak District is one of my possible destinations but it might have to wait until the kids go back to school as there’s bound to be too many people there time this time of the year.

Windmills of Your Mind

Ever since the nearby wind farm was built a few years ago I have been fascinated by the technology and the turbines ability to be able to work so efficiently despite their enormous size. They look so big from a distance and rarely are they ever still, even with the lightest of breezes, very clever technology.

The original ten turbines at Burton Wold Wind Farm near Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire were so successful in their electricity generation that they recently added a further nine, and now the site is able to generate almost 50% of the power requirements for the Kettering district.

But getting close to them to have a better look is not so easy; I think the owners are not keen for the public to get near for fear of them suffering damage or for public safety reasons. From the main roads that surround the farm there are signs that say ‘KEEP OUT’ and ‘No Entry Private Property’ and so it was with a bit of trepidation that I ventured out with my drone to see if I could get a closer look.

I had already done some homework and surveyed the local ordinance survey map and found that a public footpath went close to an abandoned stone quarry, which also just happened be be adjacent then wind farm too. Two birds etc…

So on Sunday evening I headed out for some quadcopter flying exploration.

Getting to the edge of the quarry/wind farm wasn’t too bad; clearly the footpath wasn’t a well trodden route and a bit overgrown but I soon found a clearing where I could launch from. After takeoff, initially I surveyed the old quarry but it was overgrown and pretty uninteresting so instead turned the camera towards the wind turbines to record some great shots looking across the site from the high vantage point. I was of course careful not to encroach the fields, keeping the drone directly above my head all the time in flight.

After a few minutes I brought the aircraft back down and moved further around the footpath so I could get some shots facing south towards the original turbines. Again, I managed to get some good footage before bringing it back down. It was at that point I stopped and listened to the turbine slowly rotating and it was only then I could appreciate the calmness of the electricity generation, the near silent whoosh as the blades rotated.

I recorded a few filler shots from my iPhone before heading back home, eager to check out the footage I’d shot and wasn’t disappointed by the results.

Here’s the final video.

Flights #4, #5 & #6

Last week I had to drive to Teesside, which is quite close to the Yorkshire Moors, an ideal place to get in some drone flying. After my meeting, I headed off towards the park but was thwarted by heavy rain so abandoned the idea.

So with the weekend weather improving, it was time to try to get some flying in so off I and Rio headed to a field nearby. On arriving I found that the farmer had even cut down the long grass for me, what a result.

I soon had the drone up in the air, surveying the surrounding countryside, including the River Nene and the local lakes. I then spotted a worrying view at the far end of the field from the on board camera; a gathering of travellers and the vehicles was growing! I hastily moved back into the corner, not wanting to trigger a gypsy aircraft attack and carried flying until the battery alarm signalled it was time to bring it back down.

With my normal dog walking route to the nature reserve needing to go past the visitors; I packed up my bag and headed off towards them but found that instead I’d stumbled on a metal detectorists gathering (ah that was why the farmer had cut down the grass!). I stopped and had a chat with the marshall before continuing the dog walk.

Interestingly I’d never come across a treasure hunter meet before and assumed it would be organised so that every blade of grass was covered. Not a chance! They fanned out as they arrived in their cars, every saddo to themselves, digging holes as they went.

If you look carefully you can see the cars starting to line up along the edge of the field.

Anyhow here is the footage for flight #4.

My next flight was Sunday evening when I went out with the family and did some flyovers, making good use of the foreground interest they afforded as well as the low sunset glows. Rather than use Final Cut Pro I created a video using the DJI software. I will edit the full footage but was quite please with this short effort.

https://www.skypixel.com/share/video/family-flyover

[update: And the longer Final Cut Pro version is now below]

My latest flight was last night, again making use the great sunlight and was rather pleased with the outcome. Check out the start of the big reveal from 1:30, a great cinematic shot.

I have also been looking up local spots to fly from, using Ordinance Survey maps to find footpaths; I have a few marked so hopefully I’ll be able to get some different countryside shots over coming weeks.

Flight #03

So flight number three nearly didn’t happen yesterday as the weather was crap when I got home from work so I was pleasantly surprised when the clouds cleared around 8pm allowing some flying time. It was a bit windy but not enough to stop the flying.

I intended to drive down to the first place I flew my quadcopter, but found out that cars were not allowed down the lane so instead stopped at a spot I often walk the dog. It looks down over the town so thought it would be an ideal spot for getting shots of the fields and the setting sun.

I soon had the aircraft in the sky and filming the surrounding countryside, practicing flying and generally having some fun, especially knowing that I had extra time in the air as I now had the second battery I’d ordered.

Disappointingly, the setting sun wasn’t great to look at so in the end did some low level shots of the wheat fields and a couple of flyovers. I then headed home and downloaded the video to my laptop ready for editing tonight.

The last time I did any proper video editing using Final Cut Pro was a few years ago, but after watching a couple of online tutorials I soon got back into it. The final edit ended up a a bit smaller in frame size than I would have liked but I needed to cut out some of the video shots due to the high winds showing the propeller guards.

Anyhow, here is flight number 3…

 

Flight #2

Another glorious day and ideal flying weather meant only one thing; Rio was in for an early morning walk again and it was also drone time (I really need to stop calling it a drone, it’s technically a quad-copter!).

We set off towards the river and found an ideal spot for launching the aircraft; a quiet car park right next to a field. After carrying out the pre-flight checks I soon had it in the air; the distinctive red propeller guards I’d bought yesterday helping me to see which round the copter was facing.

I did some fly-by’s of the adjacent lake and some shots of Rio and me walking before the battery warning message showed it was time to bring it back down. The twenty minutes flight time really does go quickly when your having fun.

I’m trying to keep the videos fairly short so they don’t bore the pants of the viewers!

Phantom 3 Standard Quad-copter (or drone if you prefer)

Well, after losing my first drone last weekend (Matt’s father’s day present to me had a mind of its own and flew into a lake on its first flight) I decided to upgrade to DJI Phantom 3 Standard and give flying another go.

After watching lots of YouTube videos and practicing on the DJI app, Rio and I got up early this morning and headed for the Northants countryside to test out my new toy.

Within minutes I had the quad-copter flying and filming some of the surrounding landscape; controlling the drone was simple and easy to get some great shots.

Unfortunately the battery didn’t last long and my fun ended prematurely but I had gotten the bug and was eager to get it recharged and get out flying again. Unfortunately the weather for the rest of the day was not so good, with high winds and showers so no more flying but I did manage to cobble together this video…

Fingers crossed for some good weather in the morning!

First iPhone App – What’s My Weather?

Wow, my last post was in November, where has the time gone?

weather-appFor most of the winter my evenings have been spent learning how to code, and in particular how to build iPhone apps using Xcode and the newish programming language Swift. I purchased a number of online training courses through Udemy and have been diligently working through the lessons. I will admit that it has been a struggle; my brain finds it hard to retain the information nowadays, but my understanding of the coding has improved and am able to follow many of the lessons.

One of the courses, iOS 9 and Swift 2: From Beginner to Paid Professional, teaches through a bootcamp style and whilst it is geared for people who want to make programming a career, it also is effective for people who just want to try to learn to code and create apps for fun (which is why I am learning!).

Anyhow, one of the techniques it covers is extracting JSON data from the internet and presenting it in an app. The example app is a basic weather app and the course encourages students to hone their newly learned skills and build on the basic version to create a more functional version.

And so I did.

And I managed to build an app and release it in the Apple app store.

So those of you who have an Apple device can download What’s My Weather for free.

I have a few ideas for different apps which I would like to charge a fee to download but need to do some more lessons and lots more coding before I have confidence to release them.

PS I’ve just supported the developer of some of the online courses through a Kickstarter campaign. Worth checking out if you are interested in learning how to code.

Our days in Jersey

wet st helier

A little damp looking out of the window at breakfast on our first day in Jersey

graham with cider

Gluten-free cider of course :)

After breakfast we decided to go and explore St Helier, a ten minute walk from the hotel. Fortunately the taxi driver had given us general directions to find the town centre and we were soon browsing the shops, doing some reconnaissance for Abby before finding a cafe on the promenade for a mid-morning coffee. I texted my sister to let her know we’d arrived and said we’d meet her at lunchtime, then did some more wandering before grabbing a drink at one of the pubs near the high street. Whilst we sat outside, we watched someone being interviewed outside the council offices nearby (and watched it again on the local news channel later that evening).

We met up with Lesley for some lunch before heading back to the hotel for a rest, then  ventured out for an Italian meal at La Cantina, which we had spotted served gluten-free pasta. I naively telephoned to book a table before we set off but needn’t have bothered as it was very quiet, being a mid-week evening. The meal was excellent. We took a slow stroll back to the hotel for an early night.

IMG_3156

Gorey Harbour

tiffin in tiffin

It would have been rude to drink the tea before the champagne

The next morning we picked up Lesley’s car and went exploring the island, including visiting Gorey and the Jersey Pearl showroom before stopping at St Brelade’s Bay for some lunch. I dropped Tina off at the hotel (she’d not slept well during the night) and I took Lesley’s car back and picked up some wine for the later in the day (we were spending the evening at her house, with Jason, Iona, Isla and a takeaway). We met Lesley after work, picked up the girls from school and then drove back to Lesley’s house in St Peter’s. The island is so small, it only takes 30 minutes to get to most places from St Helier. Lesley’s girls were pleased to see us and I was soon helping make a car out of a cardboard box (isn’t that what uncle’s are supposed to do?). After enjoying a lovely curry, some cider and wine we eventually headed back to the hotel, via a taxi and both slept much better after an exhausting day.

We managed to get a good walk in the next morning before the rain set in for the day so returned back to the hotel before getting a lift by Lesley to Tiffin for afternoon tea (and a glass of champagne). When we went to pay we had a nice surprise as Lesley had rung them whilst we were there and paid for the meal. Thanks sis!

We visited Pizza Express in St Helier for our evening meal before retiring back to our hotel, fully stuffed from all the food we’d eaten throughout the day.

tinas ring

Last minute purchase for a special lady

Check out at the hotel was at 10am so following breakfast we packed up our cases and left them at reception before wandering into town for the final time. Again the rain started to fall so we dodged the showers by visiting any of the shops to try to keep dry. We had about an hour left to kill so started to look in the windows of the jewellery shops, of which Jersey is quite famous for.

During our stay Tina had mentioned about getting an eternity ring and spotted one she like in a shop window, so in we went. Thirty minutes later she was leaving the same shop wearing her new, diamond encrusted white gold ring, with my wallet significantly lighter!

And then it was time to leave Jersey, with getting home far less hassle than getting there.

I’ll be heading back there in a couple of weeks when I’ll be helping Abby to relocate.  I’ll be travelling by sea this time so they’ll be no problems with fog, I just hope the Channel is relatively flat as I’m not a great sailor!

Journeying to Jersey

Back in September we decided to gamble on booking flights and a hotel to Jersey to coincide with Abby’s relocation to the Channel Island following her managing to secure a job there. Unfortunately her start date was delayed by paperwork which meant we had travel there Abbyless. Oh well, we would just have to have a holiday instead.

We had managed to pick up reasonably priced EasyJet flights from Gatwick and decided to let the train take the strain, rather than have to suffer the hassle of driving around the M25, especially as we would be returning during Friday rush hour. Having never used a ‘no frills’ airline before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but was impressed by the online booking process, the dedicated app and of course the price.

The downside to using a budget airline is that you need to avoid taking hold baggage as it bumps the price considerably, but that wasn’t an issue for us as we were only going to be away for five nights. As the flights got closer we were able to check-in online using the iPhone app, which presents the boarding passes in an electronic form, something I’ve never used before and a little scary as you don’t have physical paperwork to fall back on. Similarly I’d booked the train tickets online and the accommodation using my favourite hotel booking app (Booking.com). Don’t you just love the 21st century.

Finally the day of travel arrived, and after dropping Rio at the kennels, we set off towards Bedford Station for our two hour train ride to Gatwick. We did have a little apprehension about the flight as the weather wasn’t looking good, with thick fog affecting large parts of the South of England causing flight cancellations, but as we were not actually flying until mid-afternoon there was plenty of time for it to burn off.

The train left on time and soon we were heading South, with visibility still poor but brightening up. As we got closer to London I checked the app and all was looking good until suddenly a message flashed up on the screen. I stared in disbelief as the words ‘flight cancelled‘ blinked at me. The app gave me two button options ‘Re-book‘ or ‘Refund‘ but by this time we were reaching London and I’d lost all mobile signal. I made a snap decision and suggested we leave the train at St Pancras and consider our options.

tina enjoying her wineAfter some thinking, some failed attempts to get through to EasyJet we decided to try to re-book our flight to later in the day. With return train tickets already paid for, a hotel in Jersey booked for the week and the car park paid for for five days, we were really committed to being away for the week. But unfortunately there were no flights available on the day due to the impact of the weather. We re-booked for the early morning flight the next day.

Next problem was where to stay. I got straight on to Booking and found a Premier Inn close to the airport and we re-boarded the Gatwick train, not before trying to get through to EasyJet just to see if there was any chance of getting a flight later in the evening. We couldn’t get through!

On arrival at Gatwick we made our way to our unplanned hotel accommodation and soon found the bar for a well-deserved glass of wine, followed by a nice meal and an early night in order to be fresh for our five o clock alarm call.

Fortunately the rearranged flight suffered no hold-ups and we were checking into our hotel in Jersey, even managing to make breakfast, which went down really well. I checked my mails and noticed a mail from EasyJet apologising for the cancellation of the flight and asking for feedback. That was something I would definitely be giving but not until later in the day when I had time to think of a suitable response.

More of the actual holiday break soon…

More Photos

I keep posting photos on Instagram and Facebook forgetting that I have my blog to add them too.

Here are a few of my recent efforts…

owl

Eagle owl being shown at a steam rally we visited recently. The light levels were low as they were in a tent and I didn’t think it was appropriate to get my tripod out :)

dog and ducks

Another shot from the steam rally where there was a sheep dog demo. It was really tough to get the ducks and dogs in shot and focus and in the end I had to crop to remove the background crowd.

berries

I love macro photography (a proper macro lens and ring flash is on my wish list). DSLR’s struggle with reds but these berries have come out quite well.

Passion Flower

I love the look of the passion flower but they are buggers to photograph. This was probably the best as I used a narrow aperture (f20) to try to keep everything in focus.

spider

Probably the best macro shot of the session, this spider kept moving so it was a struggle to keep it’s body and legs sharp. I love the fact that you can see the hairs on its legs and the two white spots on its abdomen (which I assume is some sort of sign to ward off predators)