Ever since discovering their work on Instagram a while back, I’ve been a big fan of JP & Mike Andrews, better known as Abstract Aerial Art. Equipped with a drone and the lust to travel, they find and photograph unique patterns from above.
Please join me in congratulating them as Photographer of the Month, and enjoy this in-depth interview where we get to know them, their art and their workflow:
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how Abstract Aerial Art got started?
Thank you so much for having us!
We are brothers and best mates from the UK, JP and Mike Andrews. With a passion for photography, travel and adventure, we specialize in finding bizarre, top-down, aerial images from unusual locations found on planet Earth. Captured using our unique style of drone photography, we aim to show you a world from a perspective not many have the opportunity to witness.
We would love to tell you that there was this great plan to come up with Abstract Aerial Art, however, the truth is, we stumbled upon it by complete accident!
The story began back in October 2016 with a discussion in a UK pub about investing in a drone. At this point, we had never seen a drone in the flesh let alone flown one! Two weeks later and with no planning whatsoever, we bought a one-way ticket to Australia and armed with our new drone, flew off into the unknown.
Arriving in Sydney and finding ourselves a second-hand vehicle, we set off into the Australian outback with no survival skills at all, to film and photograph remote Australia.
Not long into our adventure, we came to realize we had a number of extremely unusual images which we had no idea what to do with, yet wanted to share with the world. As a result, on December 23rd 2016, Abstract Aerial Art was born.
On your website, you state that all of your photographs are of real places and besides slight contrast and color enhancements none of the images are manipulated. How do you find and research these places? Can you take us through some of the processes?
Although we thrive on the adventure of traveling to other countries with absolutely no plan whatsoever, this lack of planning cannot be said for our images. They are thoroughly researched, planned and practically composed before we ever set off to the actual location to photograph it.
Very occasionally we will come across something unexpected, however, that rarely happens.
The planning behind our aerial shots is done using satellite imagery. Due to this research, we know the exact coordinates of the intended photograph before heading out. The composition of the shot may change slightly when we are actually on sight and see the image for real, however, more often than not, it is exactly as we planned.
It still surprises us how many of our photographs look almost identical to the screenshots we’ve taken from our satellite research beforehand!
Although it’s a time-consuming process, satellite research is a massive part of how we do this and we cannot stress how important it is for us. Finding these strange images we love to photograph would probably be almost impossible without it.
In addition to this, the time saved whilst on location is invaluable, especially whilst traveling with time constraints.
When we first started in Australia, we were just taking off in random locations hoping to find something interesting. Despite our initial luck, as you can imagine, that didn’t prove overly successful, waisted a lot of time and used precious batteries whilst out on the road with no capabilities of recharging quickly!
On top of satellite research, we use map and weather based apps to plan a route to the location of a potential image and work out the most suitable time and conditions to go and photograph it.
Time and weather planning is easier said than done, once again, due to time constraints whilst traveling, however, when possible, it’s something we always try to do.
“The point is not to work out what it is, but to show how weird and wonderful the world can look from above” is a common phrase of yours but I’m sure many wonders, what types of subjects are you normally photographing?
As long as the subject has something unusual about it, whether that be a shape, a colour, or a texture, there is never really a subject we specifically look to photograph. It just has to be weird!
Again, satellite-based research is invaluable for this!
We’ve photographed everything from man-made structures and objects right through to some of natures craziest creations. Rarely do we look to photograph the same thing twice.
The only subject we have shot numerous times are marshlands. They seem to be completely different everywhere we have been and are pretty much a guarantee for an unusual aerial image. The patterns and textures these wonders of nature create are quite incredible. From ground level, it is impossible to appreciate this.
We definitely recommend checking out your local marshland area should you want to find a strange aerial shot! (And remember to use some satellite-based research before heading out to identify the most interesting areas of the marshland!)
The phrase we came up with to accompany our images has proved the source of many interesting conversations with people taking the time to comment on what they have seen in a photograph.
From animals and faces to countries and ghosts, it seems when you are not told what a particular image is of, the mind starts to see all sorts of interesting things! We love hearing stuff like that!
We are not secretive about what these images are off and should anybody wish to know, we will happily say.
How would you describe your art?
That’s a good question and a tricky one for us to answer! If there was one word we had to pick to describe it, we would probably choose… unusual!
The Abstract Aerial Art name came about purely due to the fact that the initial images we had taken reminded us loosely of abstract artwork. We never set out with the intention of positioning ourselves as artists.
The more we thought about what we were doing and how we could develop the idea, the more it made sense for us to compose our images as if they were artworks rather than traditional photographs. This is not something we had seen anybody else doing with a drone and we felt it complimented the type of shots we were taking.
We are always trying to do something different or find things that may never have been seen before. It is very unlikely that you would ever find us at a tourist hotspot! As beautiful as the more well-known locations are, there is just as much beauty, if not more so, in the less well-known spots and that is what we love to attempt to find and photograph.
What are the main challenges and differences with aerial photography compared to “regular” photography?
Regulation is the biggest challenge and the conditions we like to shoot in are the biggest difference to ‘regular’ photography.
It almost seems that the rules and regulations change on a daily basis. That’s made even more tricky by the fact every country has a different take on these rules and regulations so at the moment it is certainly a bit of a minefield, to say the least!
As the accessibility to drone technology becomes more available to everyone, we’re certain that some sort of worldwide drone law will come in and that is going be a big help to everyone.
As all of our abstract aerials are shot from a top-down perspective, we learned very early on this view produces a couple of issues.
Contrary to the conditions most photographers would like, we prefer a day full of thick cloud and no sun! It’s amazing how many issues the sun causes us! The biggest comes whilst photographing over any body of water. You will get this glare/reflection that in our opinion, does not compliment an image in a pleasant way whatsoever. Of course, some may like that look in the water but it’s not something we have ever been fond of! We’ve tried everything from the strongest filter to shooting every different hour of the day in an attempt to get around it.
The only way we have found to completely negate the problem is, to either shoot on a day full of thick cloud cover or, during the first 1-2 hours after sunrise. We think that is the best time to shoot any top-down aerial over water to give you the best results.
One more point worth mentioning that addresses both points in the question is that, for stills especially, the cameras on these drones are not the same quality you would expect from a DSLR. (Unless of course you fix one to a specially built drone, but that adds lots of complications which we won’t go in to!)
All in all, off the shelf drones such as the DJI Phantom 4 Pro we use, are amazing and you can get great quality images from them. All we are saying is don’t expect to be comparing the image results from an off the shelf drone to that of a good quality DSLR. (Yet!)
It’s a small price to pay for the incredible and unique perspective they give you and as the technology progresses, they will only get better and better.
Following up on the previous question, what are your thoughts on the influx of drones and the stricter regulations coming as a result of it?
We think its great that more and more people are embracing drone technology. There are a lot of incredibly inspiring people out there showing what can be done with them. 99% of people using this technology are doing so as it was intended, for positive reasons and showing us the world from a completely unique perspective.
Unfortunately, as is always the case in life, a very small minority ruin it for everybody else.
The more issues that occur because of this small minority, the less and less likely it is we will be able to continue using aerial platforms. Stricter regulation can only be a good thing for us all in that respect.
The quicker a wider audience can understand that drones are not just bad things we hear about in the news, the better!
What drones and equipment do you use in your photography?
All of our aerial images are now shot using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro.
We started with a DJI Inspire 1 Pro, however, since we have begun to travel a lot more as a result of this, we made the switch to the Phantom as in our opinion, it offers the best overall quality but most importantly, practicality.
Everything we need for any trip including extra batteries, spare blades etc, fits nicely into a carry on luggage sized backpack, so we are never limited where we can take the drone. We cannot recommend the Phantom 4 Pro highly enough to anyone interested in travel based photography with a drone wanting to capture high-quality content.
For ground-based photography and video we capture along the way, we use a Canon 5D Mark IV, a DJI Osmo with the Zenmuse x5 camera from our Inspire drone, and a GoPro Hero 5. Everything is edited on a MacBook Pro using Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.
As a word of warning, if you plan on traveling overseas with your drone, be prepared for some interesting experiences when going through airport security and leave plenty of time to get through!
More often than not, you will be asked numerous questions about what on earth you are carrying!
That being said, we have never had an issue and the airport staff have been nothing but helpful and interested in what we are doing.
What advice do you have for someone who’s curious about getting started with drone/aerial photography?
Most importantly, learn and understand how the drone you are using works, especially the failsafe systems that are built into them. We were lucky in the respect that we had endless space in the Australian outback to learn quickly as we went along!
There is no doubt using any aerial based system, at some point, you will have issues. Knowing what to do and how to respond to those scenarios is essential for safety and your wallet!
They are incredibly easy to fly and the majority of the time, work as they are supposed to, so you should never be put off by that worry, however, if you don’t take the time to understand what you are using, you can potentially find yourself in a dangerous situation very quickly should something go wrong.
Other than that, just enjoy what this amazing technology can show you! We will never get tired of the mind-blowing perspective a drone gives you of the planet.
Seeing the world from above is something everyone should have the pleasure of witnessing and drone technology brings that option closer to us all.
Besides a drone, what’s one piece of equipment you never leave without?
Spare SD cards!
We had an experience not long after starting whilst in remote Australia that still haunts us to this day! We had driven to a particular location for at least 7 hours, hiked a further hour and a half, only to find that when we set the drone up ready to take off, we had an SD card error! Needless to say, we never got that shot and had to drive a very very long way to the nearest civilization that sold them!
It was a lesson we will never forget and we now carry at least 2 extra SD cards to every location, no matter how close!
What can we expect from Abstract Aerial Art in the future?
We are more motivated than ever to find and photograph these unusual images of our beautiful planet and will travel far and wide to find them! The more we do this, the more we realize we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there.
In addition to that, thanks to a recent Iceland trip with some fellow Instagrammers, we got really into exploring the video possibilities of these drones. It was not something we had done very much of at all previously but thanks to the inspiration of these guys, moving forward we will look to incorporate a lot more video into our work.
We hope that the remote and strange locations (and situations!) we often find ourselves in, might hopefully prove an interesting watch!