Local drone enthusiast gets a bird's eye view of home
Panning high above the yellow streetlights and snow-covered roads of Utqiaġvik, Jesse Ahgook Darling's most recent video provides a rare bird's eye view of the town on a calm, wintery night.
It was shared hundreds of times on Facebook by local residents, and seemed to evoke a sense of nostalgia in those who had moved away.
Darling is a hobby drone enthusiast. He's one of the many people tapping into the potential of drone aircraft technology to capture hard-to-reach sights right at home. The Sounder spoke with Darling about his hobby and this is a portion of that interview.
Q: When did you first get interested in drones and how did you first start using them?
A: I started building and modifying drones about six years ago. It started with the gift of a Brookstone drone from the Anchorage airport purchased by my girlfriend at the time, [who is] now my wife, Pearl Brower. It came with a styrofoam chassis, which made it a lot easier to adjust and move weight around to change the balance of the craft. Removing weight and adding fishing line weights to the back made it easier to add a HD (high definition) camera like the GoPro to the front. I ended up losing the drone in a lake the first flight due to losing radio connection. But the footage turned out amazing to see subjects from a different view. To see the close objects parallax with the background. [T]hat drone was a success early on in the stages of aerial footage.
Q: In your experience, what is special about shooting film from a drone? What does it give you that's different from a stationary camera?
A: I really do enjoy seeing cinematic scenes, or day-to-day lifestyles. Drone filming has been a learning experience and [it] has been getting easier to fly with improvements to the drone, controller and at the home base, with GPS positioning and being so responsive. We live in such a beautiful environment and, to film stationary, you are only catching so much limited by the lens sizes. With a drone, you're able to see distant objects a lot closer and emphasize on seeing the big picture. It really is risky to fly an investment over the water, but what you capture is captivating and exciting to experience.
Q: Where have you shot videos before using the drone and why did you choose those places?
A: I haven't done too many drone videos, though I do like the capability to see aerial footage. The Last Alaskans have really been a big inspiration to see what angles they shoot from and, in turn, to take that same concept and film the same angles as the professionals. [In] the most recent Utqiaġvik video, I was trying to show a good friend, Yves Brower, who is another drone enthusiast, a video. But the video file was too large to be sent through Facebook Messenger. So I posted the video on Facebook so he can see what footage was captured around 8 p.m. with the street lights on the Browerville side of town.
Q: In your experience, why do people find it special to see their hometowns or familiar places on film?
A: It really is the people, the energy and leadership that is captured through film that makes a video much more captivating. Each person I have had the opportunity to chat with and possibly interview and film have brought such diverse and positive perspectives in the outcome of each video. I have had a lot of really amazing mentors by watching films at one of the largest indigenous video archives at the Iñupiat Heritage Museum. To be able to watch a video that has been filmed by the original North Slope Borough film studio. One hour can be 10 hours of learning experience in the field. [M]aking the connections of the past and recreating it today has been a nostalgic experience for viewers.
Q: What do you see as the potential for using drones for video in places that are hard to reach, or to follow events that might be tricky to shoot another way?
A: The drone market has been advancing for more safety, and the cameras have been reaching higher quality while becoming more affordable. I see drone footage and photography reinforcing the beautiful environment that we live in and capturing moments and celebrations from a new perspective. To be able to share this perspective early on in the drone industry has been a privilege, and [I] am very thankful to take part in it as a drone hobbyist.
Q: Is there anything you really want to get footage of, like a special place or time of day?
A: I would really like to be able to take part in big film projects, whether it is helping carrying equipment and learning techniques from professionals in the field, or being sent to remote locations and filming. I would like to get more footage of oral histories and stories in the locations, and reinforcing with footage out in the field relating to those stories. My goal is really to inspire and help others by either giving a hand up, or advice in filming and media as so many have been gracious to teach me to continue visibility through media. Pay it forward.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add I didn't ask you about?
A: I have been really fortunate to start learning video by gaining experience working as a productions specialist at the Iñupiat Heritage Museum, a creative media director for Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corp. and to also work on projects for Arctic Slope Regional Corp. The North Slope has so much talent, energy and leadership, and I have been very fortunate to be able to capture a small part of it and would like to continue. I am currently working full time as an owner of Amaguq Media; a company dreamed of when I first started college from a drawing of a wolf on a napkin for a business classroom project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. With the help and amazing staff of Alaska Growth Capital through the North Slope Marketplace, that has become a reality. Thank you, ASRC.