Interview: Dirk Dallas

Dirk Dallas is a designer, educator, photographer and founder of the aerial photography website fromwhereidrone.com

He lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters. We caught up with Dirk to get his candid thoughts on building an Instagram following (he has over 266k followers), drones and their benefits (check out his viral baby announcement video below), and what to avoid when capturing aerial beach photography (He’s got stories. Lol.)

Ryan Thompson - Cinespace - Exporation

You’ve built quite the impressive Instagram following. What has that process been like? Did you set out with this goal from day one?

I never set out to build anything actually. When I first started out I was truly just shooting for fun. I loved taking pictures, editing them and then sharing them. I actually first found community with mobile photographers on Flickr.com before Instagram was even an app. The people I met on there are the ones who I credit with teaching me a lot of the things I know today about photography and they are the ones who inspired me to take the craft more seriously.

From time to time I get asked the question, “How did you build such a large following?” What I think people are really wanting to hear is a magic checklist that they can follow of the things I did, but honestly that just isn’t how it worked for me. As I look back, the thing that helped me was showing up every single day. While I always knew I wanted to get better at photography, I also knew that it was going to take a lot of work. I have been shooting consistently for almost 10 years now and I still try to shoot every single day because I know that I am a long ways away from where I want to be. So, for me, it ultimately comes down to me working a lot more and making the decision to show up everyday to practice.

“I would rather see people think more about “why” they want to build a following before moving into the “how” to do it.”

Where did your interest in flying drones come from?

I remember when I was about 4 years old, sitting in my mom’s lap in a commercial airplane looking down on the world as we traveled to go visit some family. While I probably didn’t fully understand what I was looking at out the window, it is something that I still remember being magical to this day. Also, my dad often showed me NASA photos and videos of rockets and satellites being launched into space, either carrying astronauts or cameras that would go explore our solar system. These ideas of exploring our world fascinated me and has stuck with me ever since.

While I never became an astronaut or pilot, I have been flying electric helicopters and airplanes for over 10 years now. If you’ve heard anything about this hobby, then you probably know it is extremely difficult and crashes can be numerous and costly. So when I heard how easy it was to fly a drone, I was intrigued. Then a bit later I read about people strapping GoPro cameras to their drones and then I knew I had to get one. Drones allow me to combine my love for flying with my other love of creating images. It’s the best of both worlds.

Ryan Thompson - Cinespace - Exporation

You created a baby announcement for your own family using a drone and it has gone pretty viral. How’d you come up with the idea for the video? Did you expect it to get as much attention as it has?

Well we first made a video announcing the birth of our second child called ‘The Secret’ (https://vimeo.com/58226028). It ended up being a lot of fun and something our family now cherishes. So when we found out we were having another baby, I immediately knew I wanted to shoot something with the drone because it could provide a truly unique angle for our special announcement. I pitched several ideas to my wife that ranged from being kinda impossible to shoot or just ridiculous but we finally landed on the idea of doing something where we looked really tiny and built up a little bit of suspense while trying to spell a special message.

I had no idea it would spread the way it did but it was really cool to see that so many people have enjoyed it. I hope one day our girls will look back at these fun videos we’ve made and see that we were just so excited at the news of their births and couldn’t wait to share it with the world!

Tell us a little about From Where I drone and what inspired you to start it.

When I started posting photos and videos taken from my drone on Instagram, I would include the hashtag #fromwhereidrone as a funny joke to poke a little fun at the super popular hashtag #fromwhereistand since I was also looking down but from a much higher angle. Some people seemed to think it was funny so I ended up posting it in all my drone captions. One day I decided to click on the hashtag and I discovered over 500 photos attached to that tag. I was shocked to find so many other drone images that I decided to create an account that highlighted all the amazing work people were doing with a drone. I wanted to inspire others with this new art form as well as be inspired myself since there wasn’t much out there at the time.

What’s your long term vision for the site and community?

Since establishing the @fromwhereidrone Instagram account I started to get a lot of inquiries from people who wanted to know what drone to get, how to take better aerial photos and videos and what the rules were etc… So I decided to create a website (Fromwhereidrone.com) and an email newsletter. I figured that if there were a handful of people emailing me each week then there might be a whole lot more people who wanted answers as well. So my primary goal is to continue helping people with their drone questions as well as help advocate the good that drones can bring. Right now the media is fueling the drone hysteria so all that people are reading about in the news are the few idiots that are spying on people or flying where they shouldn’t be. I personally love flying my drone for fun but I think drones will be one of those technologies that will bring about some radical changes in our world.

Ryan Thompson - Cinespace - Exporation

What are the most important factors for someone to consider when getting into aerial photography?

In my opinion there needs to be better education for drone operators so that everyone learns how to fly correctly and safely before even starting a drone up. Also the current state of aerial photography consists of a lot of people still being excited to just snap a bunch of random pictures way high up in the sky. And I get that because I remember being the same way when I first got my drone but what I want to encourage people with is to not forget the basic principles that make any photograph good, whether it was taken in the air or on the ground. It’s important to have a good subject or focus so the story of the image is clear and interesting, as well as good light and composition that leads the viewer through the photo. If aerial photographers follow these basic principles then they will begin to see the drone as really just another amazing new tool that allows them to capture images in new and unique ways.

Had any mishaps while flying?

I have flown a couple times at the beach, which often means flying near seagulls. But there was one specific time that I was flying over the ocean and a seagull darted straight toward my drone. Luckily I saw it coming and jerked the drone up to avoid any type of collision. I decided to bring it back and land just to prevent any harm to any party involved. As I was flying the drone back, the seagull kept trying to dive-bomb it. I started getting really nervous so I flew it back at full speed and was able to land it in one piece. I thought the whole event was over so I started to pack up but then the seagull actually started trying to attack me! I essentially had to run back to my car, throwing my hands up in the air, probably looking like a total weirdo but what other options did I have? Once I got to my car, I threw my drone in the trunk thinking the seagull would finally leave me alone. I think the seagull wanted to take me out 🙂 I had no choice but to just leave. That day the seagull won.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned while building online followings?

It has gotten me to think more about the “why” behind what I am doing. What I mean by that is once I started to gain a decent amount of followers I began to wonder why. Why me? I mean I am just a guy living in a city one hour outside of LA that just loved to take photos. So what was so special about me? As I began to wrestle with some of these questions I realized that each and every one of us has been given a platform and it is up to us to decide what we are going to do with that platform.

I think that people need to be mindful of the fact that we are all influencing some type of audience whether that be a group of 100 followers or 10,000 followers. Once you understand the idea that we are all “influencers” you won’t see things the same ever again. I now feel a responsibility to take that influence and do something about it. Sure it’s great to get cool work opportunities but for me I know that there are more meaningful opportunities out there. These opportunities can range from smaller opportunities like posting an encouraging or thought-provoking caption along with a photo, or something bigger like organizing a food drive or a school supply drive, or helping to raise awareness for work being done in the mission field or starting a summer program teaching kids new skills in my community. These are just some of the opportunities that I have had since my eyes have been opened to the idea of using my following in meaningful ways.

“Work on being a great storyteller because that is a skill that will always be valued no matter what new gadget, medium or technology comes along.”

I would rather see people think more about “why” they want to build a following before moving into the “how” to do it. I know from experience that if you don’t have a “why” that drives what you do then a lot of things are going to leave you feeling empty. Photography for me has been a way to look at the world differently, meet interesting people, and take me out into the world. And I really see the value of social media as a way to connect with people and organizations who inspire me, encourage me and/or challenge me. And then if I can have just a small impact on someone else in a similar way then I find fulfillment in that!
So I want to encourage others to work hard at developing a body of work that reflects your vision of the world. Photography is grounded in storytelling and great storytelling is hard. So work on being a great storyteller because that is a skill that will always be valued no matter what new gadget, medium or technology comes along. As George Lange says “Ideas are much more important than exposures”. Work on developing great ideas, and then act on them!

To see more of Dirk’s work, check out fromwhereidrone.com and follow him on Instagram via @dirka.

Dirk currently uses our mobile app, as well as our line of Photoshop products.

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