High-Flying Photography: Drones Snap Spectacular, Contest-Winning Images

dronies, dronestagram, Snorkeling with Sharks
Snorkelers swim with sharks near Moorea Island in French Polynesia. This photo won first place in the competition’s nature category. (Image credit: Mike Gandouin, Dronestagram)

Whether they're capturing panoramic views of tulip fields or snapping thrilling images of cliff divers plunging into the sea, one thing is for certain: Drones can take awesome pictures.

A recent photo contest hosted by Dronestagram — a mobile app that lets users share pictures they take with their flying robots — sought to find the greatest drone-captured image of them all. More than 5,000 pictures were submitted to the second annual Drone Aerial Photography Contest, and winners were selected from several categories, including Nature, Places and "Dronies" (selfies taken via drone).

Both amateur drone enthusiasts and professional photographers sent their pictures to be judged by a discerning panel of critics that included Dronestagram's CEO and founder Eric Dupin, National Geographic Deputy Director of Photography Ken Geiger and National Geographic France Editor-in-Chief Jean-Pierre Vrignaud. [See the Winning Photos from the Dronestagram Aerial Photography Contest]

What was the panel looking for in a winning photo? "Creativity, photographic quality and respect of the theme," according to National Geographic, which was one of several organizations that sponsored the competition.

"Drone photography is a new kind of visual language," Dupin told National Geographic. "It's a new way of seeing the world."

Indeed it is. All of the winning photos offer glimpses of the world from very unusual vantage points. Rather than seeing underwater images of a group of sharks hovering near a pair of scuba divers, for example, the winning photo in the Nature category depicts this same scene from above. The clear blue water that surrounds the divers adds a sense of serenity to the photo that might not come through if the scene had been captured from underwater.

Geiger (who happens to have won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo he took during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona) also focused on the new perspectives that drones provide, telling National Geographic, "Drone images can be made where no other image can." For example, they can be made at the tippy top of a soaring cathedral's steeple, which is where the winning photo in the Places category was taken.

And then there's the winning "Dronie" picture: a giant self-portrait of revelers at a Cyprian carnival, all of whom happen to be dressed as the red-and-white striped Waldo (or Wally) from the popular kids' book series. A selfie stick would never have done this group picture justice.

All of the first-, second- and third-place winners in the contest's Nature and Places categories were awarded subscriptions to National Geographic Magazine, as well as a published picture in the publication's French edition. Some of the top winners also took home new drones and drone-compatible camera equipment.

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Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.