I feel a bit out of place being asked to pen a piece among these masters of photography, as several years ago I pivoted my business away from photos and towards filmmaking. As a San Francisco commercial videographer, I focus most of my time on capturing people’s emotion through their actions and words, with much of my work going towards being a testimonial, documentary and commercial filmmaker. So when I look at what I have shot compared to the likes of Renee Robyn, Lindsay Adler and Blair Bunting, I cringe a little. I’m not nearly on their level.

All that said though, I am still a photographer at heart and enjoy shooting for the purposes of making art. When I do, I try and choose sceneries and backdrops that are somewhat hard to get to and seek angles that are out of the ordinary both to satisfy my desire to be different, and also to help stand out from others who may have visited the same locations as me. Let’s face it: there are very few places on earth that haven’t been photographed before, and photographed well for that matter.

My favorite angles tend to come from the air. Once you get to a certain altitude, there are much fewer people that have seen that angle than those who capture images from the ground, so it’s kind of an easy, almost “cheater” method to getting stand-out images.

Well, it was a way to stand out until very recently when drone photography has really taken off (pun intended).

As a guy who did most of his shooting out of helicopters, my one saving grace was that my aerial images are higher quality than those that consumer drones were capable of shooting.

But I was by no means a helicopter-only, anti drone-photography snob. Quite the opposite actually. I liked the idea of getting more accessible, more easily-controlled, aerial images. Flying a drone, and seeing the angles that I could see with the ease I was able to get them… I was inspired. I didn’t care, and still don’t, that drones were common and photos from those angles were becoming a dime a dozen. As an artist, I wanted to make something that got me excited, and drone photography was clearly going to be it.

I ended up buying a Phantom 4 for myself a couple years ago and though I love the video capability of the camera, I was let down by the sort of “meh” quality of the photos. Sure, the subject matter and angle of view was breathtaking, but I just wasn’t feeling like the photos could be used for anything other than sharing online. Certainly, printing the images would show the flaws in the underpowered sensor.

I mean, look at these. The quality is just not there.

I have since shot with everything from a Mavic Air to an Inspire 2, waiting for the day that someone would make a drone that had the portability and ease of use found in the Mavic system with the image quality of the Inspire 2.

For me, the holy grail moment would come when ease of use and small size intersect with high quality imagery.

Well, I did not have to wait long. That time has pretty much come, as the Mavic 2 Pro is finally a drone that I put in the air and quickly, easily and confidently to capture stellar, high-quality images.

I want to point to specifically one situation recently where having the Mavic 2 Pro made all the difference. I was out in Hawaii with a few other photographers hiking into the rainforest on the way to a set of waterfalls. These falls are not hard to get to, they aren’t secret, and they are frequently traveled to by tourists to the area. As a sucker for waterfalls, I do my best to get to as many as I can, anywhere I am, because I never tire of seeing the beauty of crashing water.

In this particular case, knowing that it was going to be a bit of a hike and it was also going to be hot and muggy, I didn’t want to bring very much with me. I had a small backpack, one camera with a lens and ND filter, a tripod and my Mavic 2 Pro. The idea of hiking for a few hours through mud, sweat and mosquitos with anything more than that didn’t sound like it would be worth it, so I was determined to keep things small.

After hiking for an hour or so, we got to one waterfall that was not particularly busy with people (we were the only group there when we arrived), but it also wasn’t the most “epic” of falls either. It was fine, but it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. Still, I sent my drone up by placing it on the only flat surface we could find: a boulder.

The Mavic 2 Pro has a much larger sensor than the other Mavic drones before it, meaning I was pretty confident with the dynamic range. Given that I had the drone well before anyone was releasing ND filters for it, I had to rely on being able to bring down highlights at least two or three stops in order to get the blurred water effects that really make waterfall photos good.

I wasn’t super happy with the results at the first fall, but there was still one more to go that I was told was much higher and more majestic, with the downside of being a lot more popular.

When we got there, the promised popularity was indeed in full effect, as the shore of the small lagoon that the waterfall emptied into was lined with at least 50 people. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but the area we were in was very small, with only 150 or so feet of shoreline around the cliff. Getting a photo here, especially a unique one, was going to be a challenge.

I noticed another photographer not with our group working on sending up his GoPro Karma, so I didn’t want to interrupt him by trying to send mine up at the same time. Seeing as he was having trouble getting a GPS signal, I decided that I had time to try and get another photo of the falls with the camera I brought.

My friend and colleague William Brawley and I both decided to cool off in the lagoon before composing a shot of the falls, and while we were swimming around we notice that one part of the lagoon was pretty shallow, and would allow us to extend a tripod at full length down to the bottom and still crest the tripod head out of the water. Seeing as all around us anyone with a camera was taking a photo of the falls from the shore, we figured this would be a good spot to get a shot that no one else had.

It took both of us to get the tripod in place, secure the feet with rocks, and also hoist the not-waterproof-at-all Canon EOS R into place without damaging anything. When we took a look at the composition, the best possible look was going to come with the camera just inches above the water. Using all techniques available to us, we popped on an ND filter, closed the lens down to f/16, put the ISO at the absolute minimum, and dragged the shutter for as long as we could to create the illusion of motion in the image.

When we finished the 13 second exposure, we both smiled at the result. It was beautiful, and exactly what we were envisioning.

But given the angle, we could not help but leak a bit of bright sky into the image. As good and unique as this photo was, it wasn’t as good as I thought the scene could look. For that, I was going to need an even more impossible angle. Well, impossible without a drone.

When I emerged from the lagoon, the other photographer had given up trying to acquire a GPS signal with his Karma, and so I decided to give my Mavic 2 Pro a shot. From that decision point to getting the drone into the air, less than three minutes had elapsed. That is one of the things that makes the Mavic 2 Pro so damn appealing: it’s so easy to just get it up in the air and start shooting.

I maneuvered the drone into a position that I thought would not only show off the height of the falls, but also prevent any unwanted sky and sunlight from overexposing parts of the image. From more than 30 feet in the air and with a downward angle, I again trusted that I could use the much-improved dynamic range of the Mavic 2 Pro to pull down highlights, and fired a long exposure from the high angle.

The result? I could not ask for more.

The Mavic 2 Pro is able to maintain such a smooth, solid foundation in the air that everything other than the water is beautifully tack sharp. The long exposure also gives the water that silky blurred motion that is so necessary for a good waterfall photo. It was at this moment that I realized how far drone photography had come. This was exactly what I wanted, exactly how I wanted it. Easy, fast, accurate, excellent.

This experience was the first time in my career where I was happier with a drone photo than what I shot on a full frame camera. This is a huge turning point for me mentally. I am accepting that the tech has not only the theoretical capability, but the actual.

When I packed the drone and camera up and hiked back out of the forest, I was grinning ear to ear. I could not have asked for a better result, not from mother nature, and not from my cameras.