View from the top

Shooting landmarks from the air gives a different perspective of the familiar

Aerial photography provides a sky-high, comprehensive view of the world one seldom gets outside of a plane.

It seems that the higher you go, the weirder familiar landmarks can look and hidden geometries are revealed. For example, from way, way, way up in the sky, Suntec City's Fountain Of Wealth actually looks like the flat, round disc of a UFO.

From that distance, the Esplanade's theatre and concert hall have an uncanny resemblance to the compound eyes of an insect.

These photos were taken by drones, or small aircraft piloted via a remote control on the ground.

In Singapore, several drone photographers are creating buzz with their dramatic shots.

The pictures mentioned above, for instance, are by drone photographer Joel Chia, 24, who received a high-profile shout-out from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Facebook last month.

PM Lee, himself a photography enthusiast, complimented Mr Chia on his "stunning" work, adding that "he shows us Singapore from a different perspective that many of us rarely consider".

Mr Chia, who uploads his photos onto Instagram (@idroneman) and has more than 9,700 followers, recently graduated from an occupational therapy diploma course at Nanyang Polytechnic. He is now waiting to start university in Scotland later this year, also in occupational therapy.

Mr Joel Chia’s aerial shots taken by a drone were praised by Mr Lee Hsien Loong as “stunning”. PHOTO: TOH JIE YI

The amateur photographer told The Sunday Times that he felt "honoured and humbled" by PM Lee's encouraging words.

He has been taking photos since 2013 and tried using drones after watching a YouTube video featuring aerial footage last year.

A few months later, he bought a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced drone, which has an in-built camera, for about $1,300.

Controlling the quadcopter's flight path with a remote control and seeing the drone's line of sight through an iPad app, he can take a photo within 10 minutes.

The preparation work, however, can be tedious. First, he has to scout for a location with a safe place to launch and land the drone, such as an open field or rooftop.

Then he needs to plan the shot, sometimes framing the picture in his head before flying the drone. This is because the battery lasts only about 20 minutes. Wind conditions can also make the photos blurry, so he takes a few shots of a scene to have spares to choose from.

His subjects include places such as the Esplanade, Nanyang Polytechnic, the port at Pasir Panjang and the National Stadium.

Another amateur photographer, Mr Kelvin Loke, 34, whose Instagram account (@iamkelvinloke) has more than 2,600 followers, says: "Taking a photo is easy. Flying the drone is the hard part."

Amateur drone photographer Kelvin Loke says taking the photographs is the easy part, but flying the drone is the tough part. PHOTO: COURTESY OF KELVIN LOKE

The full-time IT manager says he always checks weather conditions, ensures the location sensor on the drone is accurate and makes sure that there is a strong signal between his controller and drone.

While taking aerial photos in Cameron Highlands last November, he noticed a swarm of bees following his drone, having mistaken it for a queen bee. He landed the drone some distance away from him and the bees eventually flew away.

There are regulations regarding the use of drones for aerial photography in Singapore.

For recreational purposes, permits must be sought from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) for drones weighing more than 7kg, those flown above 200 feet (61m), over security- sensitive locations, or within 5km of an airport or military airbase.

Permits are also required to fly drones for commercial purposes.

The photographers says they always check where they are flying their drones and, so far, have not needed a permit.

Mr Loke says: "I regularly visit the CAAS website to get updates about restricted fly-zones, and even have a map showing areas where I cannot operate a drone."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'View from the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe