Midwest Drone Photographer • After a few days of stressing out about world events and plenty of free time in my schedule from cancelled work due to said world events, I decided I needed to head out and be creative. After driving around the Lake Michigan lakeshore not finding anything visually interesting while second guessing my decision on how to spend my day, things changed. As I drove across one of the bridges in Sturgeon Bay, I looked out towards the west and spotted a Coast Guard airboat doing drills and not one, but two Coast Guard ice breakers opening up the shipping channel for the upcoming shipping season. It was more than a little difficult to contain my excitement and keep my truck under the speed limit as I headed toward their location. My first stop was the location of the Coast Guard doing airboat drills. Sadly, I was a tad late so I was only about to catch the last few minutes of their drills, but luckily it still made for some cool photos. My next stop was a park near the location of the two ships and from the amount of people in the parking lot, I could tell I wasn’t the only person excited about seeing the two ice breakers.
The ice breakers consisted of the 140 foot ice breaking tug, The Mobile Bay, that is stationed in Sturgeon Bay and the ice breaker, The Mackinaw. The 240 foot Mackinaw that is based out of Cheboygan, Michigan on the other side of Lake Michigan, can be spotted in the waters of Door County usually once a year to help open up the shipping channel.
Luckily with the signal range tests I had conducted on my drone, I felt confident in sending the drone out over a mile to get the shots I wanted. At first the two ships kept their distance from one another, but at one point I saw they were on a path to come in close proximity. When I realized this, I didn’t have my drone in the air, but luckily I had it ready to go and had a fresh battery in it. I put the drone in to what is called sport mode; the drone can fly at close to 50 miles per hour in this setting, and I was quickly in position to get the shots I wanted and hovered for about ten minutes to see what else would happen. At that point, I thought it was best to bring the drone back with a safe amount of battery power to spare. I hung around to see what else the ships may do, but they sat idle for an hour or so. With the help of a spotting scope, I was able to see that it looked like they may have been conducting some training. As the sun went down and the smaller of the two boats headed back to its home port in Sturgeon Bay, I got one of my favorite shots of the ship sailing through the ice that was lit by the warm late day sun.
The last time I shot photos of an ice breaker was 20 years ago from a fixed wing airplane. That shoot was one of the first things I shot with a digital camera and one of the frames still hangs in my living room. I shot that photo with a Nikon D1 that featured a 2.7-megapixel image sensor. Back then I never would have dreamed that 20 years later I would be doing a similar shoot with a drone. Heck back then I didn’t even know what a drone was, and that it would have a camera with a 20-megapixel image sensor. I’m excited to see what the next 20 years will bring and to see what kind of creative things I can do with the drone going forward.
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