These Drone Photos Will Make You Want to Explore the B.C. Wilderness

Jon West's photography hones in on the simple, natural beauty of the Lower Mainland.

June 14, 2017

By Aryn Strickland / Photo: Jon West

An avid skateboarder in his teens and early twenties, Jon West always had a camera with him at the skatepark, where he could experiment with different angles. Today, the video content producer and Vancouver native spends his limited downtime scouting out new vantage points for his drone. His Instagram account dedicated to the project has amassed a large following over the last year so we caught up with West to gauge the difficulties—and the endless inspiration—that comes from practicing drone photography.

What inspired you to use drones?

I thought it was a cool possibility, getting the kind of perspective that you would’ve needed a helicopter to get before. And it forces me to get out of the house. I am a single dad with a daughter so I don’t have a lot of extra time. It’s nice to sit up at night and map out where I want to go and plan what I want to shoot. I don’t go out a ton to take pictures, maybe a couple times a week but once I have a list of places I have scouted, I know what I want to get. I am not really spending the time searching for the shot—I usually get like five photos and I am done.

Ladner Creek Trestle

Do you use your own drone?

I do. They are actually a lot cheaper than buying a high-end camera. My first drone flew away on it’s own and crashed so I am on to my second drone.

How are you able to see what you’re taking pictures of?

The drone that I have transmits the images to my phone. I have my iPhone mounted on the remote control (other people mount their iPads). It’s a bit smaller but it works for what I want.

Buntzen Lake
Isolated cabins in Southern B.C.

Have you run into issues with people over using your drone?

Not a lot. I try to go out and take my pictures away from people. If I have planned a shot and there are people around when I get there, I will wait until they leave before I take it. Some people think drones are super cool but there are also a lot of people who don’t like the idea of them. I don’t like the negative attention they can have. I was out flying it a few weeks ago with my mom and this guy was out walking his dog. He stopped and asked my mom, “Are you with that guy?” Of course my mom was all proud and said, “Yes this is my son, he’s a photographer.” The guy started yelling at her and telling me “You can’t fly those here!” He was wrong, the area I was flying it was fine but a lot of people don’t know what’s allowed and where.

Where do you take most of your pictures?

I don’t go that far, usually just outside of the city because again I don’t have that much time. There are really only two areas you can go that aren’t in the airport air space: you can go east, past Hope or north, in the mountains between Vancouver and Squamish. I also have a little dingy with a motor that can get me to some pretty remote places to take my shots.

Check Out These Cool Photos of Vancouver Circa 1986

In the mountains north of Vancouver, towards Squamish.
Buntzen Lake

What do you look for when you’re planning a shot?

There is so much drone photography out there now. I have a specific theme going for my Instagram. All of my photos are straight-down shots, with an isolated focus on the objects in the middle of the image. What I am trying to do is to appreciate things that are here, like a single canoe in the middle of the lake. I can’t go to far places to get those exotic landscape photos that have become really popular. I think what people like about my pictures is the local focus. I get pictures of things that you wouldn’t think are special but that actually can be special.

What advice would you give to people who are looking to use drones for their photography?

I get tons of people asking me for advice through Instagram. The first thing I say is you really have to think beforehand, and learn where you can go. I think one of the biggest mistakes that people make is flying over places like the Lions Gate bridge which you can’t do because it’s an air traffic area. There are maps of where you can go and where you can’t that you can download easily.

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