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On learning to fly.

Recently, a notification popped up on my Facebook highlighting a memory from 3 years ago. I had just come back from my final year at university in South Africa and I was spending some much-needed down time in Swakopmund with my father and step-mum, Gabi. I hadn’t been able to travel home much that year, so I had not seen in person my father’s newest addition to his camera collection – the drone. Excited, we went out as much as we could, to the beach and the desert mostly, to experiment with this new viewpoint.

When the digital era of cameras started rumbling through the photographic circles, my father chose early on to embrace the new technology, and to learn as much about it as he could. He wanted not only to stay at the forefront of the industry, but also to feed his passion for all things photography. Similarly, when drones appeared and sat on the horizon as the Next Big Thing in video and stills circles, my father made sure he was on top of the latest news. He purchased his first drone and immediately set himself the task of learning all of its features. Not only was he keen on the photographic possibilities of this new tool, his love for the moving image was re-ignited and he began to work with video.

There is a lot of understandable hesitation about drones and their impact on, for example privacy, and wildlife. My father, working with the machine itself, became more and more aware of its capabilities, and how these could be used and abused depending on its operator. Like his photography, he operated his drone with respect to whatever his subject was – be it the desert and its sand and critters, or people moving through the town centre, or enjoying a day on the beach.

My father loved the drone for the way that it offered a new and exciting perspective on some of the same subjects he had been photographing for his entire career; the dunes, architecture, the Swakopmund salt pans, the ocean. As his mobility was made more difficult with the advancement of his illness, the drone offered an option for photography and videography that meant he could explore and experiment in the same way without having to hold several heavy cameras at a time, or walk for kilometres on end.

The ability to see our amazing Namibian landscape from the sky, to fly higher and higher up and zoom further and further out came with such novelty and amazement. We watched ourselves become smaller and smaller in the live feed on my father’s phone screen. Toggling the controls to move the drone slowly to the side, tilting up toward the horizon and then back down.

My father became dexterous enough with the controls to begin to really play with his photographic eye and this new way of looking, of capturing images. The texture of the landscape below; the natural ebb and flow of the Swakopmund coastline juxtaposed with the man-made lines of the groynes along the beach. The incredible undulations of Namib desert dunes in stark contrast to the bright pink and white squares of salt pans in Walvis Bay.

My father would go out, spend as much time as the weather and the battery life of the drone would give him, pack his drone neatly back into its box and head home to download the latest photographs and videos onto his computer. Results from each adventure out would be used to learn more about how to fly better the next time, to get the best results possible, to keep honing his skill. Growing up with my father I witnessed the hours he poured passionately into photography in order to be the best photographer he could be. His humility meant he never felt he ever had learned enough, and this translated into all areas of his life. His love of living, learning and sharing, right up into the last days of his life, is what so many of us remember so dearly.