UAV Batteries are the Kodachrome of my Time – I know I was a Kodachrome girl!


Not so many years ago I was a Kodachrome girl. Photographers and photojournalists alike were laden with the weight of their Kodachrome film. I myself carried up to sixty rolls and a mobile darkroom kit on my back and around my waist in a Domke bag at any given time, while travelling the globe for 23 years. Not an easy task, even without taking into account the difficulty of finding the time and space to take full advantage of the darkroom.

It has been a long and exciting journey from then, when I was no more than a girl with a bag full of Kodachrome, to now. In recent years, drones have become the bread and butter of my trade after the digital revolution .

Put simply, drone technology has the potential to preserve the truth in an increasingly skeptical, post-truth world. But literally what powers it? How have I gone from Kodachrome rolls to intelligent batteries with ambient air and cooling functionalities? Here’s my story of how UAV batteries have become the Kodachrome of my life.

A Post-Truth World

The digital photos of today allow even amateur photo editors to turn one thing into something else entirely. And what does that mean for us? It means fake news. It means hundreds of sources all saying something different, with many of them being outright lies. It means the opportunity for everyone with an agenda to manipulate the news and it means that the genuine truth-seekers among us are left sourcing countless amounts of web content in search of something authentic. Many times I feel I am left with a feeling of doubt, instead of the sense of awareness we were expecting. So I source on and on and on until the doubt or suspicion lifts.

According to a survey conducted by PR Week, a staggering 53% of Britons worry about being exposed to fake news on social media, and 64% cannot distinguish between proper journalism and fake news.

But not so many years ago, delivering the truth to the public was as simple as taking a picture. Yes, Kodachrome was tricky. It was limited, bulky, required vast amounts of equipment and could be a downright nuisance sometimes. But it was also difficult to manipulate; a feature that is precious to a old photojournalist’s whose dreams are hinged on their ability to prove that they have captured some hitherto hidden part of reality and that it is worth sharing. One of my favourite old war photography heroes Sir Don McCullen has reflected a great deal about digital photography, as he came from a film world shooting war for 50 years. In a Guardian article McCullen explains “ the digital domination as a totally lying experience” that cannot be trusted. “

McCullen said photography had been “hijacked” because “the digital cameras are extraordinary. He says, “I have a dark room and I still process film but digital photography can be a totally lying kind of experience, you can move anything you want … the whole thing can’t be trusted really.” “The digital revolution meant viewers could no longer trust the truthfulness of the images they see. The Vietnam War, during which time technological advancements in many fields coincided with the continued presence of human beings on the battlefield, is a prime example of how photography can change people’s perceptions and – ultimately – contribute to bringing a war to a halt. But to do so, the subjects of the photographs had to be believed, without a shred of doubt.”

Like McCullen I was proud, my Kodachrome allowed me to deliver the news – the God’s honest truth, in which McCullen refers to – in an authentic, provable way. I also loved my makeshift darkrooms, mostly in a closet or bathroom, getting high or nauseous on fixer and developer.

The validity of my Kodachrome images couldn’t be questioned, which meant that I could shed light on all the deception and give the public absolute, unedited, priceless honesty.

But Kodachrome became a thing of the past, and I quickly realized that I needed to find an alternative that could deliver the same dynamism and believability as Kodachrome. And so, of course, I changed to digital in order to keep my job and survive in a dying industry. It was three years ago my drone journey began. So I grew and adapted to what I had to do to survive against the power of the mobile phone.

Becoming the Intelligent Battery Girl

Where once the darkroom felt like my world of truth, now my UAV fleet has become my vehicle of truth-deliverance in this understandably cynical world. The digital technological explosion that served as the catalyst for the decline of Kodachrome had many benefits. It was a game-changer. Improved image clarity, increased zoom, exposure and shutter functionality, speed and so much less cumbersome. But with these advancements came the ability to photoshop. And with that ability came doubt and, for the many out there who are opposed to certain truths, deniability. But drones are becoming the loophole no one was expecting in a post-truth world.

Drones allow me to access the core of a conflict, from above, but sadly the bulk of my new fleet is my batteries, 20-30 of them and a fleet of 2-3 drones is now the latest set of tools I use in the field. My UAV equipment and the demand for more and more aerial footage has surpassed even my DSLR. Although I struggle with the weight of drone batteries as I can fly for only approximately 22-23 minutes they allow me to get more of the story, the bigger picture than my film camera and DSLR ever could. With my UAV fleet, I have captured aerial photographs and aerial film footage of the Rohingya mass genocide, Calais Refugee camp, the Mosul offensive in Iraq and so much more unique drone reportage work when flying around a camera overhead.

Photos of my DJI Phantom and Mavic batteries- I carry up to 30-40 batteries in remote places where I drone. Just like the dozens and dozens of rolls of Kodachrome I used to carry.

In a post-truth world in which the validity of every picture and every story is questioned, drones have the potential to shed light on reality. Drone photography is subject to mathematical, empirical processes that require robust mapping, surveying and geolocation systems. This means that drones, like Kodachrome roll photographs, are extremely difficult to manipulate. They combine the benefits of technological advancements with the authenticity of Kodachrome.

I started my journey with Kodachrome rolls, then into digital and now I use intelligent battery solutions that feature air-cooled fuel cell systems run on hydrogen and ambient air. I use UAV batteries now like I used the darkroom, very carefully and very cautiously, with care and discipline.

I must make smart choices like I did in the darkroom, I must reserve battery power in remote places. With drone journalism I believe the batteries will last longer over time, we are still in its infancy with this technology. As I work remotely I look forward to this as a drone pilot, more battery time in the field but carrying fewer batteries.

Kodachrome will always have a special place in my heart. I was once the Kodachrome girl, then a DSLR girl, but I have now embraced a new era of technology and photojournalistic needs. I have become the Intelligent Battery girl, and this journey from then to now has taught me many invaluable lessons. I am adaptive and open-minded to new ways of working and, most critically, I feel better able to see what is wrong with the world and how I might help change it from the air.

They say that sometimes, to fully understand the truth, we must take a step back. I prefer to watch it from above.

By Gail Orenstein from “A drone of Her Own©” blog