Who ever thought photographers would be able to hover 400 feet over their subject and move about silently, shooting any angle they want in perfect safety, without renting an expensive helicopter?

That’s what's happened with drones, and for Ashland nature photographer and pilot Mark Lunn, it’s opened up a vast new world of freedom and creativity, allowing him to shoot huge landscapes for nature organizations in the Northwest and many other uses.

Lunn flew one of the cheaper, earlier models (until an unfortunate encounter with a tree), but with advances in the technology, he jumped to the $1,300 DJI Mavic, which has the ability to stay airborne for 25 minutes, uses 14 GPS satellites to locate itself, has a camera on gimbal stabilizers so it’s always level with the horizon — and warns the pilot when it gets near a tree or other obstacle.

“My business with this machine is to offer my drone service as an aerial photographer,” says Lunn.

The exotic world of drones is rapidly changing. It was only last August when the Federal Aviation Administration allowed non-pilots to fly them. Even so, drone "pilots" still have to take a two-hour written test to get a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) license.

The rules say you can’t fly higher than 400 feet, nor within 5 miles of an airport without checking. You're not supposed to fly it out odyour sight, either.

Drones have applications in agriculture, outdoor recreation, search and rescue, journalism, surveying, construction and many other fields, Lunn says.

“It’s a whole new view of the world. You get to see what birds see. Up on a hiking trail, you can see how near you are to a road. It’s incredible.”

The hand-held control panel for his drone has two joysticks, enabling up-down and left-right movement, and it presents a considerable learning curve, says Lunn.

“It’s like a car — fun, awesome, but things can go wrong. It could be dangerous.”

He points to a turkey vulture, circling. “They are aware of it in their world. You have to be careful.”

The drone has many uses, most of them not yet discovered, he says.

“It will be interesting to see how society adapts to it. … People are more and more interested in privacy, but they should realize that at altitudes the drone flies, they are just specks.”

His drone is able to adjust itself and fly level in a 20 mph wind, let him know about obstacles and find its way back to him on command, he says.

Flying from the Lithia Park band shell area, Lunn popped the four-bladed creature up to the 400-foot limit and, looking at the screen, said, “There’s the Lithia Springs Hotel.”

Lunn’s aerial video can be seen at lunnimaging.com — including shots of Lithia Park fall colors, which has attracted 35,000 views and 700 shares.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.