2019 in review: up in the air

2019 was my second year with a drone, and I continued to experiment with the possibilities and travel to places with the specific aim of photographing them from the air.

The year ended badly when a “pilot error” (my bad) led to the loss of my drone in a remote Scottish loch. A good reminder of the importance of sufficient insurance – the costs of replacing my Mavic Air were fully covered – and of flying cautiously after a long break. I promise to be more careful in future!

Before sending “Jarvis” to Davy Jones’ Locker, I managed to capture some pretty special views throughout the year. These are a few of my favourites.

Col des Mosses

The family of a friend I’ve known since school days used to have a family chalet in the French-speaking valley of Les Mosses, in a high valley on a route between Gstaad and Martigny. I took advantage of a quiet, snowy day to capture the scenery in a part of Switzerland which I have yet to fully explore. What makes this shot is the brooding clouds and the almost monochromatic winter landscape.

Castello di Mesocco

Once again, an old school friend led to a photograph, albeit unwittingly. I travelled to the southern Swiss border with Italy to see him play a blues gig in April and the pleasure of seeing him for the first time in thirty years – and the location of the gig in an English-style pub – led me to drink far too much beer and wake up after too few uncomfortable hours with a raging hangover. I stuck to my plan of visiting the San Bernadino pass, though, and captured this aerial view of the castle at Mesocco along the route before finally being able to stomach some lunch in the village at the top of the pass.

Stechelberg

When I first got my drone in 2018, I’d always planned to find many different ways of using it to photograph. I’d certainly envisaged photographing from higher elevations, but also getting to photograph spots which are otherwise impossible or very awkward to reach. This cascade in the Lauterbrunnen Valley is actually just a few metres across, but impossible to get to on foot without padding through a hundred metres of icy stream.

Sunset over Buttermere
Buttermere, Cumbria

The shot of the low sun and glassy reflections at Buttermere in the English Lake District is probably one of my favourite shots of the past couple of years. I spent a few days working in the area last summer; finishing up my programming tasks by mid-afternoon and spending the late afternoon and evenings taking photos. I hadn’t been expecting much from the area, despite its beauty, but the sinking sun cast a warm glow and the lake surface became pretty still. After taking a few shots looking towards Haystacks, I spun the drone back towards myself on the lake shore and found the camera presented with this beautiful view.

Loch Shin at Lairg

Visiting Scotland in the summer allows for long evenings, and although the weather on the north-eastern coast wasn’t looking very promising, the sky in the west gradually began to clear in the evening. I headed towards Lairg pretty smartly and although I missed the actual sunset, the afterglow amongst the clouds over Loch Shin proved pretty amazing.

Cromarty Firth at Invergordon

Back on the east coast a couple of days later, I returned my drone to the air at Invergordon when I saw that one of the occasional cruise ships was docked on the shore of the Cromarty Firth. As luck would have it, the gathered groups of locals at various vantage points showed me that the ship was about to depart, so I parked up and sent my drone high above the dockyards and departing visitors.

Glencoe village

The summer trip to Scotland was very productive, as you can see. After spending time in the north of Scotland, I needed to head back to the north of England for my flight the next day, and decided to take the route I’d been meaning to enjoy for several years. Leaving Inverness and branching off the A9 at Newtonmore, I headed for the western side of the country and Fort William, thence to Corran to photograph the ferry, and onward towards Glencoe and Rannoch Moor. I was able to get a handful of pleasing shots from the valleys and lochs en route despite moderate winds, and one of my favourites is this one of Glencoe village and Sgurr na Cìche (The Pap of Glencoe).

Moosfluh and the Aletsch Glacier

Visiting the mountain village of Riederalp in Swiss canton Wallis with friends, ostensibly to hike the ridge above the village, I sent my drone above us to get a panoramic view of the Aletsch Glacier with us as mere dots in the huge landscape. We had an easy walk and the views and weather meant that the few photos I took came out exceptionally well.

Lauterbrunnen

I’d been meaning to take some new views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and so I stopped off along the road from the village to send my drone out and capture the beautiful greens and deep blue skies of a late summer morning. Remembering to keep well away from the cliffs in the left of the photo, from which base jumpers take their lives in their hands, I timed my visit just right to include the dramatic shadows cast by the high cliffs on the eastern side of the valley.

Suldtal

For several years, I have looked to the mountains above Lake Thun as I’ve arrived home, and promised myself to get up and walk amongst the forests some day. That day came in early autumn 2019, when I walked up from Faltschen towards Ufem Letze (in the right of the photo). The cliffs in the woods, above the Suldtal valley, were a good launching site and my drone got this lovely shot of the farm buildings at Cholebärgli, looking up towards the Morgenberghorn and Schwalmere.

Moiry Glacier

An unexpected little adventure took Jo and me into the dramatic area around the Moiry glacier in canton Wallis in October, on an unseasonably warm final day before the road to the valley was closed for the year. After spontaneously deciding to walk half-an-hour up one of the hiking trails towards the Cabane de Moiry climbing hut, we reached the precipitous edge of one of the massive lateral moraines. After deciding that we’d done enough uphill walking, given that we didn’t have our proper hiking gear with us, I sent my drone out across the vista and across the lower ice of the glacier itself. I was delighted to capture the view looking back across the glacier with its crevasses; if you’re viewing this on a large screen, you may well be able to make out a couple of other hikers making their way across the ice to the mountain hut out of sight to the right.

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