Drone Pictures

Photographer Amos Chapple captures the world’s most famous landmarks — from the Taj Mahal to the Kremlin — using a drone.

Taj Mahal as the day's first tourists trickle through the gates.

When the commercial drone first hit the market in 2013, Chapple says he sifted through new product reviews, searching for the right model to help his art take flight.

Barcelona, Spain.

Finally, Chinese technology company DJI came out with the Phantom drone and Chapple was sold.

Paris’ Sacre´-Cœur, glowing in a hazy sunrise.

The Phantom allowed him to shoot from almost 400 feet in the air, and take 100 or so images during a single flight.

The Vittoria Light in Italy, overlooking the Gulf of Trieste at sunset.

He wasted no time in getting started. Agencies, tourism bureaus, and other clients commissioned Chapple for photos of iconic sites, such as Hotel Ukraina in Moscow, Russia, seen below.

Hotel Ukraina, lit up at dusk.

He soared over the Church of Spilt Blood in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Church of Spilt Blood on an autumn morning. The church marks the spot where the reformist Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a bomb-rolling revolutionary.

Here's another view of the church at sunset.

The church was built only as an epitaph to the murdered Tsar and wasn’t intended for public worship. A patch of the cobbled street on which the Tsar lay mortally wounded is preserved within the old church, now open to the public as a museum.

Chapple's drone also floated over the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

The spiky skyline of Istanbul as a freighter sails for the Sea of Marmara.

In the early days, Chapple flew the drone in busy areas, but he quickly realized that could be dangerous.

Known to the locals as "Hill 3," this knoll jutting above Mumbai's northern slums is no more valuable than the land below. Access to running water, which the hill lacks, is far more valuable than any view.

His first drone had a design flaw which caused a propeller to fly off mid-flight.

Russian vacationers on the beach in Abkhazia.

He crashed a second one recently during a commercial shoot in which he was forced to use an unfamiliar model of drone. At about 100 feet up, he lost control and the drone disappeared. After chasing it down, he found it smashed to bits. He suspects Wi-Fi signals scrambled the drone's radio communication.

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Even though he’s flown his drone more than 1,000 times now, Chapple always runs the risk that something will go wrong.

The Lotus Temple, dotted with pigeons at sunrise. Designed by an Iranian exile, the building serves as the center of the Bahai'i faith in New Delhi, India.

And frankly, the drones freaked people out. “It’s a nuisance now that it’s no longer a novelty,” Chapple says.

A knot of fishing boats at the entrance to Sassoon Dock in Mumbai, India.

Now, Chapple avoids people as best he can. “I'm just using it at dawn, or in isolated places where I’m not annoying people trying to enjoy a stroll,” he says.

The angel atop the Alexander column in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Built after Russia’s victory over Napoleon, the column's 600-ton granite trunk was tipped into place by 2,000 soldiers. It balances without any attachment to its base.

Sometimes, the best pictures don't require much altitude. Here, two wrestlers practice the ancient Indian sport of Kushti in a pit they dug.

Two wrestlers practicing the ancient Indian sport of Kushti in a pit they hacked into the ground two hours before.

During a typical shoot, he maintains a flight path just above his head, never veering off into the distance.

The Mtkvari River winding through Tbilisi, Georgia's elegant capital.

The drone doesn’t allow Chapple to see what he’s photographing. While it may snap 100 photos, only 10 to 20 images will be framed in a pleasing way.

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman striding into the future that was. Built for the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, the steel masterwork now stands in the suburbs of northern Moscow.

Here's one view of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, on the banks of the Moskva River.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour at sunrise.

And here's a slightly different shot, showing more of the church's architectural detail.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour again

The surprise doesn't bother Chapple. “There’s a magic to not knowing what you have until you have the camera back in your hands,” he says.

The Katskhi Pillar in Georgia, where a hermit has lived for the past twenty years to be "closer to god."

Drones also offer a huge advantage over manned aircrafts: You can afford to take risks with the weather.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral in Peterhof, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, with the palace and gardens in the background. Beyond, the Finnish Gulf is obscured by fog. During WWII, Nazi armies occupied Peterhof, destroying it almost completely during their retreat.

"When you’re paying $1,000 an hour for a helicopter flight, you make absolutely sure you’re going to get some sunlight,” Chapple says.

The star fort at Bourtange, Netherlands. Three centuries after the last cannonball was fired in anger at the fort, it now serves as a museum and the center of a sleepy farming village in eastern Holland. The low, thick walls were designed to offset the pounding force of cannon fire.

"As a result, most aerial shots are blue, bright, sunny, and boring,” he says. “My best shots have been in unusual weather, but it’s taken several flights to achieve. That kind of experimentation would have been impossibly expensive with a helicopter."

Clouds swirl through the pillars of Sagrat Cor Church, high on a hill above Barcelona, Spain. Twenty minutes later a thunderstorm hit the city.

For about 18 months, it was legal to fly drones anywhere. Chapple took advantage.

The Admiralty shipyard in Saint Petersburg, Russia, headquarters of the Russian Navy.

“For that year, when the whole world was open, it was just a case of hitting famous landmarks and moving as quickly as possible."

The Peter and Paul Cathedral, inside the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

“The window has definitely shut now,” he says.

A ruined college in Gali, Abkhazia, near the "border" with Georgia, where ethnic Georgians made up 96% of the region’s pre-war population. Most fled, or were driven out of their homes after the war. Today Gali is a twilight zone of empty buildings and overgrown farmland.

In 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration made it illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes, including photography. Other countries followed suit.

The windswept Liberty Statue, overlooking Budapest. Built in 1947 by the new communist rulers for the “Liberating Soviet Heroes” the inscription was amended swiftly after the USSR collapsed, "To the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary."

Russian authorities denied him permission to fly above the Kremlin in Moscow because he was a foreign citizen.

He did it anyway. Over the course of two days, he scoped out an area tucked out of sight from the police. He waited for a burst of traffic to block the noise of the drone and got his shot.
“I ended up snatching the drone out of the air and running through the alleyways to get away,” Chapple says. “It was risky, but so much history has walked through that space, I just couldn’t resist."

The Palace at Petergof, perched on a bluff overlooking the sea some 19 miles from central Saint Petersburg.

Jama Masjid, the heart of Islam in India. The red sandstone structure was built under the orders of the same Mughal emperor of Taj Mahal fame.

His dream location would be Iran, but current laws prevent him from shooting there.

Mumbai's northern slums.

“I even got the direct email to [Iran’s] minister of tourism, but got no response,” Chapple says.

The angel atop the Alexander column.

"There are still plenty of places where this technology can legally and safely offer spectacular new imagery," says Chapple. In two months, he plans to shoot in the wilderness of Kyrgyzstan.

Visitors walk on fallen leaves in the Summer Garden, central Saint Petersburg’s oldest Park.

While Chapple says he’s fully supportive of the tight restrictions abroad, his photos make us wish he could continue.

The Taj Mahal, with the Yamuna river snaking away toward it's source in the Himalayas.

Drone photography allows the viewer to take in the lay of the land...

Buda castle on August 20. The barge in the center of the Danube is loaded with fireworks, launched later that night to celebrate Hungary’s national day.

...during both the day and night.

Buda castle again.

“It’s amazing to be able to explore an aerial image,” Chapple says. “There’s such an immensity of information."

The Hermitage Pavilion near Saint Petersburg, Russia, wreathed in dawn mist. The little “whipped cream” pavilion was an example of the decadence which would eventually topple the Tsarist autocracy. It was famous for parties where tables laden with food would rise from beneath the floorboards into groups of delighted guests.

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