tips and tutorials - research

The question we get asked most often about what we do, (other than, are the images real – which is yes!) is, how do we find the locations that we shoot. In this blog post, we will give you some insight into this question and show you a few examples of what we are talking about.

The key to finding locations is very simple. Research. Hours and hours of research. Whilst we thrive on planning very little with regards to where we go and what we do whilst we are on an adventure, the same cannot be said for the images that we photograph. A lot of our time is dedicated to this research. We do it as often as we can. Whether it is whilst we are traveling the many hours we spend on the road, or, during quieter times back home. Although the process can be frustrating, even mind-numbing at times, in our opinion, it is absolutely essential to finding interesting places to photograph. Only on very rare occasions have we come across something by accident. Almost every Abstract Aerial Art shot you have ever seen has been found using our research methods.

When we say research, what we are referring to is satellite imagery. We use this imagery to get ideas as to how an area looks from the air and to find locations we wish to shoot at a later date. All of our Abstract Aerial Art photographs are taken from a ‘top-down’ perspective. This means that the camera attached to the drone is pointing directly down, towards the ground. As a result of this, using satellite imagery is a fantastic way to see how things can potentially look from this point of view before you ever go out to photograph something. After all, that is how a satellite sees the world below!

Google Earth is our go-to application for this research. We find it smooth, quick to scroll around areas of the planet, it works well on all devices – mobiles, tablets or laptops and most importantly, it is fairly accurate with regards to the images of the planet. A little more on that further down the blog post but, all in all, it is pretty reliable!… oh, and of course, its free to use!

Once an area of interest has been found, we then use Google Maps to store these locations in the form of flags for future exploration. It should be said at this point, you could use Google Maps in the same way that we use Google Earth to search for locations. It is purely a preference thing for us to use Google Earth as the primary research tool.

In case some of you have never seen or used these applications, the screenshots below show an example of Google Earth and the current state of our Google Maps…. as you can see by all of the green dots, we have quite a few location flags to do!!


Google Earth

Google Maps

Now, let’s take a look at a few examples of this satellite research in action and show you how we have used it to photograph some of our images.

We use our research sessions on Google Earth to find and even compose the shots we want to take before we ever arrive at a location. It is not necessary to go to these extremes, however, we have found it a great way to get the image exactly how we want it to look and a huge timesaver when we have lots to get through during a trip. Of course, these pre-planned research shots are not necessarily set in stone and things can always change when we are on site photographing the location for real. We will always try different compositions as the drone is flying above the area, however, more often than not, the shot we end up liking the most is the shot we planned during our research – there is a good reason we do it in the first place!

Each of the following four examples will hopefully give you an idea as to why we take our research so seriously and why we feel it would be beneficial for you to start testing it out for yourself. If you have never tried using satellite images for research purposes before reading this blog post, we hope this may convince you to give it a try!

The name of the shot that can be found in our printshop or that you may have previously seen on our Instagram page is above each of the examples below with a little information as to what you are looking at.

The research shot taken from Google Earth is on the left and the actual photograph we took in reality, is on the right.


Formations caused by salt deposits at a disused mine


Colourful parasols that form part of an outdoor art installation


A very unusal looking forest that was possibly once a roundabout 


Channels of water cutting through the marshland at the edge of a tidal river system

For the next four examples, we wanted to show you how else we use these satellite research sessions and how to get creative with it. Although we love to photograph images of the planet that leave the viewer wondering what on earth they are looking at, the more we have learned about what we are doing, the more we have realised that scale is very important to these unusual top-down images. Sometimes it is very difficult to look at one of our shots and work out if it’s taken by a microscope or a spaceship! The answer is always a drone but you get where we are going with this!

Two of our favorite ways to add scale to our shots is by using the vehicle we are traveling in at the time or with the use of an umbrella. It goes without saying that is not always possible to drive over or stand on the locations we photograph but we always try to think about every image we take and what if anything, could be done to enhance the overall shot.

Take a look below. There are two examples of our car (the little red hatchback) and two examples of us holding different umbrellas. After finding these locations during satellite research sessions, we felt that each image would benefit from adding something else to give a little scale to the shot once we arrived on site.

Once again, the name of the shot that can be found in our printshop or that you may have previously seen on our Instagram page is above each of the examples below with a little information as to what you are looking at.

The research shot taken from Google Earth is on the left and the actual photograph we took in reality, is on the right.


An abandon airport terminal – yes, we had permission to fly here!


A road heading straight across another area of marshland


Lines on an abandoned runway that we used for a tribute to Armistice Day 2018


A water feature on the outskirts of a small European town

As you have probably worked out by this point, using Google Earth or any other similar satellite application as a research method is invaluable to what we do. That being said, it is not always, a one hundred percent, full proof method – we did say we would touch on this earlier in the blog post!

You have to remember that, unless you have paid for up to date satellite imagery, you will be using applications that are more than likely showing you out of date images of the world. From our experience, we can say that the majority of the time, what you find whilst scanning the likes of Google Earth will be what you find in real life at a location. The examples above are a testament to that, but please be aware, it can let you down, or, not exactly turn out as you hoped!

Below, is an example of this research going wrong! On a road trip around France, we came across this interesting looking structure during one of our many satellite research sessions and set off to photograph it the following morning. Sending out the drone to take the shot we were expecting, it was quite a disappointment to find that half of the structure had been taken away! This sort of thing does happen occasionally so don’t let it put you off using satellite imagery to do your research before heading out. We can say for certainty, we would not have found what we have so far without it!

The satellite shot is on the left and what we found, in reality, is on the right!

One final example we wanted to show you comes from our most recent trip to Europe at the end of 2018. This was not an image we found during a research session and headed out to shoot but a rather an event we found ourselves caught up in. In this case, we purely used the satellite imagery to compare what was once there and what we photographed.

In late November, we were shooting areas around the Dolomites in Italy. A once in a generation storm swept through the area causing large amounts of destruction and very sadly, loss of life. Fortunately for us, we had left the exact location seen below only hours before the mudslides struck. After a week of attempting to get back through the devastation, we came across a truly saddening sight.

The image below shows the comparison. On the left, you can see the satellite image from Google Earth taken before the areas of forest were destroyed in the storms. On the right, you can see the photograph we took with the drone in exactly the same location once we finally made it back through the destruction.

Quite a powerful image you might agree.

We hope you have found the information within this blog post interesting. Maybe it has given you some ideas as to how using satellite applications could help you with your own workflow or, answered the question regarding how we find our own images. We completely understand that this method is not for everyone, however, from our point of view, we cannot recommend it highly enough… research is a huge part of every Abstract Aerial Art photograph and it will always remain so! Happy hunting!