Drones, once primarily the domain of professionals and well-to-do hobbyists, have slowly become more accessible to even the biggest penny-pinchers. Costs have dropped substantially over the past few years, and during this span, we have seen the technology advance exponentially.
While early designs were more of a backyard novelty (and often a nuisance) than anything else, the latest drone models are loaded with advanced cameras and stabilization technology that allows for more practical outdoor uses. Now designed with extended operational range, long gone are the days of simply buzzing — and often caroming — about the backyard or neighborhood. Whether you’re traversing the bridges of a modern city or hiking a mountain far from civilization’s reach, there are sights worth preserving in a photograph, and while handheld cameras can capture the human perspective, drones offer a new point of view.
As the demand for drones has increased, so too has the market, with different manufacturers looking to cater to each specific industry niche. While pint-sized quadcopters are well-suited for navigating narrow indoor environments, there are hundreds of more powerful brutes on the market designed to handle the gustier conditions often involved with aerial photography. We should know — we have tested dozens of drones over the years and curated a comprehensive roundup of our favorites.
These enhancements and the general pivot toward drone-based aerial imaging are changing the field of photography, and even the photojournalism game as we know it. To illustrate this burgeoning photography market, SkyPixel, an aerial photography community run in conjunction with drone manufacturer DJI, received more than 27,000 photo submissions from 131 countries during its 2016 annual photography contest.
We have included some of these winners, as well as choice selections from sites like Dronestagram — an Instagram account entirely dedicated to aerial drone photography — and others in this gallery of truly epic drone photos. From awe-inspiring views of World Heritage Sites and tantalizing up-close glimpses of lava-spewing volcanoes to sights of the shifting sands along the Arabian Desert, here are 50 of our favorite drone photos from around the globe.
If you enjoy this photo gallery, you may also want to check out our favorite space photos. We’ve also put together a beginner’s guide to aerial photography, if you’re looking to get into the hobby.