Fernbank Forest and Downtown Atlanta

This was an important photograph for the story that showed how close the 65-acre forest was to the downtown Atlanta skyline.


NOTE: Join Peter on SxSE’s Dewees Island, South Carolina PhotoWorkshop October 12, 13, 14, 15 where he will demonstrate drone photography on the water and the island! Click HERE for more information. 


Throughout the history of photography, new technologies have offered expanded creative possibilities to the photographers who have chosen to embrace them. The recent and rapid development of camera-equipped drones has offered photographers a new aerial platform and a perspective that wasn’t possible with fixed wing planes or helicopters.
 Two years ago, I started a project to document the restoration of Fernbank Forest in Atlanta. The tract is a beautiful example old-growth Piedmont woodlands close to downtown. From a photographic perspective all of the vantage points were from a path looking up at the trees in the tall canopy. I soon realized that in order to get an overall view of the forest in relation to downtown or other views of the canopy, I need an aerial view. A drone seemed like the perfect solution.
 In order to take drone photographs, a photographer must first become a competent drone pilot. This requires practice with trainer drones, an F.A.A. certification test, many hours of flying a drone to build experience and probably a few crashes along the way. Some find the experience a little frightening and overwhelming, but for me it has been a lot of fun and creatively satisfying. These photos are some of the many I have taken in the last year and a half and represent the beginning of a vision rather than a finished work. -Peter Essick


Spring leaf out, Fernbank Forest

I was able to takeoff and land the drone from an opening in the canopy near a pond in the forest. For a few days in the spring, it is possible to see both the new leaves and the outline of the branches on the trees.



Eastern Hemlock, Fernbank Forest

The drone was flown next to the tree to photograph from a perpendicular angle.



Winter Sunrise, Fernbank Forest

As with all photography, if you can get the drone in position when the lighting is golden the results can be special.



Subdivision, Stone Mountain Park, GA.

I started flying my drone in parks and open fields near my home. When I was flying in a field just off a main road, I rotated the camera I saw this subdivision that was visible from the ground.



1996 Olympics Tennis Stadium

This stadium near my home has fallen into disrepair since its glory days during the 1996 Olympics. I read it will be demolished soon, which might make for some more photographic opportunities.



Cemetery, Snellville, GA

Cemeteries in off hours are good places to practice flying.



Rooftop, Lilburn, GA

Most rooftops are not too interesting, but this commercial building in Lilburn had many different designs than must have come from stains and wear and tear.



Truck Yard, Lithonia, GA

I was photographing a quarry in Lithonia when I saw these trucks parked right on a granite outcropping.



Value Mall, Stone Mountain, GA.

These type of tire marks in parking lots are much more apparent when viewed from a drone.



Construction Site, Stone Mountain Park, GA.

I have been concentrating lately on photographing construction sites with my drone. Like many who live in the Atlanta metro area, I have watched the increase in commercial and residential development, and feel it is a worthy subject to document.




Construction Site, Lithonia, GA.

Every few days it is possible to see change at a construction site, as the land is cleared and then the foundations are poured.



Framing, Construction Site, Lithonia, GA.

This is the same site as the last photo a few weeks after.


Construction Site, Decatur, GA.

This large development in Decatur has been going on for over a year.


Construction Site, Centerville, GA.

This was a large residential development with several phases. The drone was only about 30 feet high and looking at more of an acute angle rather than the more normal straight down view.



Rain Tarp, Construction Site, Decatur, GA.

I have done most of my photography when there are no workers on the scene. This is in part to place the focus on the landscape and the equipment and also to avoid any conflict with the construction company. Most of the time there has been no problems doing the photography. Rainy days probably cost the construction company lots of money, but they can make for good photo possibilities.


BIO: Named one of the 40 most influential nature photographers in the world by Outdoor Photography Magazine, Essick has traveled extensively over the last two decades photographing spectacular natural areas from around the world. He is a working photojournalist, but his photographs move beyond mere documentation revealing in careful compositions the spiritual and emotional aspects of nature. The unique and sometimes surprisingly similar forms and color of divergent pristine lands provide the raw material for Essick’s art. As a counter point, Essick has also done photographs to illustrate many environmental issues, portraying both the human impact of development as well as the enduring power of the land.

Essick has been a frequent contributor to National Geographic Magazine for 30 years. At the Geographic he has produced over 40 feature articles on many different topics. Some of his favorite and most rewarding stories have been on the American wilderness, the carbon cycle, global warming, and global freshwater. Recent stories include a June 2010 cover story on Greenland, a story on the Ansel Adams Wilderness in October 2011,and a story titled “When The Snows Fail” in October 2014. He is the author of two books, “Our Beautiful, Fragile World” and “The Ansel Adams Wilderness.”

He has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri. He lives in Stone Mountain, GA with his wife, Jackie and son, Jalen.