Of Course Dronies Are a Thing

The latest selfie fad won't go viral yet. But it does look awesome.

Apr 30 2014, 12:20pm

Of course “dronies” are a thing. Combining the craze for all things drone with our insatiable appetite for taking pictures of ourselves, it was inevitable that “drone selfies” would soon take over from belfies, shelfies, and the morally repugnant selfies with homeless people as the latest faddish photo microtrend.

While people have likely been using camera-equipped drones to take pictures of themselves for a while, the term “dronie” slipped into the mainstream this month when the New York Times’ Nick Bilton took one with Photojojo founder Amit Gupta and Vimeo cofounder Zach Klein. However much you’re inclined to eye-roll at the latest tech craze, the result is undeniably cool:

For those who have managed to avoid the term so far, a dronie has the same essential features as any other selfie subgenre, with a few key exceptions. Firstly, it’s video rather than a still, usually about ten seconds long: your standard dronie starts with a close-up shot of the subject, with the drone then zooming backwards and up. This leads to the second major difference: the focus is on your surroundings, rather than your duck face. “So the cooler the location, the better the dronie,” David Quinones, owner of aerial photography company SkyCamUSA and impressive dronie-taker, told me.

Rather than showing off what you look like, or what you’re eating, it’s for showcasing where you are. Gupta took his shot with Bilton on top of Bernal Hill in San Francisco. He said the attraction of the pull-back perspective shot—something that he noted has been done before in movies, using long zooms—was the novel perspective a moving aerial camera can give. “I think in that particular video [the Bernal Hill dronie], maybe you just got the sense that we’re all so small compared to the world around us,” he said. “I think that struck people as interesting.”

If it’s unsurprising that people are trying to make dronies a thing, it’s hardly a shock that companies are already trying to serve the market for the trend. Gupta’s Photojojo site rents out photography equipment and from mid-May, it will be offering drone cameras so you can get in on the game without investing in expensive equipment. 

To be fair, drone photography is about more than just selfies, and Gupta admitted the dronie fad is probably just that—a passing novelty. “I think it’s probably going to pass,” he said. “I think they’re cool to see, but it’s still something that requires you to have this relatively rare and expensive piece of equipment, so it’s not something like a selfie where anyone can get into the meme.” 

That said, he can see photographers using drones more in the future owing to the unique perspective they offer. “It’s like a flying tripod in the sky, and you can push in any direction you want and any speed you want and turn it around in a way you never could with a steadicam, so it just makes a lot of things possible that weren’t possible before,” he said. Now that the price of basic drones has come down below the $1000 mark, he expects to see more people get into it.

Quinones agrees. He plans to launch YouDrone, a sort of YouTube for drone photography, this summer. “We’re trying to make fun little trends to expand on the dronie,” he said. “How about ‘drone Earth,’ where the drone doesn’t go out from you but goes straight up?”

While the origin of the word “dronie” isn’t exactly clear, Gupta can perhaps be credited with its spread over the past couple of weeks. He said that when he tagged his video with Bilton and Klein “dronie,” other people added the tag to their earlier videos. Since uploading his, a lot more have been added—though given the barriers to entry, like actually owning a drone, it’s not exactly gone viral. As of today, a Vimeo search for dronie brought up 187 results, and a Youtube search gave 407.

Even if you have a high-tech toy, taking a dronie requires a bit of practice. See Motherboard Editor Derek Mead’s attempt last month for how not to do it. Using a Parrot AR drone with built-in camera and steering with his phone, he attempted to take a dronie indoors. Even before the copter crashes, it just seems to be hovering around rather aimlessly. It’s pretty tragic:

Gupta, who used a Phantom DJI for his video, said that keeping the drone’s movements steady and smooth was the key. He recommends starting with the drone just a few feet away, then sending it backwards as fast as possible for about 100 feet before easing it further up and back. “I usually make it go until it’s just a speck and then bring it back because once I can’t see it I’m frightened I won’t  ever see it again, but that’s really just up to your comfort level,” he said. “I think the further back you go, the more dramatic shot you get.”

The thing about dronies is that, while part of me really wants to dislike them for being the narcissistic work of people with cooler gadgets than me (yeah, I’m jealous), they just look pretty awesome. The novelty will no doubt wear off eventually, but just like NASA images and Google Earth, their attraction lies in the new view they offer of the planet and, by extrapolation, of ourselves. And if they’re unattainable to most of us right now, that’s probably only going to make us want them more.