BETWEEN THE INTRODUCTION OF technology, and today’s laws limiting or banning their use, there was a glorious period of about 18 months where it was possible to fly these things almost anywhere in the world and people were still excited to see it.

I’m glad I made use of that time as most of these aerial drone shots would be totally illegal today.

One of the surprising things about these photographs is that when I’m flying the drone I can’t actually see what the camera is seeing. People find that weird, but I quite like the suspense of not knowing what I have until I get the camera in hand.

Already the window is now pretty well closed for drone photography at many of these sites — the following images are the results of two years travel with a quad-copter in my backpack.

15. Agra, India

The Taj, with the Yamuna river snaking away towards its source in the Himalayas.

The Taj, with the Yamuna river snaking away towards its source in the Himalayas.


taj-first-tourists

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

Above on the top see the Taj Mahal, with the Yamuna river snaking away towards its source in the Himalayas. Just below, you see the day’s first tourists begin to trickle through the gates. It was amazing to be seeing an angle that had almost certainly never before been seen — not in all the centuries that this thing has stood there.

wrestlers-taj

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

Above you see two wrestlers, close to the Taj Mahal, practising the ancient Indian sport of Kushti in a pit they had hacked into the ground just two hours before.

All of the images shared in this story were legal when I took them. The exception was the Taj Mahal, which even very early after the technology’s inception had rules in place. I had come so far to take the shot that I persisted in sneaking into a hidden take-off point, but the police were extremely diligent and professional. Probably the best security I’ve seen anywhere in the world. I got a warning, then tried to sneak a couple more pictures the next day. After I had taken these images, I had to leave Agra very quickly.

14. Delhi, India

lotus-temple

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

13. Mumbai, India

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

fishing-sassoon

Morning over Maximum City. 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.

12. Paris, France

sacre-coeur

Paris’ Sacré-Cœur glowing in a hazy sunrise.

11. Abkhazia

Russian holidaymakers on the beach in Abkhazia.

Russian holidaymakers on the beach in Abkhazia.

A ruined college in Gali, 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.

A ruined college in Gali, 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.

10. Bourtange, Holland

bourtange

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

9. Matauri Bay, New Zealand

matauri-bay

A golfer putting on a green of the Kauri Cliffs Golf Course with the islands around Matauri Bay in background

8. Moscow, Russia

kolkhoz-woman

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman striding into the future that was. Built for the soviet pavilion of the 1937 world fair in Paris the steel masterwork now stands in the suburbs of northern Moscow.

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The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on the banks of the Moskva River at sunrise.

Hotel-Ukraina

Hotel Ukraina, lit up at dusk.

Here you see Moscow’s Hotel Ukraina lit up at dusk. This picture was taken as the Russian stock markets crashed on “Black Tuesday”. Little whiffs of panic could be felt on the street. Moscow had never looked or felt more like Gotham city.

7. Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul-skyline

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

6. Budapest, Hungary

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

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

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

Buda castle at night.

Budapest is a fine city by day, and even finer by night.

liberty-statue

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”

5. Barcelona, Spain

sagrat-cor

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

barcelona

You see the neatly arranged suburbs around the Sagrada Familia. Octagonal city blocks allow for the light, spacious street corners which make al fresco beer and tapas in the town such a delight.

4. Katskhi Pillar, Georgia

katskhi-pillar

The Katskhi Pillar, where a Georgian hermit has lived for the past twenty years to be “closer to god.”

3. Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi

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


The city of Tbilisi in Georgia, where the people are friendly, the food is kickass and the policemen actually do their jobs.

2. St. Petersburg, Russia

There is a legend in Russia that Saint Petersburg was constructed in the blue heavens and lowered in one piece into the marshland, for how otherwise could a city so beautiful exist in a region so bleak.

admiralty

For Peter the Great, the windswept bog meant access to the Baltic sea, and the wider world beyond. With Swedish armies still rallying to recover the lost territory, the Russians raced to secure their gains. In 1704 the Admiralty shipyard was completed, allowing the construction of a naval force which would eventually rival the British Empire’s. Today the Admiralty’s gilded spire, topped by a weather vane in the shape of a ship, again marks the headquarters of the Russian Navy.


petergof-palace

The Palace at Petergof, perched on a bluff overlooking the sea some 30km (19mi) from central Saint Petersburg. In his later years Peter the Great kept a study in the palace from where he could look out to the distant spires of Saint Petersburg, and the island fortress of Kronstadt guarding his new capital.In the background you can see the frozen Gulf of Finland. If you want to know what bleak truly feels like, head to that wasteland on a dark winter’s day.


church-on-spilt-blood

The Church on Spilt Blood during a squally autumn morning. The church marks the spot where the reformist Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a bomb-rolling revolutionary.  It was under Alexander that serfs were freed, and Alaska sold to the US for $7.2m.

This was back in 2013, in the early days, when you could fly drones pretty well anywhere.

hermitage

The Hermitage Pavilion 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. 


shadows-summer-garden

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


alexander-column

The angel atop the Alexander column in the centre of St. Petersburg.

Two cops saw me taking this photo, wandered over, asked me how much the drone cost, then wandered off again. This would never happen today.

peter-paul-cathedral

The Russian Orthodox Peter and Paul Cathedral rising through winter mist.


The angel atop the Alexander column. 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.

The angel atop the Alexander column. 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.

1. Trieste, Italy

And last but not least, the Vittoria Light, overlooking the Gulf of Trieste during a beautiful sunset.

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

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


This piece was originally published on Maptia. All photos are by Amos Chapple, and are reprinted here with his permission.