Born in a small town in Sydney, Australia, Jess Loiterton didn’t grow up a surfer or a photographer. But Loiterton regularly watched surfers and was captivated by the way they danced across the waves.
In 2016, Loiterton took a trip to Oahu and was an impressed by an image someone took while snorkeling on the North Shore. When she realized the photo had been thoroughly edited, she discovered that you can create your own reality through this process and was inspired by every facet of image making. She wanted to get her own work out there. In 2017, she purchased her first drone with the goal of capturing surfers from a different perspective. Fast forward five years and Loiterton has mastered the art of drone photography and has countless images to show for it. Here, she shares how she learned to fly her drone, why she prefers drone over traditional photography, and her favorite places to shoot on Oahu.
How did you get comfortable flying a drone?
I wasn’t able to work in the U.S. at the time because of my visa status, so three or four times a day I would fly for hours in Kapiolani Park just to get used to the drone. Then I decided to take it over the water and I got hooked straight away. I lived across the road in Waikiki so I would just go out all day until I had to go home and charge my batteries and then I’d go back out.
How do you learn or improve?
By shooting with other people: everyone has a different style, a different technique. I learned a lot off YouTube. I always say I went to YouTube University for drone photography. When I started it was very male dominated, no one talked about anything, no one would share information, and it was very secretive. I would ask these guys for advice, and I’d get radio silence. Now when someone asks me, I have no problem helping anyone out with what I’ve learned because I had to do it all by myself — I’m happy to share.
What do you like about drone versus traditional photography?
I like the perspective that the drone can get. I really enjoy capturing surfing from a different angle so it’s like you’re on the wave with them instead of on land seeing the whole landscape behind them. I like to call my shots surf portraits because the majority of my shots are pretty up close and personal. I just like to give the perspective that you’re right there with the surfer on the wave.
Do you take photos or videos to capture your images?
My drone is actual photos, which is kind of tricky because you kind of just have one shot. There is a burst mode on the drone, but it only takes three shots and it kind of lags a lot. So that’s when learning about the surfers came in handy. All the groms that I shoot regularly, I know how they surf, how many steps it takes for them to get to the nose, if they go left or right, and I can just kind of tell by their body language what they’re going to do and then I can make a very quick decision whether to take the shot or not. I pretty much get one shot per wave by the time it loads.
Where are your favorite places to shoot?
Definitely Queens in Waikiki. I usually launch off the hula mount right at the front. I can see my drone, the wave, and the surfer— they’re not that far away at all. It’s nice to be able to see my drone; you’re meant to keep a line of sight with the drone at all times.
Do you have any shots that stand out as favorites?
I have a shot of a party wave at Waimea Bay in 2019 that is a favorite. I couldn’t see my drone; there were hundreds of drones in the sky. I managed to get a party wave on a 35 to-40-foot wave which is kind of rare because it’s really dangerous to do a party wave there. It’s the perfect shot. I also have some top downs of a bunch of the girls just hanging out which are some of my favorites. And I shot the back of the Mokes in Lanikai, the twin island with the sunset in the background, just for a different perspective because a lot of people look at it from land.
What equipment do you use?
The drone that I have at the moment is a DGI Mavic Pro 2. I just use that for the images and to edit I go between Lightroom for color protection. I’m so glad I learned that years beforehand because that made such a difference with my photography having the skill of editing. We can all have the same equipment, but everyone’s photos are so unique to how they edit. And then I use Photoshop for light correction on the water.