SWARM 2017 – How lucky we are in 2017

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As you start the new year … here is a little video from the first day of the year that to me defines: SERENDIPITY.

On a personal, and on an artistic level, this was the best way to welcome in the New Year.

The important part here is that this slightly complex aerial shoot originated from a very similar thought process that I would generally associate with the thought process of grabbing a Leica Camera and a 35mm f2 lens on my way out the door with me – “just in case.”

Nothing more.

Years ago, a series of shots like this might have cost a small fortune and a significant amount of preparation and effort.

In this case, this video was shot somewhat haphazardly and was far from a sure thing from the start. AND FAR from a goal or necessity.

Allow me to explain…

The little drone that shot this footage can fit in a large cargo pants pocket, and costs less than $800 – and the little sucker shoots 4K footage.

Pause for a second.

That’s A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!

My main goal on the first day of 2017 was to take it easy and enjoy the lack of texts and calls – let alone a completely blank schedule for this first Sunday of the new year.

I took the drone because the sky “could” turn nice. It frankly wasn’t liklely given the low horizon layer.

My main goal – to be clear – was to go into town and to get a coffee and to see others after a relatively isolated Sunday afternoon.

Frankly – it was THE laziest afternoon I’ve enjoyed in one year or more.

The fact that this shoot happened as an afterthought is what is significant to me.

It didn’t require the packing of cases or even a backpack full of gear nor extensive travel.

If just took the “maybe I should bring this {fill in this spot} camera with me” to scratch that itch …

The resulting quality that we as artists and amateurs alike are able to draw from with many of these new technologies is simply stunning.

I used to stare at film negatives and slides, and then digital images on the screen for hours. It wasn’t necessarily the final image or effort that counted…

I love to study the grain structure, the lens qualities and FLAWS. The highlight retention and shadow fall-off. I’m passionate about “images.” I’ve never been quite sure why to be perfectly honest.

Images put me at peace. And I love to try to share that feeling with others.

In 2017, I am able to witness 24 images a second at 4K – which is an incredible resolution when compared to the bleeding-edge 2 Megapixel ($22,000+) cameras I used to use in 1999 as a young staff photographer at The New York Times.

A few days ago I was scrubbing through 8K footage shot 60 times per second!!! (More on that another time.) That’s 36 megapixel still images!!! (In case you’re not familiar with the math…)

In short, I’m in hog heaven.

I hope others aren’t missing out on how lucky we ALL are.

For sure, the competition out there and access to gear is FIERCE – and that can worry any one of us… myself included.

But how many of you REALLY slowed down to watch this video to see the young boy dancing / conducting the birds above??? Look for it!
But at the same time, you have to pause and pinch yourself.

And you have to ask:

This ability to capture your world with new, exciting tools … it makes you feel ALIVE….

Doesn’t it?

This series, while far from perfect was shot by one person (in this case me) on a lark. It was shot with a DJI Mavic Pro and I took pleasure in piloting the little drone that is slightly wider than a compact laptop while in flight and folds into one’s large pocket while folded. I was also controlling the camera movement by hand thru the helicopter’s movement.

While there are fancy automatic “tracking” moves and significant safety features in today’s drones, I found myself losing myself for 20 minutes of so in pure bliss by trying to “dance” within my enviroment.

And then something magical happened…

Out of nowhere a swarm of birds took off from the pier.

A swarm I had studied for years when I lived on “the Strand” in Manhattan Beach a little while ago. I still live there – but no longer on the coast.

Salt water while amazing to the human body and psyche is not so kind on all types of hardware – notably metal….

To me the rest is magical.

THIS is the very definition of serendipity and why I fell in love with photography almost 3 decades ago.

There are 3 big surprises in this video in fact – should you take the time out of your or “our” hectic pace that we all seem to be driven by. Mindlessly I should add.

It should be noted that while all of this happened in a series of 3 separate shots over 20 minutes – the Fireworks did NOT happen on the same night.

Those had been shot a month or less earlier but had never quite found a home.

When you see the “connector” = the Christmas tree on the end of the piece – those shots seemed to edit in JUST right.

I hope you enjoy this video, and the cheesy little message at the end of it.

It’s something I deeply believe in.

I always try to do a little video at the end of each year. Not for any particular reason other than the fact that it’s one of the few times I have some “quiet.”

Regardless, if you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading and hopefully watching this video.

And please, don’t for one second take your fortune for granted.

We are in an incredible period of time in history as creatives.

Sure – it’s VERY challenging.

But it’s also absolutely incredible in terms of potential.

Carpe Diem!

– Vincent Laforet

Shot with the DJI Mavic Pro and edited and graded in DaVinci Resolve. (I still have much to learn!)


The Drone you’ll always have with you: The DJI Mavic Pro

There’s a reason the iPhone and smartphones in general are the most popular cameras in the world:   they’re always with you.   You can have them in your pocket and forget about them, but they’re always within reach!


Now… you can’t EXACTLY put the DJI Mavic Pro in your pocket – although you CAN put it in your cargo pants pocket (my friend tried it and it fit) or a winter jacket pocket – but that’s a major shift in drone technology that’s hard to ignore. Check out the video of the launch event and some fun flying around the Brooklyn BMX track in Williamsburg:

Until now, you had to dedicate a bag, backpack or your carryon to JUST a drone and accessories.    That has forever changed.


I had the chance to play with an early prototype Mavic and what I can tell you that struck me the most about this drone was not just it’s bevy of features – but it was the fact that I had it with me ALL the time and that was a first for me!

Many of you know I keep my iPadPro and MacBook in a Tenba bag with me at all times, with 2 Think tank accessory pouches … that’s how I move around and travel the world.   I usually have on slot open in that bag for my Leica M9 or a Canon 5Ds … and then it’s full but not too heavy.

I can now decide to throw the Mavic in there in one of the 3 slots I have in the front of the bag, w/ 3 extra batteries and a charger and I’m off to the races.  And that’s AMAZING.


I see myself traveling with this little drone all around the world – both for professional uses (notably to scout let alone capture footage – although I’m likely to use the Inspire or other systems for high end use of course) and also with family.

I’ll predict that this will be THE stocking stuffer for all geeks and drone enthusiasts out there this holiday season.

Many of you have seen GoPro’s recent announcement of the Karma drone.   It’s definitely a wonderful drone and I’m sure will find a nice home within that GoPro ecosystem for many.    My reaction was that it felt 1 if not 2 years late to the party given it’s size (it takes up a full size backpack of its own) and also the lack of features relative to DJI.


What differentiates the Mavic from all other drones is the sophisticated technology jammed into a small body.  In fact this is the single most stable drone they’ve ever produced with the exception of their high end drone… think about that for a second!

The obstacle avoidance WORKS!  (But it you put it in the zippy SPORT mode where the little guy flies at 40 MPH it won’t … so careful!  They’ve turned if off so that you can fly this little devil as fast as possible…)

I’ve tried to crash it into trees – and it stopped.   It’s impressive.

It takes a video of the ground from which it takes off – so it can precisely land exactly where it took from if you lose a signal, or if you use the automated landing position.  Within inches.  Also: if you try to auto-land on uneven ground, it stops the landing and allows you to land it manually automatically.


Even takeoff is easy – you have it take off automatically with the push of a button and it hovers in place waiting for further input from you.    Everyone will tell you that takeoffs and landings are the most stressful parts of flying drones (and most things!)   Basically, if anything goes wrong, just let go of the remote and it will stay in place – more precisely than any other drone I’ve used.    And it’s quite impressive even indoors w/o GPS … something I would never try myself, but that DJI confidently did on their demos today in a packed house… speaks to the trust they put into their system.

Then there’s a bunch of features that you can look into – but the most important ones to me are the tracking features.

With the use of an iPhone/Smartphone (you can fly this drone w/ JUST a smartphone and the drone’s WIFI link, or with JUST their video-game controller type remote, or with the phone + remote!)  you can easily track people on the ground w/ “Active tracking” and get amazing results.

You point to the person on the the iPhone screen w/ your finger… it locks on … and you can let the chopper automatically follow, fly behind, do loops around, or lateral moves (slides) … it’s PRETTY INCREDIBLE.   And they’ve got a fancy more dynamic mode as well.   The little guy also has terrain avoidance modes and is just fantastic in terms of giving you as safe of a flight as you can expect (and yes it’s aware of airports and no fly areas etc…)

Frankly if someone told me this was a military drone that fell out of the sky that we were’t supposed to see for the next 5 years – I’d very honestly have to wonder if they were pulling my leg or not, given how packed with features it is, and how easily it tracks cars / people / pets … a little freaky to be perfectly honest.   It will even avoid obstacles actively when it follows a subject… talk about “fire and forget…”   EEEEK!

But you can also of course take over at any time and fly your heart out!

Last week I locked the Mavic’s camera onto my son and daughter in a large (empty) soccer field after a game had ended.    And I performed complex camera moves around them – with the camera staying locked onto them the entire time.   I was sold immediately.  It never lost them once.    While this (and no system) is perfect of course, the tracking functions are quite impressive relative to anything I’ve seen.   Most importantly – for the first time in flying a drone, I was able to concentrate 100% on the flying of the drone above my kids heads (and never seeing the drone dip down or lose altitude which is obviously important!!!)  and the iPhone app did the rest …  and that’s SUPER impressive.   It’s going to put the focus back on the safe FLYING of the drone, as opposed to trying to mix flying and filming together (which should NEVER be done – you should always have two independent people doing this.)  That being said – with the Mavic, you can let the computer frame your shot as you do the one thing you should be doing:  making sure you’re flying safely.

Of course  the Mavic has some other tricks up it’s sleeve … if you wave at it, it will lock onto you and track you (a little creepy to be honest) but you’ll get confirmation with blinking red lights that’s it’s following you (and you won’t be able to ignore that it is.)  For the Selfie generation you can make a frame with you hands in front of your face and it will take a photograph seconds later after the same red lights flash rapidly…  impressive.   It’s like having a little pet that follows and films you in many ways…

Overall this is the most impressive and portable drone that I see the everyday person being able to use safely around the world (and much more safely than other drones given the numerous hardware and software safety features.)

Beside being durable (the unit I was given had visible crash marks from previous users) its just plain transportable, almost an afterthought!   And the little bubble you see in front of the lens is removable btw … it’s just meant for transport!   Blades can be easily swayed out to and fold easily in your bag.

Speaking of the camera / gimbal.   Just as impressive.   Sharp as heck at 4K and it shoots both video and RAW DNG stills.  Amazing.   It’s a 28mm equivalent (as opposed to a 20 mm equivalent in the Phantom series) and pretty darn perfect for aerial shots.   It also does much better than I would have thought in low light.  (I had an early model so I won’t make any definitive quality statements until I get a production unit other than to say:  I was amazed by the image quality and was impressed with the low light performance as I filmed my kids well after sunset albeit with stadium lighting.)

OK – that’s it!  Here’s a mored detailed list of specs…

The only thing missing?    Well given how popular these will be, and how popular the Mavic will continue to make drones in general…  DJI and others are missing one feature:   being aware of other drones and avoiding air-to-air drone crashes…  I’m serious.  It will become a necessary feature I think at some point for drone parks etc…

Oh and ONE MORE THING!     The headset!    I haven’t been able to use it in flight yet – but man … talk about living your Top Gun dreams with two of these and flying these first person… that’s going to be AMAZING.   The headsets are sharp and work w/ HDMI input from ANY source … again: Impressive!   That’s definitely going to happen in my near future with friends… talk about a whole new way to drone w/ friends.

A lot of people are gonna have a LOT of fun with these… so please:  Drone responsibly.    Be mindful of others and consider getting your Part 107 certificate from the FAA so you’re aware of the rules of the sky:  it can’t possibly hurt you to do so.



Better Gear Management With Think Tank

We all seem to be obsessed with gear these days … and let me introduce you to another obsession of mine:  how to pack, travel and safeguard that gear.

In short:  BAGs.  I’m obsessed with camera bags and like David Allan Harvey have voluntarily committed myself to treatment for this obsession.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please feel for both of us and view the following video to learn about “bagology” as David calls it.

Given the amount of travel I do, packing is usually one of the first things that I have to face for any given project.  What type of bags to take, how many I need, and can I get away with the fewest and lightest bags so that I can avoid additional baggage fees.   Also: how can I best compartmentalize and organize the gear to keep it safe during transit, and easily accessible and well organized when I arrive on my shoot.   These are all factors to consider.

Over the years, I’ve constantly come back to the Think Tank line up and I wanted to share thoughts on a few products I use almost religiously.   Think Tank products have helped ensure that my gear is kept secured just as I need it, and it stays protected.

Basically my packing solutions fit into two categories:  Think Tank and Pelican.   Pelican cases are what I use when I know I plan on checking gear or when I’m going into an adverse environment (rain, snow etc) or when I know OTHER people will be handling my gear (such as a large crew) and stacking cases in cube trucks for example…  More on Pelican products to come…

These are a few products that I have been using consistently and that I can recommend:

The new Video Workhorse Series are a great new addition to the line up, designed for the “working pro videographer” in mind.

What that means is a shoulder bag that isn’t just incredible durability, but provides the ability to distribute the gear in a way that allows you to keep a smaller camera system like a Canon C300 MKII  or RED Epic rigged and ready to go out the bag.  Perfect if you need to be able to shoot or run out of your place at a moment’s notice.


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The Helipak for the DJI Inspire is a very cool backpack solution for those of you looking to transport your DJI Inspire drones safely and securely – with all of your accessories (that may not fit w/ the DJI case they provide/sell.)

My team has used drones since 2008 and while the Inspire is a great product, fitting it into a case with all the associated accessories, a laptop, and whatever else you might want to store with the drone when you travel can be challenging.

The Helipak has solved many of these issues, with a large front storage pocket (for up to a 17” laptop). Super durable against the elements and with the customizable dividers, we’ve carried the Inspire and a host of accessories out into some pretty remote places thanks to the Helipad.  Definitely something worth looking into…

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Another “staple” product for more than a decade for me, has been The Shape Shifter 17 v2.0.   This backpack has the unique advantage of being able to be small and light, and to also expand (literally) to accept an insane amount of gear – as much as your back can take!   The ability to have a backpack that can carry not just camera gear, but a laptop and other accessories, as well as expand and contract in size depending on how much gear you want to carry offers fantastic versatility. The bigger versions are able to expand and carry a ridiculous amount of gear if you have to, while still offering slim, customizable, sleek options no matter what you want to carry.   The new “pouch” for your DSLR is a really nice function too!

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Perhaps the gold standard for roller bags, The Airport Security v3.0 is the updated version of the Think Tank durable roller case which I’ve used for years. The Airport comes in both International version (complying with international carry on size requirements) and the Security version (which is sized for US domestic carry on size requirements) meaning you’ll never be in a position where the bag size prevents carry on of gear. Both versions offer the typical Airport quality we’ve come to expect, but now come with updated handles, greater durability and dedicated laptop/tablet compartments.   I think it’s safe to say that 90%+ of news / sports and many other photographers in different genres us THIS bag as their MAIN travel bag for their critical gear that they take onboard with them.   You can alternatively use the Pelican 1510 (I use the 1560 SC with the computer compartment on the top lid myself) but you’ll find you have 20% less space within the case, and that it’s a lot harder to travel with in general given it’s weight.  However:  if you’re FORCED to check it, the Pelican will protect your gear for sure, whereas the Airport Security was not designed to be checked (I’ve checked it and things have survived…but not recommended.)


Lastly: Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference, and the Cable Management 10 v2.0 pouches are a great example of a small and inexpensive solution to helping me manage my gear.   I swear by these, and in fact I never leave home without it… it’s my go to, for all of my iPhone / iPad / laptop cables and power blocks.

I’ve been unable to work without these small gear pouches since I discovered them.  We’ve all found that’s it’s unfortunately soeasy to lose cables (some of which might cost $70+ a pop!) and other accessories over the years, and this is the best solution that I’ve found  to minimize lost accessories for years – I’ve come to rely on the Cable Management pouches as a way to not just minimize losing valuable accessories, but also as a way to keep different kits bundled together.    The ability to keep kits bundled together is in fact one of the biggest time savers – and life savers!   Having to track down accessories or cables before a trip can be harrying…  keeping each of your “kits” in one of these bags that’s clearly labeled will save you from arriving half way across the globe and “missing” that key bolt or cable…

With this system, I can quickly just switch out the pouches into my bags/case for each job.   Simply label the pouches with a piece of yellow gaffer tape and sharpie, and it will be ready to ‘grab and go’ when you need to turn around different kits quickly.

vincentlaforet_blog_thinktank_cable1 vincentlaforet_blog_thinktank_cable2Again, I only ever recommend products that are ‘tried and tested’ and stand by what I’ve used in the field.   I’ve used these products (or earlier versions of them) for more than a decade.

Think Tank makes a great line of different products based on the needs of professionals (because the founders are professional photographers themselves!)  and if you’re not familiar with them, I’d definitely recommend checking them out before you begin your gear and logistics planning for your next shoot.