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Dreams of the World: Innovative Aerial Projects with Clay Folden

Dreams of the World: One Dream a Time. This post is the latest in the series Dreams of the World, which profiles interesting people Kike meets during his travels. Drones and Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Special Series.  ¨My dream has always been to travel the world and capture its diversity and allure,¨ said Clay Folden, a 25 years-old freelance cinematographer who lives...

Dreams of the World: One Dream a Time. This post is the latest in the series Dreams of the World, which profiles interesting people Kike meets during his travels. Drones and Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Special Series

Clay Folden photographed by KIKE CALVO
Cinematographer Clay Folden with a DJI Phantom upgraded by DSLR Pros. The system is equipped with a Go Hero Pro camera, a Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal, Anti Gravity upgraded motor and a Futaba 8FG Radio Transmitter with SBus Rcv. Photo © KIKE CALVO

¨My dream has always been to travel the world and capture its diversity and allure,¨ said Clay Folden, a 25 years-old freelance cinematographer who lives in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. ¨Using aerial platforms, I have been able to follow my dreams in an ultra-modern and unique way.¨

Folden moved to Los Angeles at the end of 2012 to look for professional opportunities in the production industry. Originally working to become Director of Photography, his focus changed when his first aerial video went viral. Now he continues to work as a freelancer with filmmakers on exciting and innovative projects.

¨I grew up on the beaches of Florida and became interested in visual arts when my father gave me an old Nikon F he used in college,¨ said Folden. ¨Luckily we had a very good photography program at Seminole High School, which allowed me to pursue my interest and develop my skills. I continued on to attend the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where I graduated in 2011.¨

Growing up Folden was strongly influenced by Bill Watterson´s imaginative work. Today, he finds inspiration in Stanley Kubrick´s revolutionary techniques and avant-garde style. ¨ My biggest inspiration when getting into Drones was Robert Mcintosh and his ‘Santa Monica Airlines’ video on Vimeo. I must have watched it over one hundred times while learning.¨

¨Some of the biggest mistakes that new flyers make are usually attributed to a general lack of knowledge for rules and regulations as well as the overwhelming excitement to play with this fun new device,¨ said Folden. Some of these mistakes include: flying too high, flying in a populated area, flying over an interstate, and above all, thinking it is easier than it actually is. “It takes a lot of practicing to get good at flying these machines, but the time and effort is well worth it!¨

¨I never thought that drones would ever become the focus of my career,¨ said Folden. ¨I think that the FAA regulations regarding UAS are antiquated and need to be changed immediately. There should be a way to use them commercially. There should be regulation in place to address the sudden explosion in the civilian market.¨

5 things people should know about drones:

  • By utilizing aerial spectral analysis, farmers can identify possible problems with their crops, as well as identify areas that require more watering than others.
  • Drones can go into areas too hazardous for humans: Utilizing portable drones affixed with IR sensors, firefighters can safely and more efficiently monitor building fires as well as wildfires. Researchers can track migration patterns and habitats of animals more efficiently, as well as use drones equipped with thermal imaging to monitor wildlife behavior. Drones are being developed to monitor severe weather systems such as hurricanes in lieu of sending piloted C-130s.
  • Drones can be used for detailed forensic mapping of crime scenes .
  • Mobile and quickly deployed drone systems can be used in disaster areas to map routes for supply, assess damage, figure out the logistics for triage centers and air supply.
  • Drones will soon be able to bring pizza and tacos to your door!

What´s in Clay Folden´s Camera Bag:

¨I primarily work with the DJI Phantom . My rig is the ‘Ultimate Kit’ as offered by DSLRPros and consits of carbon fiber propellers, Anti-Gravity T-motors, Zenmuse H3-2D 2 Axis Brushless Motor Gimbal, FPV system, GoPro Hero3 Black and Futaba 8FGHS Transmitter:

The Carbon Fiber Propellers offer more stability to the quad-copter, as well as greater lift, which is a necessity with all the extra gear I have installed on it.

A Gimbal is a 2 to 3 axis motorized arm that acts as a steady-cam system for the camera. It utilizes small brush-less motors that are connected to the brain of the Phantom. The motors and the brain of the rig work in tandem to compensate for the movement of the aircraft. This is beneficial because it stabilizes footage that otherwise would be too jumpy and sporadic to use.

FPV stands for First Person View. This system takes the live signal from the camera on the aerial rig and transmits it to the screen that I have with me on the ground. This allows the pilot to see what they’re shooting or even to navigate the rig just by the image on the screen.

The GoPro HERO3+: Black Edition is a very small and lightweight camera that is capable of shooting in up to 4K resolution. I usually shoot in 2.7K resolution, which is over twice that of 1080.

The Futaba Transmitter is a long-range transmitter that controls the quad-copter and gimbal. ¨

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Learn More:

Cool stuff for Drone and Unmanned Vehicle enthusiasts

Crime Analysis With Crime Mapping

The beginner’s guide to Fpv (B&W)

Thermal Imaging Cameras: Characteristics and Performance

Infrared Detectors, Second Edition

Nanoelectronics: Nanowires, Molecular Electronics, and Nanodevices

Microclimate for Cultural Heritage, Second Edition: Conservation, Restoration, and Maintenance of Indoor and Outdoor Monuments

Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies in Crisis Intervention, Third Edition

Additional Readings: 

Getting Started with Hobby Quadcopters and Drones: Learn about, buy and fly these amazing aerial vehicles

Drone Entrepreneurship: 30 Businesses You Can Start

Drone Art: Baltimore

Military Robots and Drones: A Reference Handbook (Contemporary World Issues)

Kill Decision

The Media Source Presents Drones: Are They Watching You? Magazine

Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Rise of the Drones II: Examining the Legality of Unmanned Targeting: One Hundred Eleventh Congress, Second Session, April 28, 2010

Drone Pilot (Cool Careers)

2011 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Encyclopedia: UAVs, Drones, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), Weapons and Surveillance – Roadmap, Flight Plan, Reliability Study, Systems News and Notes

Futaba 9C: The User’s Guide (Modeller’s World)

Fly by Wire Aircraft: Fighters, Drones, and Airliners

Introduction to Remote Sensing, Fifth Edition

Popular drones include:

ARDrone from Parrot

Phantom by DJI Innovations


WLtoys V929 Beetle 4-Axis Quadcopter Dexterous Mini UFO RTF

Walkera QR LadyBird V2 Mini Quadcopter W/ Devo 4 Radio, RTF



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Meet the Author

Author Photo Kike Calvo
Award-winning photographer, journalist, and author Kike Calvo (pronounced key-keh) specializes in culture and environment. He has been on assignment in more than 90 countries, working on stories ranging from belugas in the Arctic to traditional Hmong costumes in Laos. Kike is pioneering in using small unmanned aerial systems to produce aerial photography as art, and as a tool for research and conservation. He is also known for his iconic photographic project, World of Dances, on the intersection of dance, nature, and architecture. His work has been published in National Geographic, New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, among others. Kike teaches photography workshops and has been a guest lecturer at leading institutions like the School of Visual Arts and Yale University. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic blog Voices. He has authored nine books, including Drones for Conservation; So You Want to Create Maps Using Drones?; Staten Island: A Visual Journey to the Lighthouse at the End of the World; and Habitats, with forewords by David Doubilet and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Kike’s images have been exhibited around the world, and are represented by the National Geographic Image Collection. Kike was born in Spain and is based in New York. When he is not on assignment, he is making gazpacho following his grandmother’s Andalusian recipe. You can travel to Colombia with Kike: