Clean Rivers Clean Lakes Conference 2018

Last week we had the joy of returning for a third year, to cover the Clean Rivers Clean Lake Conference for our friends at Sweetwater based in Milwaukee WI at the school of fresh water siences.

This year’s Clean Rivers Clean Lake Conference was held at Alverno College. Alverno College has such a beautiful campus and was a great location for this event, the staff was amazing and very helpful. If you ever have the chance tour this beautiful campus I highly recommend it.

This year’s discussions and panels focused on creating purposeful drainage areas inside the urban landscape, porous pavement, new policies and regulations and how we as good stewards can do out part in these endeavors.  

As much as it is a day of work for us it is also a learning day. I come from a family with farmers and every year I am impressed to see what these fine people come up with. Some of it in the past I have taken back with me to my uncle’s farm to see if there is something we can put into practice as it pertains to curtailing field runoff into the streams and waterways.

Here are some of the photos from this year’s Clean Rivers Clean Lake Conference.

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DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian Review

The Phantom 4 Pro obsidian model by DJI is a little power house of a drone. When it first came out in August of 2017 and began shipping in September. It quickly sold out and many drone enthusiasts like myself were forced to wait till the next run came out to the public. I ordered the end of September and it came at the end of November. Hello early Christmas present.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian

Why the Obsidian model? For me, my choice to go with the obsidian model over the standard Phantom 4 pro model was what I believed to be was and has proven to be is its more visible in the sky above me.  I flew, with my neighbors Phantom 3 prior to purchase and while easy to see up against a high gray cloud or down in the marsh from on top of the hill it was still very hard to see above 200 ft on a clear blue-sky day.  The only downside to this is when I am flying in a valley area in the winter with no greenery on the trees the P4P Obsidian can be harder to locate if you glace away to spot a nearby plane or bird. This is also why we added strobe LED’s to it.

In addition to the DJI Phantom 4 Pro (P4P) I looked at the Inspire 2 by DJI while it has more features on it and interchangeable cameras and its base price is around $3,000 and I would have wanted to upgrade the camera which meant more money given to DJI. With the P4P the price tag was cheaper with the base model coming at $1,500 and for I realistically need to do with my it for my company it was more than capable enough to handle the day to day operations.

Getting what you pay for is something I really like, when I bought the P4P I also invested in two extra batteries. The battery for the P4P last about 30 minutes in optimal conditions and takes about 45 to 50 minutes to completely charge. This way I can keep flying with minimal down time. I compared it to the battery for the Yuneec Typhoon H and DJI seems to have a more durable battery and overall life span when comparing the two.

The camera on the DJI P4P comes with a 20-mega pixel 1-inch CMOS sensor which is really nice. I do wish the lens was a little bit bigger/longer, it has FOV 84ᵒ 8.8mm/24 mm (35 mm format equivalent), I’m used to shooting with 50mm lenses on my DSLR so this is something that I have to get used to on the drone. Though it is amazing with the wide-angle shots and being able to create nice panoramic photographs.  

Setting up the camera for the drone is fairly simple, I am not the biggest fan of the “Auto” setting for still photographs they tend to come out dark and require more post work. The manual setting is quite easy to work though when using the touch screen in conjunction with the dial on the right-hand side of the controller.  As for the video it is super sharp in 4K it feels like you could almost reach out and touch what you’re flying past.

As for the controller there a few different ways to configure it. I set it up similar to a PS4 controller so my left stick is forward and back on the left stick and the right stick is set up for panning left and right as well as climbing and descending in altitude. The nice thing about the sticks is they are adjustable up and down by spinning the stick clockwise or counter clockwise. I think this is a great feature because it allows you to set the control sticks to better fit your hand. There are also two programable buttons on the under side of the DJI controller.  It allows you to setup special features. I do a lot of photography before sunset with my drone and in the low light conditions the red strobe light on the front arms are able to be turned off by setting one of the function buttons to do so.  This is a nifty little feature because the camera is not picking up the excess red light from the strobe lights.

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian Remote

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian Remote

The P4P also has three different flight types all of them are select-able from the controller on the left side. They are marked by the letters P, S and A with a little switch below them. They stand for Positioning, Sport and Attitude.  In the Positioning setting the drone stays pretty level and is great for video and shooting stills on a single plane. The drone will also react to commands a little bit slower than in the other settings I have found and will also fly a bit slower as to not get the props in view.  In sport mode you can feasibly achieve speeds of 45mph. I have only flown in this mode a few times in a large farm field and I can say that 40 is defiantly doable but your collision and avoidance system is greatly reduced so your likely hood of a crash increases.  In both the P and S settings when you take your fingers off the stick the drone will stop and hover where you left the drone at.  In the Attitude setting the forward sensing and GPS sensors are turned off and unlike the P and S settings when you take your fingers off the control sticks the drone will drift with the wind. I am not the biggest fan of this setting because I have yet to find a use for it when I fly. It does still fly at a faster speed like in the sport mode. You will notice in the P and S modes the rear lights on the drone are green and the front will be red, and when you are in A mode the rear lights will be yellow/amber and the front will still remain red.

Marsh Pano Photo on a DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Marsh Pano Photo on a DJI Phantom 4 Pro

On one the recent updates DJI gave the P4P a few of the features the Mavic series has which is the panoramic modes. For a still photographer like myself this is something that is really handy. Now I can just tap on the screen and bring up the pano style I would like to use and tap the screen again and the DJI flight app does the rest. I cannot say enough how much I like this it has really taken out of guess work and fiddling with pictures in post to make sure they all fit together correctly. Now don’t get me wrong I still have to put them into the post editing software but at least all the photos are grouped together and are in one batch.

Overall, I think this drone is everything a entry level drone pilot to a semi pro/pro drone pilot could really ask for. The drone is extremely responsive and handles wells and is also quite durable. The price point can seem like it is a bit on the expensive side but you are getting what you pay for and more. After looking and doing research on the P4P for about six months and they buying one and now flying the P4P for the past four months I couldn’t be happier with my choice in drone type and manufacture.

Why Can't I Fly There... Without a Waiver

Vagabond Photography(VB): It’s great day, we at Vagabond Photography now offer UAV(Drone) services to our clients and we can fly anywhere we please. Today we’re going to fly the port of Milwaukee.

FAA Rep: Not so fast Mister.

VB: why?????

FAA: because where your client would like you to fly for their assignment in located inside a restricted flight area. You’ll have to apply for a waiver.

The above is true for a Part 107 pilots, as certified pilots we cannot just fly anywhere we or a client would want us too. In much of the Greater Milwaukee area we have to work around controlled airspace via General Mitchel Airport(class C), Timmerman Airport(class D) and Waukesha Co Airport(Class D with a Class E extension) (see map 1).  To fly in those areas, we would need to obtain a FAA waiver under part 107.41 requesting airspace authorization.

Restricted flight map of Milwaukee

Restricted flight map of Milwaukee

Say a client was to approach us and says we would like you to photograph our new building project on Jones Island and can you do this in the next 20 days? First, let’s refer to the map the little red dot in the shaded purple circle represents where said client would like us to fly. This helps us answer our clients question a little, the right off the bat answer is no not currently. To fly in that shaded area we must apply for a waiver from the FAA. Then provided the FAA gives us permission the answer is yes but it sill could exceed the 20 days the client had requested and take as long as 90 days for a yes, no answer. Also the waiver is time sensitive which mean the pilot in control has to fly at the time requested on the waiver or on the backup date during the approved time.

You may ask what does a waiver do for us and why does the FFA require us to obtain one? For the proposed Jones Island assignment there are a few answers. 1. Provided we are granted a waiver, it allows the FAA and air traffic control to notify incoming and outgoing air traffic there is an unmanned aircraft working the vicinity of the airport to the Northwest. If you refer to map 1 again, you will notice that the proposed location is adjacent to the inbound flight line for runway 19R(marked in gray). 2. In the waiver we must explain to the FAA how we plan to ensure safety going above and beyond what part 107 requires. This can be done by adding additional spotters to notify the done pilot of incoming aircraft or by making the drone more visible to oncoming traffic and explain that we do not place to fly outside of a certain radius keeping us away from inbound traffic. Also, that we are not a distraction to other pilots.  3. It saves the pilot and customer from a fine from the FAA if caught flying without a waiver. Through some research the fines that have been given out range between $400 to $18.700 with one outlier being levied at $1.9 million (story here) and also for the pilot it can also mean revocation of his/hers certificate.

We've obtained a waiver now what? Great the FAA decided to grant us a waiver and now we can fly, though there are going to be some stipulations on the when and possibly from how long. Also make sure you have planned for a secondary date encase of inclement weather.

I understand the a potential client this may seem like a lot of work just to go though to fly around and photograph/video a building or a job site. Though, it is something unmanned pilots and I know is necessary, for safe flight operations for those on the grounds and flying in the sky and at the end of the day you’ll be happy you have an unmanned pilot that took the time to do it right.    

Iowa Taekwondo Championship 2018

Over the past weekend one of our good friends/client Alyssa Fencil invited us out to the Iowa State Taekwondo tournament presented by the Iowa Taekwondo Alliance. We jumped at the chance to escape our little part of Wisconsin for a fun weekend away, cabin fever in Wisconsin is real let me tell you folks.


While there we met a young Para-athlete named Justin who has cerebral palsy whose zest for life was earth shattering. I had the chance to sit down with Justin and learn a little bit about what he likes, from taekwondo, to being a DJ, his love of music and what life is like in Detroit.

As a fun day of photographing young and old athletes progressed it became apparent that I was able to cover high end athletes that are masters in their craft and were hoping to be able to make it to nationals later this year in Salt Lake City, Utah(July 2nd- 9th).

Later in the day I got to watch Justin demonstrate his forum of poomsae during the Iowa State Tournament, it is awe-inspiring. His no fear attitude and I’m going to go out there and do/be me and leave it all on the mat is infectious. By the end of Justin’s poomsae performance everyone was watching Justin and were giving him a rousing ovation. It got me thinking, there is a person worth looking up to for a whole modicum of reasons and his drive to compete should help all set better goals in our own lives and try that much harder to achieve them.


I loved being able to see what it means to the athletes to compete. One of my favorite moments came when I got to watch two little girls compete and let me say those two little girls were vicious. By watching them one could tell everything was getting left out on the mat, the ref even had to step in a few times because I believed there were a few illegal hits/kicks involved. Still it was fun to watch.

At the end of the day I got to watch our good friend Alyssa compete in an exhibition match against Beatriz, it was interesting to watch her fight because normally all we really do with her is posed photographs for marketing and family purposed. Needless to say, it was so much more fun being able to watch her try to figure her opponents next move and be able to defend or find a new way to attack around what was coming at her. It ended up with a victory for Alyssa by the end of the match which was icing on the cake for a very memorable day.


If you competed at the Iowa State Tournament this weekend there is a link below to where you can find your pictures.