Pilot Spotlight: Interview with WWD Ambassador Kara Murphy
Tell us your story. How did you get started in the drone industry and when did that happen?
As a side job to my full-time work, I was also a semi-professional photographer, working a variety of special events and music festivals since 2009. I then was starting to get burned out, as I felt a lot of my photos, especially of live musicians, looked similar to ones my peers were capturing.
One day in 2014, I saw a top-down shot of Martha's Vineyard coastline pass through my feed, which was taken by my friend Nate Boltron. I immediately knew I had to create a similar effect with my own photography. My friend and co-conspirator for Flying Robot International Film Festival, Eddie Codel, lent me his DJI Phantom 1. The technology was incredibly limited at the time and I lost it on my third flight.
A year later, I would purchase a Phantom 2 Vision+ and start flying when I visited Iceland with friends in November of 2015. From there, my photography took off. In 2017, I got my Part 107 certification and started taking on remote pilot gigs, with the likes of Intel and film companies. I also helped Drone Deploy build their initial community base and wrote a bi-monthly column for Drone360 Magazine.
Tell us about your company/work/organization and your position.
I run my own aerial media company, where I operate as a remote pilot. I also help other companies with their copywriting and social media marketing. I'm launching an online store of my photos, aptly titled Aerial Print Shop, this coming month. I'll also be participating in ArtPrize, the largest outdoor international art festival to date, which is incredibly exciting. I keep everything diversified so it's fresh and interesting. It's also imperative for my income stream.
What kind of drone(s) do you fly and what's your favourite thing about it?
Currently, I operate two DJI Phantom 4 Pro's. A lesson that I learned early on, after a few systemic failures from earlier models, is that two drones equals one and one equals none. Always have a back up drone when you decide to fly, especially when you're operating as a professional remote pilot.
The Phantom 4 Pro is honestly the best drone I've ever owned. It's stable, reliable, and the professional-grade imagery I've been able to capture makes it an invaluable tool to have in my arsenal. The quality of both photos and video I've gotten from it is my favourite feature. I've toyed with the idea of purchasing an Inspire 2, but at the moment, especially since the P4 Pro is incredibly easy to travel with, I'm content with what I have. I would like to have the option of interchangeable lenses though, so I'm either going to invest in a DJI Inspire 2, or wait for an updated Mavic or Phantom series release.
Have you learned any valuable lessons being in the drone industry you can share with our female drone community?
For the most part, the drone community has been very welcoming and inclusive of women. I've gotten an incredible amount of support from men, most really want more women to join in and find success. There are a few individuals that are rude and sexist. My advice to women is, first off, to not take anything personally and consider the source if you receive a rare offhand remark. It's not worth engaging with certain people. Blocking, while a dramatic last resort, is also an act of self care.
In my Instagram bio, I state "Warning: dumb comments will get removed." A friend informed me that was a bit harsh, but when I showed him some of the comments I've removed, he shook his head and immediately understood. There's a lesson in here: if you have a question, Google it or search the forum first before posting. It can be frustrating to people who are busy or there to learn to see something posted that's obvious, or has already been discussed ad nausea in past threads.
I tend to look up to industry leaders and observe how they conduct themselves. The truly successful people don't troll, cuss, or put down other members of whatever medium they're engaging. Remember that what you post on the Internet lasts forever. In that spirit, think of how you want others to perceive you. Spend your energy learning everything you can about how to operate your drone(s) ever-changing airspace regulations and any set of skills that will help your business stand out. Network and always try to help others connect or learn something new.
Don't waste energy engaging with people who purposely try to provoke you. Where you channel the most energy is where you'll flourish.
Whether its from a creative, commercial or humanitarian perspective, tell us about your most memorable drone flight you have piloted thus far.
I'd have to say it was my very first professional remote pilot gig that was the most memorable. I was hired to get both photographs and video clips of the historic Embarcadero buildings in downtown San Francisco. They're roughly 750 feet in height. One mistake I had made, that thankfully didn't cost me, was not setting my Return to Home altitude high enough. Thankfully, my Visual Observer thought fast when I lost signal between buildings and set it so I didn't crash. I also had to yield right of way several times to helicopters. The team I was on had permission to fly the area, but that didn't mean we could slack. We were on high alert at all times.
What would you say to women and girls about the drone industry to spark their interest in getting involved?
We're still in the infancy of this industry and there's still infinite potential to create a profitable business, or make an altruistic impact using drones. I personally enjoy seeing things from an entirely new perspective.
What excites you most about more women joining the drone industry?
I find the women in this industry are not only incredibly talented, they're also thoughtful and supportive. Suffice it to say, I have not had an issue with any woman yet. The Amelia Dronehart Group, started by my friend Rhianna Lakin, is one of my favorite groups. I enjoy networking with and helping fellow women because like any other sector, this one can be tough. The more of us join, the better it is for everyone.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?
I'll be a published author this Fall. "Masters of Drone Photography" is coming out through Ammonite Press and also features some of my favorite female drone photographers, including Petra Leary and Stacy Garlington.
Kara is a Part 107-certified remote pilot and artist residing in Michigan. She consults with top drone industry companies on marketing, writes for publications including DroneLife, and sells aerial prints. Look out for her work online at Aerial Print Shop and at ArtPrize.