Who ever thought photographers would be able to hover 20 or 400 feet over their subject, silently and perfectly still, and move about, shooting any angle they want in perfect safety, without renting a jerky, expensive helicopter?

But that’s what has happened with drones — and, for Ashland nature photographer and pilot Mark Lunn, it’s opened up a vast new world of freedom and creativity, allowing him to shoot huge landscapes for Nature Conservancies of the Northwest and many other uses.

Lunn flew one of the cheaper, earlier models (a tree ate it), but with advances in the technology, jumped to the $1,300 DJI Mavic, with the ability to fly 25 minutes, use 14 GPS satellites to locate itself, use a camera on gimbels so it’s always level with the horizon — and warn the pilot when it gets near a tree or other obstacle.

“My business with this machine is to offer my drone service as an aerial photographer,” says Lunn.

The exotic new world of drones — which most people know as weaponized terrors in the Mideast — is rapidly changing. It was only last August that the Federal Aviation Administration allowed non-pilots to fly them. Even so, drone "pilots" still have to take a two-hour written test to get a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) license.

The rules now say you can’t fly at an altitude over 400 feet, nor within 5 miles of an airport, without checking. You're not supposed to fly it out your sight, either. The FAA also says you can’t use your drone and charge for it, unless you are a real pilot, so Lunn is able to assist other photographers or shoot just about anything and make money.

One can imagine its uses in agriculture, outdoor recreation, search-rescue, journalism, surveying, construction and many other fields, he says.

“It’s a whole new view of the world. You get to see what birds see. Up on a hiking trail, you can see how near you are to a road. It’s incredible.”

The hand-held control panel has two joysticks, enabling up-down, left-right and presents a considerable learning curve, says Lunn.

“It’s like a car, fun, awesome, but things can go wrong. It could be dangerous.” He points to a turkey vulture, circling. “They are aware of it in their world. You have to be careful.”

The drone has many uses, most of them not yet discovered, he says, adding, “It will be interesting to see how society adapts to it … People are more and more interested in privacy, but they should realize that at altitudes the drone flies, they are just specks.”

The drone has amazing capabilities and is able to adjust itself and fly level in a 20 mph wind, let you know about obstacles, as well as find its way back to you on command, he says.

Flying from the Lithia Park bandshell area, Lunn popped the four-bladed creature up to the 400-foot limit and, looking at the screen (which can take pics or video), said, “There’s the Lithia Springs Hotel.”

Lunn’s aerial video is viewable on lunnimaging.com — including his viral shots of Lithia Park fall colors, which has attracted a stunning 35,000 views and 700 shares.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.