Lonely Planet Writer

Australian pilots share spectacular views from above with drone photography project

Airline pilots get used to having a bird’s-eye view of the earth – but two Australian pilots are so enamoured by the view from above they’ve started a drone photography project that shares their unique perspective.

Tamarama Beach, Australia.
Tamarama Beach, Australia. Image by The Vertical Project

Aaron Philips and Tom Faunt are both commercial pilots – Aaron with Virgin Australia and Tom with Qantas. Together they’ve launched The Vertical Project, and when they’re not flying around the world, they document their on-the-ground travels from above, using drones. The pair “share our unique perspective of the earth through photography and videography” on Facebook and Instagram, and have plans to sell their prints, in addition to using drones to record events.

Los Angeles, California.
Los Angeles, California. Image by The Vertical Project

Aaron, who is from Bondi Beach, grew up with a pilot father and grandfather, inspiring a love of aviation and travel. “Growing up by the beach has given me a love for nature and the ocean, which comes through in my photography. Flying and travel have always been a huge part of my life, so being able to combine all of my passions with a drone has been great fun,” Aaron told Lonely Planet.

Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand.
Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand. Image by The Vertical Project

Tom is from Adelaide, South Australia, and grew up watching planes fly up and down the coast. He later became a pilot, and flew a small plane for a radio station doing traffic patrol and beach patrol. He notes that at that time, if photographers wanted to take aerial footage, they had to do it in a plane, so they would squeeze in aerial photography flights between other jobs, which laid a foundation of his love for drone photography. He later ended up working as a commercial pilot for Qantas, where he was not only able to travel, but also take in some amazing views.

William Bay, Australia.
William Bay, Australia. Image by The Vertical Project

“I quickly realised that you can’t use words to adequately describe the mountains of Afghanistan, the coral atolls of the Pacific, Antarctica’s ice on the way to Johannesburg and Buenos Aires, the lights of London on a clear night… The view out of the window never gets boring,” said Tom.

South Island, New Zealand.
South Island, New Zealand. Image by The Vertical Project

Both of the pilots have long been interested in photography. Aaron notes that he enjoyed photography since he was a teen and, as soon as drone technology became available, he knew it was something he wanted to try. “It’s combining all of my favourite things, and what a cool concept to be able to share images with people so that they can see the beauty of the world, the way that we see it daily as pilots”.

Exuma Wharf.
Exuma Wharf. Image by The Vertical Project

The two men say that the views they can capture from a drone at 400 feet – the maximum height the devices can reach – are the same as what they can see from a plane at that level. However, in a plane that moment comes close to take-off or landing, so the drone view actually gives them a chance “to really savour the moment and take everything in”.

Bronte Beach, Australia.
Bronte Beach, Australia. Image by The Vertical Project

When it comes to the future, Aaron and Tom say they will soon be getting quite busy. In addition to their full-time pilot jobs, the photographers have plans to visit Indonesia and Fiji over the next few months, with plans for trips to Europe and the Middle East next year.