Using drone and aerial imagery – Water Buffs Podcast ep. 6 – Mitch Tobin

Journalist Geoff McGhee talks to Water Desk Director Mitch Tobin about how imagery captured by planes and drones can help explain water issues.

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Aerial imagery captured with planes and drones can help illustrate the lay of the land and explain both natural and manmade water systems. The Water Desk’s open-source multimedia library offers both still imagery and video footage from a bird’s-eye view. In this episode, Water Desk Director Mitch Tobin explains the initiative’s partnership with LightHawk and his own work filming water-related locations with a drone.

NOTE: This episode was recorded before the pandemic forced LightHawk to shift to pilot-only flights, but we are now using mounted GoPros to capture imagery.

Episode highlights

Mitch Tobin, Director of the Water Desk Mitch Tobin, Director of the Water Desk
Mitch is a licensed drone pilot with extensive experience taking aerial stills and video. He talks about the journalistic uses of aerials and the Water Desk’s resources for reporters.
Related links:

Starts at 1:31
How are aerials useful for water journalism?   (2:15)
Partnership with for aerial video Partnership with for aerial video
The Water Desk partners with Lighthawk to get journalists up in the air to gain a different perspective and integrate aerial reporting and images into their work.

Starts at 3:37
Aerial shoots: know before you go   (8:43)
Water Words: ”Headwaters” Water Words: ”Headwaters”
The term “headwaters” refers to the area where a stream or river begins.
Starts at 12:18
Be aware of no-fly zones   (13:25)
Dealing with motion sickness on the plane   (13:36)
How the Water Desk uses drone footage How the Water Desk uses drone footage  
Browse the Water Desk’s drone and aerial footage, collected in an interactive map.

Starts at 14:44
Commercial drone use requires certification   (20:55)
How to use drone imagery in stories   (22:42)
Value in crisis journalism – but mind the risks   (25:28)
Controlling a drone Controlling a drone   (28:36)
Avoiding #dronefails   (30:12)
Drones-eye-view with VR controller   (32:01)
Differences between aerial and drone footage   (36:52)
Using automated features to pilot safely   (39:20)
How journalists can work with Lighthawk and the Water Desk   (40:42)
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Watch or listen wherever you get your podcasts

You’re welcome to watch the video version of Water Buffs here on our website or subscribe to it on our YouTube and Vimeo Channels. If you prefer your podcasts on audio or on a portable device, subscribe using one of the services below or grab the feed url for your own service.

Ways to get the audio version: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Soundcloud | Stitcher | Podcast RSS Feed


Share your thoughts – and consider joining us

If you’re interested in appearing on the show, please contact Water Desk Director Mitch Tobin at If you’d like to share your comments and questions, you can reach us at, or on Twitter and Facebook.

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