These beautiful photos show why we love drones

A jury of National Geographic staffers this week chose the winners of a Dronestagram photo contest. They included stunning snaps like this one of a Mexican waterfall, which took the prize for “most liked”:
Mexico Waterfall
The contest, which attracted more than 2,000 entries from around the world, shows how “drones” are about much more than spying and warfare. In the hands of photographers, they offer a beautiful new way to discover the world around us. Here is how my colleague Signe Brewster captured a sunset over San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood:
North beach drone photo
This new breed of consumers drones, which can weigh less than five pounds, are not just for taking pretty photos. They are also very useful in a range of industries, from search-and-rescue to news gathering to films to farming.
But who should be able to use the drones? I have very mixed feelings about this photograph, which won 1st Prize in the Dronestagram contest:
Eagle and drone
The photo, taken in a national park in Indonesia, is certainly original and lovely — but one wonders if the photographer was in the right to bother the bird in this fashion. Such concerns are what led the U.S. National Park service to ban drones outright last month — and North Carolina to stop their use in hunting and fishing.
But while it’s clear that some rules are needed to avoid the skies turning into a free-for-all, we now risk the other extreme. In the U.S., the FAA has dragged its feet in making rules and is now lashing out with heavy-handed (and likely illegal) restrictions that will limit not just the perils of the drones — but their potential promise too.
The best thing to do is for governments in the U.S. and elsewhere is to hurry up with a permitting-style system to ensure that people use drones responsibly, and so we don’t miss out on future elegant photos like this of Sanary Sur Mer in France:
France drone photo
Featured photo courtesy Flickr user XRay4000