Documentary

Interview With Yasmin Tajik Drone Pilot And Documentary Photographer by Katherine Nielsen

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I’m a professional portrait and documentary photographer based in Arizona, USA.  I focus on documenting humanitarian, social causes and photojournalistic endeavors.  I cover topics such as gender equality, women’s and children’s rights, refugees/asylum seekers, and social causes.

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What led you to drone photography?

Two years ago I took a trip to Iceland with a group of female photographer friends and two of them had drones.  Even though I love looking at drone imagery, I didn’t think it would be a tool that I would use.  After that trip with my girlfriends, I knew I not only wanted a drone, but needed one to expand my skill set and be able to provide unique content for my clients.

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What other type of photography do you specialise in?

I am mainly a documentary photographer, so I find stories that aren’t being told or shared in the mainstream, and photograph it in a way to bring the story to light. 

My goal is to constantly open people’s blinders and show stories about our world in an effort to bring us all closer together.

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What inspires your creative vision?

I spend a lot of time looking at what is being produced by other top photographers.  I break down the images, analyze lighting, composition and mood and use that as inspiration for my own images.  I not only want to find what creates an impactful image, but I also want to use my skill set to tell an impactful story.  I want to tell stories in a way that hasn’t been done before so it forces me to look at a subject from different perspectives. 

I was lucky enough to be selected to attend the Missouri Photo Workshop this past year and work under the mentorship of top industry photo editors and photographers from outlets such as National Geographic and Washington Post.  That was an invaluable experience for me to help hone and craft how I use my creative vision to tell a story.

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Can you talk me through your editing process as well as some of your favourite editing apps?

All my images first get imported into Lightroom where I do an initial pass and make my selects.  Then those chosen images go through light editing with contrast, exposure, dodging and burning.  With documentary and photojournalism, that’s about the extent to where I can take the editing of images.  It is very minimal.  

My drone photos also go through the same editing however if it’s a personal project I can take a little more liberty in the editing and may take those images into Photoshop for more detailed processing and fine tuning.

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Are there any places you wish you could photograph from the air?

I really wish I could have brought my drone to Jordan when I was there last spring.  I went to the highest levels to request permission and unfortunately was denied.  

What equipment are you currently flying with and any must have accessories ?

I have a DJI Mavic Pro Platinum.  I’m just coming up on my 1 year of having it, and already have reached a point where I feel the limitations for my needs.  I will most -likely upgrade to the Mavic Pro 2 soon.

Portability and fold-down size are very important to me because I travel so often and want to conserve space and weight.  With the recent Mavic Pro 2 release, it made for an easy decision to not to upgrade to the Phantom simply because the compact size of the Mavic Pro 2 and upgraded camera.  It fit my needs perfectly all around.

I also recently purchased a mini iPad for larger screen space while flying.  That has made a big difference for me and I would not go back to smaller screen.  Of course this was just before DJI announced the new controller with integrated screen.  I still prefer the iPad mini.

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What image are you currently most proud of?

For drone images, I have a lot of fun with self-portraits taken with my drone and I love the images I was able to get in Florida. 

I’d love to get some more marine work into my portfolio as I come from a marine research background, however that’s a little challenging when I live in the desert, 6 hours away from the ocean.  More specifically, I want to use my drone for marine mammal research on body metric measurements and wildlife population counts.

I’m also very proud of the images I most recently made documenting the arrivals and release of asylum seekers into Arizona.  Soon I’ll be able to document some of those arrivals using my drone.  

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What has been your most memorable travel experience?

Uff, that’s a tough one as each place I travel is so unique that they each present their own special experiences.  I guess one that really stands out is a trip to Kenya in 2013.  That was where I turned the corner of making the types of images I really had been striving for.  

Do you have a favourite perspective you like to capture?

I love top-down images.  I feel it gives such a different perspective of our world.  Things that we see each and every day become a whole different visual beast when captured from that perspective. 

That’s one of the reasons I always want a window seat on an airplane; to look out and see the world from that elevated perspective.

Which drone/aerial photographers inspire you right now and why?

I love following along the WomenWhoDrone Instagram account and find new drone photographers from there.  Others I have been gravitating towards are those working in beach and marine environments such as Sandrine Hecq, Abigail Aquino, Domenic Biagini, and Merr Watson.

Do you have any epic drone failures or crash stories ?

Nothing so far, thank Goodness !

Do you have an exciting projects you are currently working on?

I will be obtaining my Part 107 certification next month and I’m really hoping to utilize my drone photography more for documentary and photojournalistic storytelling.  I’ve been working over the past year on stories of the local refugees and asylum seekers in Arizona so capturing images from a new angle is what I am aiming for.

I also want to return to my roots a bit and use my drone for marine mammal research, using my drone for population counts and body metric measurements on the humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii ever winter.  

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Finally do you have any advice for aspiring aerial photographers?

My advice is to learn the basics of photography first, such as exposure, lighting and composition.  Then learn how to operate your drone, and get out there and practice, practice, practice.  It needs to become second nature photographing the images as well as operating the drone.  The goal is to be able to focus on finding the right image within your environment, and capturing it in a way that is unique and impactful.