Capturing Breathtaking Views from Above
Anyone who has been around Drew Dau knows he lives with passion. He puts full effort into every task and pushes himself towards increased excellence in whatever he does. For many in the community, they observed this fervor when he played basketball at Spirit Lake High School and later for the Morningside College Mustangs.
Now, this same passion for excellence is found integrated within every photo and video created by Drew Dau: Photo and Film. His creative imagination and hard work has taken a hobby and morphed an artistic passion into a business he shares with the world.
“I have always been interested in creating! Even at a young age, it was a passion of mine,” Drew said.
For as long as he can remember, Drew has been fascinated with art. He would soak up knowledge during his art classes, and every semester he would enroll in a pottery class with his high school art teacher Brad Travis. In high school and college, he would also create short travel videos with a digital camera given to him by his parents.
“I enjoyed making a fun little travel video when we visited California, and every year, I would create a little video for the Kayak Club,” he shared. “It peaked my interest to make the short, fun lifestyle videos.”
At first, Drew shot his videos with his iPhone. Then the process morphed into utilizing a DSLR Panasonic GH5 camera.
From a Hobby to a Career
Besides playing basketball at Morningside College, Drew excelled in the classroom, majoring in business and business administration with a concentration in business management, as well as a minor in graphic design.
“Both areas were very beneficial to me. I’ve always had a creative brain so I wanted to keep an artistic flair in my life, while the business classes were extremely helpful in helping me understand how to run a business. The combination has allowed me to become my own ‘one-man band’!”
However, after graduating from college, Drew wasn’t certain which direction to venture. He took a job in insurance and sales, but at the same time wanted to continue to pursue his creative side. This is when the digital camera morphed into purchasing a drone.
“As a hobbyist, I wanted to try something new. I knew I couldn’t play college basketball forever and I’m not good at golf, so learning to fly a drone was a new hobby for me,” Drew said. “Throughout my life, I’ve also realized I had an eye for capturing new things – often details people hadn’t seen or recognized before.”
People began to notice Drew’s eye towards detail and his ability to capture breathtaking moments. As he grew accustomed to the workings of a drone, friends began asking him to photograph or video their events.
“I realized this new passion of mine was something I was pretty talented at and I absolutely loved flying the drone,” he shared. “I still can’t fathom people will pay me money to fly a drone. I also love how every single time is different, and I don’t know what I’m going to see or discover until I get the camera up in the air. I love sharing these special moments with people and I’m going to keep excelling and pushing forward.”
In January 2020, Drew officially received his LLC and went on his own with Drew Dau: Photo and Films. He has an office in Des Moines at Caliber Realty. He is also available for any event or project throughout the state, lately specializing in real estate virtual tours and commercial videos. He isn’t limited to any event, unless it becomes hampered by weather, and has also captured acreage shots, countless weddings, a funeral, and even a yoga class.
Besides selling prints, Drew has also recently launched his flagship hat which features his drone shot of 2019’s Miller’s Bay Lake Effect. He teamed up with Thrive Clothing Co to create a quality product and is selling the start of his brand on his website drewdau.com and at Animal House located in the Central Emporium in Arnold’s Park.
The Art of the Drone
The beauty of a drone is how the lens generally looks down at the ground. Drew said drone video and photography often creates unexpected views and can be hard to plan for in advance.
“There are times when I’m droning and think I have a great shot and it’s not, and other times when I have no expectations and I get a ‘wow’ and I capture something I’ve never seen before. You really don’t know what to expect until you get up there and can view the angles and vantage point,” Drew explained.
He went on to say his biggest mentor has been Tom Gustafson, another Iowa Great Lakes drone enthusiast and expert. “He is someone I can ask any type of question,” he shared. “Tom shares a similar passion as mine and it’s always refreshing to get his point of view and pick his brain for ideas.”
The two men have teamed up to create a book of drone pictures of the community of Des Moines.
“It’s called ‘Above Des Moines,’ and I’m excited to be featured in his new book,” Drew said.
The Final Product
When taking drone pictures, the camera captures high quality raw images that Drew then takes into Adobe Lightroom. He prefers to edit the pictures on his phone, as most views take place on a mobile device. If he finds the exposure is on point, then he doesn’t change the light balance and just adds a few tweaks.
“Every photo is a little unique, and depending on outside variables, I generally just add a few base presets that work for me to make sure colors mesh,” he explained.
Drew edits video on his laptop and prefers using Adobe Premier Pro and After Effects. He said it usually takes approximately 20 hours to edit and put together a final product for a client.
Shooting video or pictures with a drone is slightly different than using a camera, especially in regards to the sun. When using a regular camera, the best time for photography is at sunrise or sunset. Drew said the opportune time for drone usage, especially when taking straight down shots is during the middle of the day.
“A straight down shot requires more light so the middle of the day creates the best lighting,” he explained. “When I took some drone pictures of my girlfriend laying on the paddleboard, I took the drone up early afternoon. The lighting is ideal for this angle.”
The angle of the camera, as well as how Drew controls the camera is something he continues to push towards excellence. When photographing a specific spot, he will take around 50 pictures at different angles. “You never know what the money shot will be, so I try to grab as many different pictures as I can at a variety of angles. Then I bring the drone down and take a look at what the camera captured,” he said.
Before going up, another major variable to understand is the wind speed. Wind gusts over 15 mph can take down a drone and make flying hazardous. When he has a scheduled shot outdoors, Drew always hopes for a decently calm day and nice weather.
He is also aware of the Air Map and available air spaces. “This is a map drone users need to be aware of, as there can be a lot of aircraft using the same space,” he explained. “When you’re knowledgeable of this, it makes it safer for everyone.”
Drew has his Part 107 Commercial Drone Pilot License, which is necessary for any commercial drone usage.
At the same time, Drew’s favorite type of event to capture is weddings.
“I absolutely love weddings! This is an amazing work environment and the best days of life. You get to see the joy on everyone’s face, capture it and then put it into a final product for them to enjoy later,” Drew said. “Weddings are super gratifying and I genuinely enjoy them!”
At times, Drew has also partnered with his sister Emma of Emma Dau Visuals, also a talented photographer. The two of them have completed a number of projects together, but they have especially enjoyed working with First Presbyterian Church in Spirit Lake.
“We helped Pastor Clint and Pastor Michael create a virtual service every week, as well as online podcasts,” Drew said. “I really enjoyed helping them, while also being able to use our skills to connect everyone to worship. It has been super fulfilling.”
Looking back, Drew never imagined his current adventure, but he always knew he wanted to enjoy life and live to the fullest. “I’m so thankful I can do something I love while also inspiring others, rather than just chase a paycheck,” he shared. “I’m really at peace at where I’m at right now and excited for what the future holds.”
To view the latest creative endeavors of Drew Dau: Photo and Film, visit his website at drewdau.com, as well as his Facebook and Instagram pages.