BLOG

Eye On Skynamite

By Simon Knight 08 May, 2017

   So, last week was an interesting and new experience for me. I spent Monday to Thursday working for Aden Productions. They are a production company that specialises in natural history film-making and are currently working on a series called Iolo’s Snowdonia . It will be a 4-part series with Iolo Williams presenting a program about what I discovered to be a truly stunning place – Snowdonia.

   The trip for me started on Monday when I drove to Chepstow to pick up Graham, the camera man. We then drove on to Brecon, where we met Osian, who took us on to Llanbedr, Gwynedd. Here we would meet John the producer and spend the next two nights at Ty Mawr Hotel. It is a lovely hotel, set in a beautiful location.

    Tuesday morning would see us meet up with Dafydd the sound man and Iolo at Coed Crafnant Nature Reserve. The reserve is an ancient oak woodland owned by North Wales Wildlife Trust and probably one of the most relaxing and peaceful places I have been to. The only sounds you hear are the river that runs below the wood and bird song. It’s therapy for the soul. After we had got the aerial shots and the rest of the crew went higher up in the wood to film Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers, Iolo suggested that I have a sleep whilst they were filming. So I put my coat on the ground, laid down and slept under the canopy of the wood! Falling asleep to bird song is something special.

   Next up was to film some sequences by the river below the wood. Graham filmed Wagtails and a young Robin, whist the drone was used to get some shots of Iolo walking over a bridge and out towards the wood. Then it was off to scout out some other locations and then back to the hotel for a lovely meal in the hotel's pub.

    Wednesday saw Iolo out in the morning for what turned out to be a very nauseating helicopter flight where he was filmed (from the helicopter) walking on the peaks of some of Snowdonia’s mountains. He informed us in the afternoon that the helicopter couldn’t land at some of the locations as it was just too windy. At times, it was windy enough down on the ground, so I’m certainly glad I wasn’t up in the helicopter! Myself and John (John operating the camera) got some shots of Cwm Idwal with the drone before we relocated to another site to film nesting Ravens. Then in the evening it was out for curry in Caernarfon!

    On Thursday, with the help of a guide, we were due to venture up the Glyderau. But the wind was forecast to be blowing at over 40mph, so that plan was abandoned. We filmed some sequences of Iolo meeting Hannah at Cwm Idwal from the drone and from the ground. Hannah is a guide for the area and would have been advising Iolo of what to expect on the mountain tops had we ventured up them. So instead of mountain climbing, the crew had a much easier rest of the day filming a nesting Mistle Thrush and a beautiful river that flowed from a waterfall in the side of a mountain. It was yet another incredibly stunning location – we were down in a valley surrounded by towering mountains. Gorse was flowering adding splashes of yellow to the pallet of green and slate grey. As I sat on the rocks in the river at the base of the waterfall, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. Sadly, I didn’t get to fly the drone at this location, the wind was just too gusty. This was a shame as I know that the shots from the drone would have been breathtaking. In the afternoon myself, Graham and Osian left Iolo, John and Dafydd filming some presenter pieces and that was my little adventure over. All that remained was the journey back home, which when you are driving through Snowdonia and then the Brecon Beacons, is certainly no hardship!

    The whole experience for me was one I will never forget. It was a pleasure to meet and work with people that are so passionate about wildlife and the environment. These are people that in my mind, really make a difference. They produce material that shows us the wonderful variety of species and environments that we have right on our doorstep and how important these species and environments are. I believe that these natural history documentaries that get made by people that genuinely care about what they do are the most important forms of media there are. When many people can’t draw themselves away from their social media feeds, we need these programs to inspire the next generation of people that will care for the planet.

    I suppose really, I should talk about the drone! To be honest, the drone was simply a tool for the job and I know it sounds daft, but when you are working in such a beautiful location, the drone seems almost irrelevant! All I will say for now is that I was flying DJI’s Inspire 2 and it was very, very good. I didn't want to hand it back to them! I am due to be working with Aden productions again on this very same project, so I will go into detail more about the drone after the next trip to Wales.

    This week I am trying to squeeze in visits to the cement works to capture some of its wildlife for the book I’m working on – Westbury Cement Works: An Illustrated History. These visits must be fitted around flight exams that I’m doing (as an examiner) at Phoenix UAV Centre, on behalf of the Aerial Academy. It’s going to be a busy week!

 

 


By Simon Knight 22 Nov, 2016

Westbury Cement Works

Last week saw me spending more time back in Westbury cement works. The last kiln has now been demolished and I spent three days, on and off, filming the process. Weather and the unpredictability of knowing when each section would fall meant that this was all filmed and photographed from the ground. I got some pretty good video and stills, despite the poor weather and lack of light most of the time.

The site is looking pretty bare now, with only around four buildings left to be demolished. I often stand looking at where the chimney used to be, trying to picture it towering above, and in a strange way I miss it not being there!

 

Published!

I was excited to receive my copy of Drone Magazine this month as Skynamite features in it! I’d written a four-page article with pictures about our time spent covering – surprise, surprise – the demolition of Westbury cement works. The article looks great and the pictures look even better! I’m very pleased with the feature and have to say thanks to Ian Collen for running with it.

 

Calendars

Our 2017 calendar sales have been going nicely. I always knew it would be a bit of a gamble producing a calendar that featured the cement works, as it obviously has a limited appeal. But I have enjoyed my time spent covering the cement works and I am quite proud of the work we have done there to date. So I thought that a calendar would show this well and I knew it would be nice for the people who have, in one way or another, a connection to the place. Check it out in the store!

 

Stolen Image

I was surprised and shocked to learn last week that one of my aerial images has been used without my permission! I obviously wont go into detail here about it, but this experience proves that you do have to be careful with any images that you put online or send via email.

 

Keeping Up With Drone Tech

The week also saw some big new announcements from DJI – the amazing Inspire 2 and, in my opinion, the even more amazing Phantom 4 Pro. The latest incarnation of the Phantom packs a serious punch. Anyone familiar with the Phantom will know how small and portable it is, and now it packs in 360-degree collision avoidance, a one-inch sensor, 20MP camera and what every DJII owner has been waiting for for the past couple of years – the ability to record 4K video at 100Mbps! This little drone is now incredible value for money.

The Inspire 2 is obviously a far more serious drone with a very impressive spec now - Increased flight time, dual battery redundancy, dual IMU’s, collision avoidance, smart return home, capable of 67mph (handy if you’re filming cars and other fast moving subjects) and a very impressive camera spec.

However, part of me is still more impressed with DJI’s little Mavic. OK, the camera on it isn’t as good as on what I’ve mentioned above and it won’t be able to handle wind like the Inspire; but it is VERY portable. I think the Mavic will do for drones what the smart phone did for photography. It’s so small that you can have it with you pretty much all of the time, so playing by the rules of course, you will always be able to get that aerial shot, wherever you are. I’m excited to get my hands on one, that is when they’re available…

 

Tomorrow…

As I sit and write this with a dull gray sky emptying its rain onto the window, I’m wondering – will it stop so that I can fly this week? We need to get back to the cement works. We have some indoor flying to do there and also need to get some shots from 400ft of how the place is looking now, minus the two kilns. So I’ll go and check the weather forecast and decide if I need to charge batteries. We have to be extra vigilant when flying there now. Now that the chimney is gone planes and helicopters seem make the most of it and sometimes to fly over the site quite low!

 

 

 

 

 


By Simon Knight 16 Oct, 2016
So the past week has been a little frustrating. It was one of those weeks where I've been rushing around, feeling busy, but really haven't achieved anything!
One day was set aside for the cement works, but that didn't go as planned (not our fault) so we didn't get to film anything. I've been trying to write a feature for a magazine. Didn't get that finished. Just the way it goes I guess! Thursday and Friday mornings were set aside for EuroUSC BNUC-S flight exams. Thursday's exam was great, the candidate gave me an easy time as he was very well prepared and could actually fly his drone with a fair bit of skill, which always makes my life as an examiner easier! The fact that he had trained at Phoenix UAV Centre made all difference! The exam on Friday morning didn't happen as the candidates aircraft had failed with a nasty software issue the day before. But Friday afternoon was lovely. We are working on a project for Iford Manor, near Bath. It's such a beautiful location that I know very well as it's local to me. With owners that are so welcoming and passionate about  the project, it's an absolute pleasure to work there. So I feel very fortunate to be working on a lovely project that is on my doorstep!
Next week will be back in the cement works for (weather permitting) something that could be quite spectacular! I also will be back to Iford Manor and should also have some news on cement works related fine art prints and calendars.

By Simon Knight 21 Aug, 2016
We've had a good week back down on the coast at Durlston. Now that the nesting season is over, we were able to safely fly out over cliffs. During the nesting season there is an exclusion zone set up at the cliffs, but I don't believe in putting wildlife under any sort of stress, and although I believe it would have been safe to fly outside the exclusion zone, I chose to wait until the nesting season had finished. The well-being of wildlife has to come before filming or photographing it.
Each morning that we flew started with a call to the MOD to inform them of our flight plans. Then we lugged the kit down to the coastal path and set up for some gorgeous views looking back at the park from out over the sea. 
We met some lovely people whilst we were working in the area of this picture. We took the time to explain what we were doing and why, and they were very interested in the project. One gentleman gave me some valuable information about the resident Peregrine Falcons, which will come in very handy when we try to film them!
As you can see from the picture, the weather was perfect. We still have plenty to do at Durlston, but I am certainly not going to complain about having to work at this beautiful place!
By Simon Knight 08 Aug, 2016
We are very proud to be in the September edition of Wiltshire Life Magazine! It was great fun writing the feature and getting the images. I have to give special thanks to Claire Waring at the magazine, National Trust, English Heritage and William at the beautiful Iford Manor. 
By Simon Knight 20 Jul, 2016
I have been very fortunate that whilst covering the demolition of the cement works, I have been able to spend some time with some stunning wildlife. The resident Peregrines successfully raised three chicks this year and Tarmac and Cuddy went out of their way to ensure that the birds were not disturbed during the nesting season.
This young male sits on a railing contemplating his first flight.   
By Simon Knight 13 Jul, 2016
We have recently photographed Horsecroft Farm in Westbury, Wiltshire. The owner is selling the farm and wanted to include some aerial images along with the standard ground based shots. Aerial photography adds another new angle and is easy to achieve with a drone. It's perfect for properties that are set in their own land. The aerial shots open up the land and you can really show a property in all of its glorious surroundings. 
By Simon Knight 06 Jul, 2016
So we were back in the cement works this afternoon and we got some pretty spectacular video with the Inspire and also the Phantom 4. And one thing is for sure, we will have plenty of video to sort through when this is all over!
The Inspire behaved perfectly today and the weather was also perfect. After consulting the guys working for Cuddy about how close we could get to their machines, we positioned the Inspire close (but not too close) to the machine in the above picture. It was impressive to see this beast in action and film it at close distance munching metal work as if it were paper!
The icing on the cake today though was watching the young Peregrines flying around and playing on the wing. It's great to see that all three of this years chicks are doing so well. 
Myself an Andy would like to thank all of the guys at Cuddy for their cooperation and we look forward to more action tomorrow.
By Simon Knight 14 Jun, 2016

We are working on a project that is covering the demolition of Westbury cement works. It’s something that, if I am honest, I wasn’t very excited about when we first started it. Especially after we nearly didn’t get permission to operate on and fly over the site. When I first stepped foot on the site, saying I wasn’t inspired by it was an understatement!

All of the buildings are various shades of dust-covered grey. The buildings also show their age – the first kiln became operational in back in 1962. And on an already dull day on our first visit, I found it difficult to find something that I thought would look even half decent. I honestly didn’t think we could make something even remotely interesting.

It has also been a challenge to document the site. We have had to contend with less than favorable weather during many of our visits. We have had minor aircraft issues: magnetic interference, GPS issues; we’ve even had an aircraft incursion when we were at 350ft! OK, it wasn’t that close to our aircraft, but it certainly gets you on your toes, especially when moments before you’ve just had GPS loss! We even had to abandon a flying session through dirt in a motor – it has been eventful to say the least! Andy is convinced we are jinxed every time we step foot on site!

But over the months I have got to meet some of the people that kept the place breathing whilst it was operational, people that have spent decades of their lives working there, and I have got to know the place. I’ve walked around abandoned offices, locker rooms and workshops. Places that to me, looked like they had been abandoned in an emergency, with no one ever to return. Through stories, through old photographs I have been able to get an idea, create a picture of what it would have been like to have worked there and I now really understand why past and present employees are sad to see the site being demolished.

Since we first stepped foot on site on a very cold Saturday in February, I have grown fond of Westbury cement works, and although it has been exciting (for me) to see buildings being pulled down, part of me now feels a sadness when I watch the demolition. For over the past months it has yielded little secrets to me, I’ve had little glimpses into its past life. I was always fond of seeing the 410ft tall chimney breathe its white breath, and now I am a little better informed about the people, the lives and the work that went on to keep that chimney breathing.

There is still life at the site though. In amongst the noise and rumblings of the demolition, life goes on for the employees that remain. And the site still has little secrets and stories to tell…


By Simon Knight 17 May, 2016
Last week BBC Radio Somerset came to Phoenix UAV Centre in Somerset to do a short piece on the rules and regulations around drone operation. We helped them out with a short interview and some flying. It was a good afternoon and great fun! Check out the short video (shot from our drone) that they put on their Facebook page -  https://www.facebook.com/bbcsomerset/videos/1047080922029675/
More Posts

Eye On Skynamite

By Simon Knight 08 May, 2017

   So, last week was an interesting and new experience for me. I spent Monday to Thursday working for Aden Productions. They are a production company that specialises in natural history film-making and are currently working on a series called Iolo’s Snowdonia . It will be a 4-part series with Iolo Williams presenting a program about what I discovered to be a truly stunning place – Snowdonia.

   The trip for me started on Monday when I drove to Chepstow to pick up Graham, the camera man. We then drove on to Brecon, where we met Osian, who took us on to Llanbedr, Gwynedd. Here we would meet John the producer and spend the next two nights at Ty Mawr Hotel. It is a lovely hotel, set in a beautiful location.

    Tuesday morning would see us meet up with Dafydd the sound man and Iolo at Coed Crafnant Nature Reserve. The reserve is an ancient oak woodland owned by North Wales Wildlife Trust and probably one of the most relaxing and peaceful places I have been to. The only sounds you hear are the river that runs below the wood and bird song. It’s therapy for the soul. After we had got the aerial shots and the rest of the crew went higher up in the wood to film Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers, Iolo suggested that I have a sleep whilst they were filming. So I put my coat on the ground, laid down and slept under the canopy of the wood! Falling asleep to bird song is something special.

   Next up was to film some sequences by the river below the wood. Graham filmed Wagtails and a young Robin, whist the drone was used to get some shots of Iolo walking over a bridge and out towards the wood. Then it was off to scout out some other locations and then back to the hotel for a lovely meal in the hotel's pub.

    Wednesday saw Iolo out in the morning for what turned out to be a very nauseating helicopter flight where he was filmed (from the helicopter) walking on the peaks of some of Snowdonia’s mountains. He informed us in the afternoon that the helicopter couldn’t land at some of the locations as it was just too windy. At times, it was windy enough down on the ground, so I’m certainly glad I wasn’t up in the helicopter! Myself and John (John operating the camera) got some shots of Cwm Idwal with the drone before we relocated to another site to film nesting Ravens. Then in the evening it was out for curry in Caernarfon!

    On Thursday, with the help of a guide, we were due to venture up the Glyderau. But the wind was forecast to be blowing at over 40mph, so that plan was abandoned. We filmed some sequences of Iolo meeting Hannah at Cwm Idwal from the drone and from the ground. Hannah is a guide for the area and would have been advising Iolo of what to expect on the mountain tops had we ventured up them. So instead of mountain climbing, the crew had a much easier rest of the day filming a nesting Mistle Thrush and a beautiful river that flowed from a waterfall in the side of a mountain. It was yet another incredibly stunning location – we were down in a valley surrounded by towering mountains. Gorse was flowering adding splashes of yellow to the pallet of green and slate grey. As I sat on the rocks in the river at the base of the waterfall, I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. Sadly, I didn’t get to fly the drone at this location, the wind was just too gusty. This was a shame as I know that the shots from the drone would have been breathtaking. In the afternoon myself, Graham and Osian left Iolo, John and Dafydd filming some presenter pieces and that was my little adventure over. All that remained was the journey back home, which when you are driving through Snowdonia and then the Brecon Beacons, is certainly no hardship!

    The whole experience for me was one I will never forget. It was a pleasure to meet and work with people that are so passionate about wildlife and the environment. These are people that in my mind, really make a difference. They produce material that shows us the wonderful variety of species and environments that we have right on our doorstep and how important these species and environments are. I believe that these natural history documentaries that get made by people that genuinely care about what they do are the most important forms of media there are. When many people can’t draw themselves away from their social media feeds, we need these programs to inspire the next generation of people that will care for the planet.

    I suppose really, I should talk about the drone! To be honest, the drone was simply a tool for the job and I know it sounds daft, but when you are working in such a beautiful location, the drone seems almost irrelevant! All I will say for now is that I was flying DJI’s Inspire 2 and it was very, very good. I didn't want to hand it back to them! I am due to be working with Aden productions again on this very same project, so I will go into detail more about the drone after the next trip to Wales.

    This week I am trying to squeeze in visits to the cement works to capture some of its wildlife for the book I’m working on – Westbury Cement Works: An Illustrated History. These visits must be fitted around flight exams that I’m doing (as an examiner) at Phoenix UAV Centre, on behalf of the Aerial Academy. It’s going to be a busy week!

 

 


By Simon Knight 22 Nov, 2016

Westbury Cement Works

Last week saw me spending more time back in Westbury cement works. The last kiln has now been demolished and I spent three days, on and off, filming the process. Weather and the unpredictability of knowing when each section would fall meant that this was all filmed and photographed from the ground. I got some pretty good video and stills, despite the poor weather and lack of light most of the time.

The site is looking pretty bare now, with only around four buildings left to be demolished. I often stand looking at where the chimney used to be, trying to picture it towering above, and in a strange way I miss it not being there!

 

Published!

I was excited to receive my copy of Drone Magazine this month as Skynamite features in it! I’d written a four-page article with pictures about our time spent covering – surprise, surprise – the demolition of Westbury cement works. The article looks great and the pictures look even better! I’m very pleased with the feature and have to say thanks to Ian Collen for running with it.

 

Calendars

Our 2017 calendar sales have been going nicely. I always knew it would be a bit of a gamble producing a calendar that featured the cement works, as it obviously has a limited appeal. But I have enjoyed my time spent covering the cement works and I am quite proud of the work we have done there to date. So I thought that a calendar would show this well and I knew it would be nice for the people who have, in one way or another, a connection to the place. Check it out in the store!

 

Stolen Image

I was surprised and shocked to learn last week that one of my aerial images has been used without my permission! I obviously wont go into detail here about it, but this experience proves that you do have to be careful with any images that you put online or send via email.

 

Keeping Up With Drone Tech

The week also saw some big new announcements from DJI – the amazing Inspire 2 and, in my opinion, the even more amazing Phantom 4 Pro. The latest incarnation of the Phantom packs a serious punch. Anyone familiar with the Phantom will know how small and portable it is, and now it packs in 360-degree collision avoidance, a one-inch sensor, 20MP camera and what every DJII owner has been waiting for for the past couple of years – the ability to record 4K video at 100Mbps! This little drone is now incredible value for money.

The Inspire 2 is obviously a far more serious drone with a very impressive spec now - Increased flight time, dual battery redundancy, dual IMU’s, collision avoidance, smart return home, capable of 67mph (handy if you’re filming cars and other fast moving subjects) and a very impressive camera spec.

However, part of me is still more impressed with DJI’s little Mavic. OK, the camera on it isn’t as good as on what I’ve mentioned above and it won’t be able to handle wind like the Inspire; but it is VERY portable. I think the Mavic will do for drones what the smart phone did for photography. It’s so small that you can have it with you pretty much all of the time, so playing by the rules of course, you will always be able to get that aerial shot, wherever you are. I’m excited to get my hands on one, that is when they’re available…

 

Tomorrow…

As I sit and write this with a dull gray sky emptying its rain onto the window, I’m wondering – will it stop so that I can fly this week? We need to get back to the cement works. We have some indoor flying to do there and also need to get some shots from 400ft of how the place is looking now, minus the two kilns. So I’ll go and check the weather forecast and decide if I need to charge batteries. We have to be extra vigilant when flying there now. Now that the chimney is gone planes and helicopters seem make the most of it and sometimes to fly over the site quite low!

 

 

 

 

 


By Simon Knight 16 Oct, 2016
So the past week has been a little frustrating. It was one of those weeks where I've been rushing around, feeling busy, but really haven't achieved anything!
One day was set aside for the cement works, but that didn't go as planned (not our fault) so we didn't get to film anything. I've been trying to write a feature for a magazine. Didn't get that finished. Just the way it goes I guess! Thursday and Friday mornings were set aside for EuroUSC BNUC-S flight exams. Thursday's exam was great, the candidate gave me an easy time as he was very well prepared and could actually fly his drone with a fair bit of skill, which always makes my life as an examiner easier! The fact that he had trained at Phoenix UAV Centre made all difference! The exam on Friday morning didn't happen as the candidates aircraft had failed with a nasty software issue the day before. But Friday afternoon was lovely. We are working on a project for Iford Manor, near Bath. It's such a beautiful location that I know very well as it's local to me. With owners that are so welcoming and passionate about  the project, it's an absolute pleasure to work there. So I feel very fortunate to be working on a lovely project that is on my doorstep!
Next week will be back in the cement works for (weather permitting) something that could be quite spectacular! I also will be back to Iford Manor and should also have some news on cement works related fine art prints and calendars.

More Posts
Share by: