Arts & Leisure

Kenna uses a drone to capture Vermont’s tranquility

CALEB KENNA STANDS in his Middlebury home with a photo he made of three blooming crab apple trees in a Shoreham orchard. He captured the image using a drone equipped with a camera, which he uses daily to observe and meditate on the Vermont landscape.

MIDDLEBURY — Caleb Kenna has been a professional photographer for 25 years, and like most good photo artists he makes many great images of events, landscapes and people. His work has long been praised for its quality and insights. But he has taken his craft to a new level…literally.
Kenna has taken to the skies with a drone-mounted camera, with which he makes some stunning shots of Addison County. In “Behold Vermont, from Above,” a feature article published in the New York Times last month, Kenna writes that he had taken photos from airplanes, but using a drone opened up new creative opportunities. The Times article, like exhibits Kenna has had at Edgewater Gallery and elsewhere, shows images he captured of tranquil waters, greenery unmatched and forests decked in gold — all from the bird’s eye view. 
Kenna has a photojournalism background (he worked for the Addison Independent in the late 1990s) and in art photography; he has been freelancing for two decades. The Middlebury resident makes his living from commissioned work and has been given assignments by the Times, Boston Globe, Outside Magazine, Travel+Leisure, Lonely Planet travel book publisher, and Vermont Life magazine. 
Almost a decade ago, Kenna co-created The Golden Cage, a multimedia project, with the Vermont Folklife Center. The traveling exhibit worked to portray the lives of Mexican migrant workers and dairy farmers in Vermont, presenting the faces and voices to provide a more human perspective on issues that are often politicized and overshadowed by law and public policy. Kenna’s photos of migrant workers on the job and at home where paired with audio and text excerpts from interviews conducted by Chris Urban, a former Vermont Migrant Education Program tutor. 
Since then Kenna has been working on a number of projects, and one has drawn a lot of interest is his work with drone photography. “Before purchasing my drone three years ago, I would rent an airplane to get aerial footage,” he said. Kenna is a F.A.A.-certified drone pilot, and he flies a DJI Mavic Pro 2. 
“The drone gives the viewer a different perspective of the world and allows us to look at the landscape in ways we have never seen,” he said.
Although his subjects are often in the Champlain Valley, Kenna uses Instagram to connect with an audience around the world, sharing daily sketches of what he is working on and what is motivating him. He said his piece in the Times “has had a very positive response.” “Behold, Vermont, from Above” showcased Kenna’s talent behind the lens, but it also reflected his ability behind the keyboard; he wrote the article that ran alongside his photos. 
As he wrote in the Times, the drone photos have helped in his ongoing process of finding creative inspiration. “More than anything, though, making drone photographs has become a daily practice for me — one that often feels like a form of visual meditation,” he wrote.
Kenna often revisits locations to capture perspectives from different seasons. He said that he will often return to the same spot up to four times a year. One of his favorite locations to visit is a barn in the southwestern Vermont town of Rupert. “The color and tranquility are what always draw me back there,” he said.
Although it might seem that chance would play a bigger role in the subjects he photographs from above, Kenna brings his practiced eye and instincts to his work. “My editing is minimal,” he said. “I like to crop an image on set for best quality, my drone allows me to crop and focus on certain aspects of the land easily by flying it higher or rotating the camera on a gimbal.” 
“I make it my practice,” said Kenna, “to go out at sunrise or sunset to get daily shots of Vermont’s natural landscape. Six a.m. is prime time for this season because of the way that natural light streams across the landscape.” 

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