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A drone photographer’s view from 300 feet up

A drone photographer’s view from 300 feet up

Jeffrey Baker peers down at the center of Northampton from a view typically reserved for birds and the pilots of propellor planes from the nearby airport.

Three hundred feet below, walkers scurry across the intersection of Main Street, King Street and Pleasant Street. On the screen of the remote controller Baker uses to steer his drone, downtown Northampton resembles a child’s model play set.

“It’s a totally new perspective on the world,” Baker, of Leeds, says.

His drone photography began, as so many hobbies did, early in the pandemic. But in the three years since, as Baker has honed his skills steering the foot-wide drone through the skies of Western Massachusetts, he has begun to share his pastime with the world.

Jeffrey Baker, of Northampton, pictured with his DJI Mavic 2 drone, which he uses to capture images of his city from above. (Will Katcher/MassLive).

Baker frequently posts his stunning aerial shots of Northampton, Florence, Leeds and other nearby Pioneer Valley towns on Twitter or in community Facebook groups.

Even on the longest days of the year, Baker may be awake to capture the sunrise just after 5 a.m. As dawn breaks, he could be filming a timelapse of fog rolling over the Connecticut River in the morning glow. As afternoon storms sweep across the valley, his drone is in the sky to grab a wide-angle shot with the weather system in the distance.

Jeffrey Baker captures landscapes, sunrises and weather from high above Western Massachusetts using a drone. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

A rainbow appears in a downpour over Western Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

Jeffrey Baker captures landscapes, sunrises and weather from high above Western Massachusetts using a drone. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

Jeffrey Baker captures landscapes, sunrises and weather from high above Western Massachusetts using a drone. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

Smith College in Northampton. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

A storm passes over Springfield and the Connecticut River. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

Springfield and the Basketball Hall of Fame, captured by drone by Jeffrey Baker. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

Jeffrey Baker captures landscapes, sunrises and weather from high above Western Massachusetts using a drone. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Baker)

Among Baker’s admirers is Dave Hayes, often known in this corner of the state as “Dave Hayes the Weather Nut.”

The unofficial weatherman of Western Massachusetts, Hayes pushes out daily forecasts and meteorological analysis to a loyal band of followers numbering some 50,000 strong on Facebook.

Baker’s overhead shots, particularly those showing a storm rumbling over the valley or a particularly scenic composition of clouds and landscape, sometimes earn a boost on social media from Hayes.

“His stuff is just of a really good quality, and he’s got a good eye,” Hayes said. “It’s a very cool look specific to Hampshire County.”

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Baker, a videographer and photographer for Smith College, uses his personal DJI Mavic 2 drone, which he bought early in the pandemic.

He had been furloughed by the college for two months and started playing with this new toy, not unlike the remote control cars and planes he grew up with in California. Just far more advanced.

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“During the pandemic, it was a great outlet,” Baker said. “I really needed that.”

Jeffrey Baker, of Northampton, uses a drone to capture overhead images of his city and other nearby Pioneer Valley spots. (Will Katcher/MassLive).

Eventually, Baker began using the drone to film hyperlapses — timelapses in which the camera moves, presenting a stop motion video with a shifting point of view.

To film a hyperlapse, Baker shoots a photograph every two seconds as the drone cruises through the air. One full battery can usually yield about 500 images — showing a landscape and the people, objects or weather in it shifting over the course of about 15 to 20 minutes.

Sped up, the result is a 20- or 30-second video — just the right length for social media.

On Thursday morning, Baker powered his drone up from a parking lot on Masonic Street in downtown Northampton. The rotors became a blur and the small plastic bird spun into the air, hovering a few feet above the ground before Baker took toward the sky.

Baker said he understands that some people don’t like the sight or hum of a drone, and tries to be considerate of where and when he deploys.

Jeffrey Baker, of Northampton, and his DJI Mavic 2 drone. (Will Katcher/MassLive).

On Wednesday, he visited the University of Massachusetts Amherst Sunwheel, a Stonehenge-esque rock circle at the university where astronomers were giving a presentation on the Summer Solstice. Not wanting to disturb the event, Baker kept to his handheld camera.

Baker would like to expand his drone photography outside of the Northampton area, perhaps working with municipalities to capture their picturesque town squares and city centers from overhead.

“There’s so many beautiful Main Streets in Western Mass.,” Baker said. “I’m sure cities and towns would love it.”

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  • June 25, 2023