A Bird’s Eye View of Thessaloniki

Meet the photographer who is rediscovering his home city from above thanks to his innovative drone photography.

Photographer Sakis Gioumpasis takes shots from the air with his feet on the ground, discovering and composing panoramas around his native city of Thessaloniki “through the perspective that only a bird can have.” In his case, his wings are a drone.

It all started with a tiny drone, barely able to lift the weight of the GoPro camera attached to it, which took flight over the summer skies of Berlin last year. Seduced by the height and with 11 years’ experience in the field of architectural and portrait photography, Gioumpasis embarked on the new path of aerial photography and taking specialized professional shots from above. “The drone is the only way to try vertical shots. While we can all see houses and streets in miniature from an airplane, only with a drone can you take pictures and spot details.”

At the press of a button, his DJI Phantom 3 drone rises in the sky. About 100 meters from the ground, with Gioumpasis at the controls, roads form stars, unsightly buildings make arrows, shadows grow and parked cars resemble a child’s toys. “The distance hides imperfections,” he says.

“Thessaloniki has a hidden symmetry. You find it where you least expect it, in neighborhoods and streets that you walk every day, but from 100 meters high, it changes form.” The flying lens has traveled to Cyprus, Germany and across Greece: Santorini, Mykonos, Veria, Edessa, Alexandroupoli and Epirus are some of the islands, cities and regions it has captured. It has also hovered above Thessaloniki, the photographer’s hometown, which he is now rediscovering.

When he started working with drones, he would wait anxiously to land the device and see what he captured. Now after months of practice and with advanced model in his hands, he’s grown more professional and patient.

“I can view a live feed on my tablet. I have the freedom to experiment with camera angles, height and I can rearrange the ‘objects’ in my frame in such a way as to create a good image. The model I have chosen has great stability, flight autonomy, an integrated camera with a distortion-free lens that can capture good quality images”

“Do drones that fly between houses threaten the privacy of residents?” I ask him. “A long-range lens is more likely to have that result. A drone is not a threat,” he replies. He never published the first shots he took in Berlin. “In Germany, in order to post pictures from a drone you have to have permission from the civil aviation authority for flight on a specific day and at a certain point. In Greece, there are some limitations that prevent the operator from flying near ports, airports and military installations.”

Lately, he has begun to shoot video. “I started to create a scenario each time before takeoff. The video of Zagoria (a mountainous region in Epirus) was made on my summer holidays last August. It is a favorite destination because of the nature and architecture of the landscape.”

When a flight begins, the first thing he checks is the safety of the public and then of his equipment. “I never fly when it’s very windy, never near power lines or over large gatherings. I prefer the morning or evening hours.” He knows that if there are dogs in the neighborhood, they will disturb everyone with their barking. “They go nuts and bark like crazy because they think that a huge fly is flying above them,” he says.

Drones also serve other uses apart from photography, as he discovered by complete chance during his travels through the Greek countryside. “It’s a great herdsman. Once it takes off, the cows are spooked and they all head to the barn immediately.”

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