An aerial view of a tornado’s destruction: an Inquirer photo editor explains how he made the image

Every Monday, we present a gallery of recent pictures taken by our staff photojournalists — and tell you the story behind one of them. This week Frank Wiese, The Inquirer’s deputy director of photography and video, talks about using a drone to show the scope of a Delaware County tornado’s destruction.

Storm damaged homes at Chelsea Court, in Glen Mills, Pa. Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Twenty people were displaced from their homes in the middle of the night Friday after an EF-2 tornado ripped through Thornbury Township in Delaware County.
Frank Wiese
Storm damaged homes at Chelsea Court, in Glen Mills, Pa. Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Twenty people were displaced from their homes in the middle of the night Friday after an EF-2 tornado ripped through Thornbury Township in Delaware County.

After an EF-2 tornado hit Delaware County on Thursday night, Inquirer staff photographer Jessica Griffin captured powerful photographs of residents sifting through their damaged homes. But from the ground, she couldn’t show the full scope of the destruction.

That’s where Frank Wiese, The Inquirer’s deputy director of photography and video, came in. Wiese, who has a remote pilot certificate, brought his DJI Mavic 2 drone Friday morning to Chelsea Court in Thornbury Township, which apparently took the brunt of the tornado’s winds.

“A drone allows for very unique angles that you can’t get from the ground: the ability to show sense of scale very well,” Wiese said.

The drone wirelessly relays the view from its movable camera in real time to a smartphone. In deciding how to compose the photo, Wiese angled the lens in a way that would show both the affected houses and the surrounding subdivision.

“In this case, there was somewhat of a path of this tornado going through this neighborhood,” he explained.

While the weather was clear and sunny, gusting winds posed a bit of a challenge. But because the street was in a wide-open area, it didn’t prevent him from flying. Wiese made sure there were no potential obstacles around, such as TV news helicopters, and checked in with an emergency management official at the scene to make sure he wouldn’t be interfering with their operations. During about 25 minutes of flying, he also recorded several video clips from above the damaged homes.

When covering catastrophes, drone images can’t replace pictures of the people who are affected — the pictures that show a situation’s humanity, Wiese said. But aerial photos are an important supplement to news coverage.

“If something big is happening, you can show this better from the air,” he said.

>>SEE MORE: Last week’s staff photo gallery and the staff photography page

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