Editor’s note: We’ve recently had the pleasure of meeting Women Who Drone Founder Elena Buenrostro. After learning about her work in the aerial photography space, we just had to share her story.
If you met Elena Buenrostro on the street, you would never expect her to be a pioneer in the drone space.
You’d see her wedged shoes, her carefully-styled hair, her bright red lipstick. Well-dressed, exuberant, and charming, she’ll pull out her MAC lipstick out of her purse one minute and her Mavic Air the next.
But she’s not just breaking expectations. She’s resetting them.
Elena Buenrostro noticed a significant gender gap in the aerial photography community. While dozens of women were reaching out to her to learn about drones, she consistently found herself to be the only woman in the room at every drone-related event or meet up. A bit of research confirmed her suspicions: only 1% of drone pilots in the world are women.
Here’s how she set out to change that.
Listening to Women in the Space
Elena considers herself “a one-woman show.” She can act, she can operate a camera, she can edit, she can do anything related to content creation. So when she decided to make a video of her trip to the Great Wall of China, she was prepared to teach herself everything there is to know about operating and filming with a drone.
Still from Elena’s The Great Wall of China Video
After posting her video, her page was getting attention, but not from potential clients. Elena was getting direct messages from other female photographers and filmmakers, asking her questions about drones and how to get started with them.
At first, she just gave friendly tips and suggestions. Before long, however, it only seemed natural to meet up with women in the space, put a controller in their hands, and show them how to fly a camera. Within a few weeks she launched an Airbnb Drone Experience, and within a few months, she started Women Who Drone and launched a Intro to Drone Photography workshops in Brooklyn, New York.
Elena was able to tap into a demographic that had been ignored by most drone companies. Big brands like DJI and Freefly took off just a few years ago, and they started by marketing to customers that looked like themselves: gearhead guys who liked to tinker with technology. Even two years later, you’ll have a hard time finding a single ad on the DJI website with a woman in it.
But influencers like Elena are just as effective in their grassroots approach. She’s connecting with individual women, and equipping them to spread the news through word-of-mouth.
Building An Aerial Photography Community through Curation
As Elena spoke to more women around the world, she saw the impact that her work had on fellow filmmakers and photographers. They were impressed by what Elena could pull off on her own and the new heights she was taking her work.
But as her fellow creatives gained experience, their stories became just as valuable to the community. So Elena amplified her message by using Instagram as a platform for her students and peers. Her curated channel features gorgeous aerial shots taken by women around the world.
Photographers who are new to drones can have their work featured, and they can connect with other women in the space.
Getting in front of people, especially in a space like aerial photography and filmmaking, is one of the most challenging aspects of the job. Portfolio websites take years to build up, forums aren’t conducive to sharing work, and social media requires the consistent upkeep most don’t have the time to keep up.
Building upon the hundreds of individual relationship she personally set up, Elena built a community through Instagram. She was able to leverage her own reputation to boost the reputation of those in her network. Her hashtag on Instagram, #womenwhodrone, has been shared over 5,000 times.
Fighting Misconceptions with Storytelling
There are a number of misconceptions about drones that make aerial photography less accessible, not just to particular demographics, but to the general population:
- Drones are extremely technically complicated. This was the case 3 years ago, when drones were being built in garages. Today’s off-the-shelf drones are designed to be easy to maneuver.
- Drones are easy to crash. People tend to think that drones are like remote-control helicopters. You need to have very steady hands to keep the thing still and to keep it from being blown away by the wind. But drones like the Mavic Air do most of the stabilization work for you. As Elena says, “If you’re scared you’re gonna crash, just put the controller down.” The drone will hover in place.
- Good drones are too expensive. No you can’t fly your Alexa Mini for less than 10 grand– but the lower end camera-equipped drones are becoming more affordable. The Mavic Air is available for approximately the same price as a decent camera.
Elena is out to tell the world that pretty much none of the above is true– anyone who can operate a smartphone can fly a drone without crashing it. The hardest part of drone piloting is multitasking: keeping an eye on the picture as you’re maneuvering the device through 3 dimensional space.
These misconceptions can be attributed to all of the early press that drones received– stories of crashes, reconnaissance, and military-grade builds. But Elena is using her personal story as a way to spread the news about what drones are capable of now. Her story has been told in The Washington Post, UAV Coach, 818 Agency, and, of course, right here 😉
Fuel for Aerial Photographers
“Eventually having a drone will be like having a lens,” says Elena. “As soon as I saw a drone, I realized how important it was for the rest of my career.” Elena caught on to the best-kept secret in filmmaking, so she started a community to get more types of people caught up with the new technology.
Elena isn’t just building a company– she’s helping make drones more accessible, putting the tool into more creative hands. And as people like Elena help democratize camera flight, we can expect to see considerably more experimentation and innovation in the drone cinematography space.