Featured NewsTrending NewsPilots StoriesPilot's Story: Jonathan Mcknight


05 June 2024

By Jonathan Mcknight

I was born and raised in Miami, Florida. I’ve been working in the IT field for over 15 years and I love it. I started my career in a call center and now I’m the Systems Administrator for the company I work for. I’ve done other jobs, but I’ve always wanted to be my own boss.

Being married and a dad to three great kids, volunteering with the Guardian Ad Litem program, and having a full-time career, I have a full plate. On a busy day, my day normally starts around 5 am and doesn’t end until 10 pm. But, no matter how busy I am, I always try to make time to relax. I’ve been playing the bass for some years and that was my go-to activity to get my mind off the everyday hustle and bustle.

But once I started flying drones, that became my new happy place. It puts my mind at ease.

I’ve been a fan of RC planes and helicopters for as long as I can remember. Once drones started to hit the market, I had to get one. I had a few toy drones that had a max range of 30 feet, but they were fun to fly. At the time, those drones were perfectly priced for what I needed to get my feet wet.

As years went on, I started spending more and more money until I got my first “real” drone. It was a DJI Phantom 1 drone. I’ll never forget taking it out the first day I got it. It had all the bells and whistles. I took it up 100 feet and flew right into a tree. After a few minutes, it came falling into a sandbox with only a few broken blades and a broken camera bracket.

This was my first crash, but it wouldn’t be my last.

I had it back up a few days later—this time, taking it over Biscayne Bay. It was my second flight, and I was already flying over water. I’ll never forget the fear and excitement that I felt. I used that drone until I got a Phantom 3 advanced, then I got into the Mavic series to my latest Mavic 3 Pro. Thankfully, I haven’t had any other crashes. When you get into more expensive drones, the repairs are more expensive, too.

During COVID, my employment wasn’t affected by lockdowns, because I had been working from home 10+ years prior to lockdowns. My kids had to do home schooling, so we started going to parks and other outdoor venues once they allowed it. This gave me the perfect opportunity to fly my drones and get tons of outdoor footage. Florida has a lot of State Parks—including the Everglades and surrounding areas—that are perfect for aerial photography. We spent a lot of time outdoors when I wasn’t working, and they weren’t in school. We definitely got tired of being inside on lockdown for all those months.

In the middle of the pandemic, I decided to move. Homes in Miami were, and still are, overpriced. I prefer trees over high-rises, so I decided to move two hours north to Port Saint Lucie, FL. As I was still working from home—and working later in the day—this gave me more time to explore my new city and fly my drone over more nature in different environments. I was able to capture lots of my new local landscapes.

When the FAA announced and implemented Part 107, I always thought it was something I didn’t want to get into. It seemed hard, and I figured I’d never have a use for it.

Fast forward to me wanting to start a YouTube channel just to show some of my content and possibly get paid for it, I found myself looking into getting my Part 107 to not have issues with the FAA.

To prepare for my Part 107 exam, I paid for and took a few online courses before I got enough courage to take the test. I thought I was prepared but after seeing all the negative stuff in social media I got nervous. Preparing for the Part 107 exam was a mix of nerves and determination. The courses didn’t really prepare me for it, and they didn’t tell you to study on your own. The day of the test I went into the testing center and figured I’d ace this exam. After the fifth question, I was like “What did I get myself into?”

Twenty minutes later, I looked at my watch and said either I know it, or I don’t at this point. I walked out of that center with an 80 percent and I was happy for that.

I pictured myself having my shots featured in music videos and movies. Leaving my “9 to 5” and flying drones all day long. Getting clearances to fly in different airspaces and getting awesome shots of things I could only dream up.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case (yet).

My drone ventures began with humble roof inspections, where I earned $35 for my services. Over time, I learned to value my skills and expertise, focusing on projects that not only showcased my talent but also compensated me fairly. This shift led me to explore diverse opportunities in photography, ranging from capturing sporting events and family beach photos to engaging in local photo shoots.

After taking that test, I really needed to put that certification to good use. Since then, I’ve stopped taking jobs that don’t pay well and started to focus more on my photography. Each new project added to my repertoire allows me to refine my craft and connect with a variety of clients. From high-flying aerial shots to intimate family portraits, every moment behind the lens has been a step towards honing my passion for photography and drone piloting.

As I delved deeper into the world of drone photography, my passion for capturing moments from unique perspectives only grew stronger. From breathtaking aerial shots of Miami's skyline to serene nature footage in my new city, each frame told a story of its own. The Part 107 certification not only opened doors to new opportunities but also instilled in me a sense of professionalism and dedication to my craft.

With every click of the camera and every smooth flight of my drone, I honed my skills and expanded my portfolio. The art of combining technical precision with creative vision became my driving force, pushing me to seek out new challenges and push the boundaries of what I could achieve. Whether it's documenting a community event, creating stunning landscape shots, or capturing the joy of a family gathering, each project allowed me to immerse myself in the art of storytelling through photography.

As I continue to soar to new heights both literally and figuratively, I am grateful for the journey that brought me here. From humble beginnings of roof inspections to now creating visually captivating images that resonate with my clients, my evolution as a drone photographer has been a testament to perseverance, passion, and the unwavering belief in the power of visuals to inspire and connect. With every flight, every frame, and every moment frozen in time, I find myself living out my dream of blending technology with artistry, one snapshot at a time.







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