Above us, only sky

Four years ago, Yura Borschev was given a birthday present that would change his life. The founder of The Challenger, a leading Russian healthy lifestyle digital magazine, Yura had a camera at home but it only came out occasionally, when taking photos of family and friends. His gift would inspire him to take up photography seriously because of what his new lens on the world was combined with – a consumer drone.

Today, Yura – also known as Borsch – has become one of the most sought-after drone photographers around. It’s changed his view of our world, as well as those of us who consume his work, by opening it up to new perspectives, both literally and figuratively. “Every time I lift my drone up to take a photo, I see something new,” says Yura from the comfort of his Moscow home, the Russian winter raging outside. “Every time is different. You never know what you will see.”

Every time I lift my drone up to take a photo, I see something new. Every time is different
Yura BorschevDrone photographer
Porsche Taycan in parking lot with stylised charging point
For Yura, creativity and attention to detail is key

Ready for take-off

It’s been little more than a decade since commercial drones became available. Today, their use is commonplace, even if to most of us they still live a shadowy existence away from the public eye, due to legislation governing their use in built-up areas. While they’ve increasingly been adopted by the world’s military, they are chiefly used for creative purposes or by organisations and governments who deploy them to map the effects of global warming in inaccessible regions, for example.

At around 300mm in diameter, Yura’s main camera drone is about the size of a vinyl album, albeit somewhat bulkier. It looks impossibly small when taking into account the visual impact it yields. It's also one of a kind, sporting the unmistakable calligraphy-based customised design of cult Russian artist Pokras Lampas, with whom Yura has collaborated. The drone’s controller – into which a smartphone is slotted, giving you a live feed as you fly – may look like a highly complicated piece of kit to master but Yura, at least partly, disavows that notion.

Drone operator looks to sky with Porsche Taycan in background
Yura looks skywards as his drone takes pictures remotely from above

“Controlling a drone is very simple if you don’t fly in cities… which I don’t recommend,” he says. “You have one button to lift it up and you have two joysticks to control it. One goes forward, one goes up, and so on. And you have a button, which brings your drone ‘home’. But taking photos while you’re flying is not so easy. Yes, it’s one button, you push it, and you have the shot. But you have to adjust the settings and choose the right perspective on the subject.”

White Porsche Taycan circled by red classic Porsche models
Eight classic Porsche surround the Taycan to signify its ‘futuristic’ qualities

Porsche Taycan: rise above

One of Yura’s biggest projects to date was teaming up in autumn 2020 with photographer 19tones (Ernest Em) for a striking campaign for Porsche Russia that showcased the versatility of the Taycan. It focused on five distinct benefits, from its ‘adaptive’ capabilities to its eco-friendly credentials. Working with 19tones and Yura’s creative team at The Challenger, they devised a ‘challenge’ between the two photographers. One (19tones) would shoot from the ground, the other (Yura) from the air. Two different approaches, two different perspectives.

Two men, one kneeling, surround Porsche Taycan with green foliage
Yura (kneeling) and his assistant set up another shot for the Taycan project

With just a week to complete the shoot, time was tight. For Yura, it was a chance to tap into the unique creativity that his drone offers. For a shot highlighting the dynamic qualities of the Taycan, he drew a huge circle, mimicking the car’s speedometer, attaching smoke cannisters to it to represent acceleration. For a set-up illustrating the Taycan’s green credentials, he and his assistant worked into the night, drilling 200 holes in the asphalt into which they ‘planted’ branches while battling against Moscow’s wet autumn weather. “We planned every small detail,” says Yura. “This was not improvisation.”

Camera drone controller showing aerial image on a smartphone screen
A smartphone inserted into the drone controller gives Yura a live view

Drones: without limits

The striking results from the Taycan project, says Yura, is an example of how drone photography is at its most spectacular when you explore beyond accepted creative boundaries. As his upward journey with drones has continued, he has learned to challenge himself.

Porsche Taycan shot with dramatic colours and striking light effects
Fairy lights attached to the drone and a long exposure create a dramatic effect
When you’re shooting something that you didn’t create, you are in fact stealing from nature. Creative photography and art photography inspire me
Yura BorschevDrone photographer

“It’s not difficult to buy a drone, travel and take beautiful photos,” explains Yura, a veteran of many road trips in Russia and beyond. “But a year ago, I decided that this kind of travel photography wasn’t interesting to me. When you’re shooting something that you didn’t create, you are in fact stealing from nature. I look at travel photographers with big Instagram followings and they go to well-known places, one after each other, and take similar shots. And that is not creative. Creative photography and art photography inspire me.”

Porsche Taycan drives in circle with smoke billowing from rear
Drone creativity: smoke canisters were attached to the Taycan for one dynamic shot

In the immediate future, Yura is looking to combine it with a project to use his drone to draw greater attention to our climate emergency. By using his unique perspective, he hopes he can rise up and influence how we view that most precious of all commodities – the planet that we all share.

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