Point of View
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Drone photos courtesy of Kate Branning
When a friend in Austin who’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer texts you about local talent who has caught his eye, you pay attention.
Kate Branning hasn’t had much work published professionally — a few years ago, National Geographic paid her $20 to post a photograph of Lake Louise in Canada as part of its “Your Shot” online series — but fame and fortune aren’t the end game.
Instead, Branning considers her camera and her drone to be creative outlets; she uses Instagram as a means to share select images.
Her social media site is all about her photography and refreshingly free of selfies, what’s-for-dinner shots and long-winded commentary. We’re especially drawn to her “top-down” drone images, as the overhead photos appeal to our love of symmetry and graphic design. She has also given us a refreshing look at where we live.
Branning has been in Fort Worth for just over three years, having relocated from upstate New York. Her day job is in program management at Lockheed Martin, where she has worked for 18 years. This is her first time in Texas.
“It’s not the Northeast, but there’s a lot to like here,” says the soft-spoken Branning. “My work keeps me pretty busy, but photography allows me to get creative.”
When the pandemic hit, Branning found herself turning to her camera to get her out of the house. She also spent time outside with her French bulldog puppy named Rylee, who turns 1 this month. Rylee’s images appear mainly in Branning’s Instagram stories.
“Using the drone gave me a chance to see even more of Fort Worth from a different angle.” That view typically is from 400 feet overhead, the maximum height she’s allowed to fly the drone.
Branning is a registered hobbyist — she’s also a self-taught photographer — and emphasizes that she’s careful to follow the no-fly rules that apply to drone users both casual and commercial.
“I still have a fear of flying it near people, along with losing connection, which has happened a few times,” says Branning. She maneuvers the drone by using her cellphone, which is attached to a small control unit that allows her to fly the drone and track its whereabouts. Photographs are uploaded to a memory card inside the drone. Battery-powered, the drone is juiced for roughly 30 minutes of flying time.
Her photo shoots, which definitely increased during COVID, take her to places such as Fort Worth’s Water Gardens and Trinity Park. But the familiar takes on a different look with her overhead point of view.
Sometimes we recognize the location instantly, other times we have to study the details to figure it out. Branning also has found stark beauty with her images of parking lots and train tracks.
Overall, her images are an artistic tribute to Fort Worth — neighborhoods, tourist hot spots and places not typically photographed such as parking lots.
“I’ve lived in bigger cities, but I’ve definitely photographed Fort Worth much more. For a change of scenery, I’ve started to take short driving trips to explore the area. This past April, I took my first trip out of state in 10 months and drove to Oklahoma.”
Lakes, rivers and the beach offer different opportunities, which is why Branning takes the drone, which is compact, on vacation. “The bonus of traveling is seeing something different. I like to document that with photos,” says Branning.
And occasionally, people do find their way into her photos, as with a pair of picnickers in Trinity Park, who remain unidentifiable and blissfully unaware of the drone.
“Mother Nature helps me out a lot,” says Branning, who knows that the right light is critical to a photograph’s appeal. “And with the picnickers, I just got lucky.”
Branning also enjoys the editing part of her photography. “Every year, I do a print book as a visual record of the year. In 2020, I had 20,000 images to edit down to fit
on 380 pages. And I put Rylee on the cover.”
She also turns some of her favorites into digital prints on canvas to display in her home.
We asked her if she considered herself an artist.
She paused. “I do now, because other people tell me I am.”