Now you can see how Penang looks like from above

Tan’s photo of Pulau Tikus, an islet off Tanjung Bungah, seen from 52m in the air. It reveals that when the tide is just right, the partially submerged sand bank enclosed by boulders, is a perfect secret hang-out spot.
PHOTO: Se Vena Networks

Drone camera pilot Warren Tan, 28, has eyes on Penang that few can match. He has a recorded flight telemetry of 535.3km around the state and has captured over 3,500 photographs of how an eagle would see the state from 500m above ground.

Tan flies for people who need a better look at things. Event organisers call him in to photograph open air functions from the sky. Developers ask him to shoot expanses of land at varying heights so they would know more about their land than any map can tell. Building owners hire him to take videos of external walls of their towers to do maintenance checks.

"We can't fly, so how things look like from the air offers valuable perspectives.

"Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return," said Tan, quoting artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci.

Operating out of his own company, Se Vena Networks, he said he started flying only about a year ago.

"It began as a hobby. But I quickly saw how useful my drone's photographs can be.

"A drone is not like a helicopter. We can take shots from just a few metres off the ground if needed. I can hover a few metres beside a tall building; that is impossible by helicopter," he added.

Of course, as with all pursuits, domain knowledge is king and things are easier said that done.

"Flying a drone efficiently takes practice and experience. You can crash if you are not careful. You can knock into buildings and trees."

While taking an assignment in Langkawi last month, Tan had hardware failure and his RM8,000 (S$2,733) drone crashed into the sea from 100m in the air.

He fortunately had the flight telemetry to prove it was hardware failure and the manufacturer had agreed to replace it.

He smacked one of his drones into trees twice because he misjudged the wind (speed) while he was learning.

Tan said his two drones, Phantom and Inspire models by manufacturer DJI plus repairs and extra auxiliary gear, had cost him about RM50,000 so far.

Being able to see Penang in a way (from a height) hardly anyone else can has given Tan an inspiration too.

"I want to show people what I see and do a good turn at the same time, so I published a book using my photos and have given it to charity."

Se Vena Networks and Tun Sardon Foundation, a 39-year-old institution dedicated to helping the poor and disaster victims, have teamed up to launch the 100-page hardcover coffee table book entitled Aerial Artistry: Penang From Above. It contains over 100 aerial photographs of Penang.

"I was born in Penang but every time I fly my drone here, I feel joy for seeing my state from high up. I share often on social media, but there's nothing like putting the photos in a book to preserve them," Tan said.

Two anonymous philanthropists have agreed to fund the printing and copies of the books will be given to various charity homes in Penang. When the homes sell the books, they can keep the money.

While on his flying jobs, Tan sometimes spies unique sights.

"A helicopter flew by while I was taking pictures of Gurney Drive (an iconic shopping and tourism hotspot on the island).

"I panned toward it quickly and took a picture while my drone was tilting so much that I captured my rotor blades too.

"That photo speaks volumes for me. The Gurney Drive coastline will change soon through reclamation. Things will look very different.

Tan realises that progress will lead to Penang looking very different in the future. But as long as there are opportunities to document the island in photographs, he will be there to get the job done.

"So many changes are happening to Penang. And I'm glad to follow them with my drone."