It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… actually neither. It’s Richard Murnick’s high-powered drone, and the visuals he has gathered with it are gaining attention.
Murnick and his aerial photography and footage, which he produces under the name North of 54 Cinematography, have attracted attention and applause in Flin Flon and the area. Armed with his trusty DJI Mavic Air 2 drone, video editing software and a selection of photographic equipment, Murnick gets an often unseen gaze on familiar sights around northern Manitoba - Flin Flon, for example, seen from hundreds of feet above Ross Lake, or Mistik Creek as seen from about 20 feet above water level.
Murnick, a teacher at Frontier Collegiate in Cranberry Portage, began flying drones in mid 2018.
“My school at the time asked me to buy one because they wanted to get into it. They didn't, but that created a little bit of a interest in me so I got my own,” he said.
“From day one, I wanted to capture as many places as I could with the time I had. Working full time as a teacher, having a family and a daughter that just turned seven years old, it keeps me pretty busy. Sometimes when I get free time, I go to the local places that I know people like to see.”
Murnick has basic certification through Transport Canada as a drone pilot, passing an online exam to earn the status. The pilot status allows him to fly wherever Transport Canada allows drones to be used.
“I want to go further, where I can fly safely and not go against Transport Canada’s regulations - I fly where I can do so safely,” he said, mentioning Bakers Narrows and its heavy air travel as a no-go zone.
“Bakers Narrows is beautiful, but because there’s an airport and a seaplane base, I can’t fly anywhere within a five-kilometre radius there, if not more.”
Murnick began uploading drone footage to YouTube in July 2018. Since then, he’s compiled over 60 videos, mostly involving drone footage.
“It’s kind of funny. At first, when I put up a video, I’d get like 10 views in a week and I’d be excited because that means 10 people wanted to see it. Now, I get on average about 200-300 views and I’m still excited because that’s a few hundred people that have found me and they like what they see,” Murnick said.
Most of Murnick’s favourite subjects are local, along with some of his biggest inspirations. Photographers like Suzanne Colette and Randy Whitbread are among the ones that show up most often in his Instagram queue.
“There are a lot of people in this area, locally, that I’ve started noticing who are doing good photography. There are lots of Instagrammers in Flin Flon and there’s lots of people whose work I see online that influences me,” he said.
Inspiration doesn’t just come locally for Murnick, though - through YouTube, Murnick has met other pilots and creators from around the world with whom he can swap ideas and tips.
“I have YouTube friends from around the world, where I watch their videos and what they put out on a daily basis and they watch mine. I have friends in Japan, Poland, Russia, Norway and we chat through emails back and forth about what they’re doing and we bounce off ideas,” he said.
“I have a good friend in New Hampshire and he and I talk on a regular basis about what we’re doing.
Flying a drone isn’t just about getting scenic footage for Murnick - there is a calming component to flight that has kept him coming back.
“For me, it’s about relaxation. It’s nice to make something out of it,” he said.
“I’m still not where I want to be professionally, but hey - they say it takes about 10,000 hours to be proficient at something, right?”
Another of Murnick’s inspirations is showing new views of areas northerners know well - the Millwater bridge as seen from high over the creek, for example, or far-away portions of lakes that aren’t seen by any but the most ardent explorers.
“Locally, what makes me happy is for the people who can’t get out and about, they get to see places like Mistik Creek or Millwater, even Flin Flon, from a unique perspective,” he said.
“It’s not always from the maximum of 400 feet that you really get anything - it’s when you go, say, 200 feet and you go low and slow and you can see from eye level sometimes - it’s a different way of seeing it.”
In the meantime, there is never a shortage of scenic places for a drone pilot to fly up north - and Murnick has a list, including some known photo traps. He wants to fly drones at major community events, including at the Blueberry Jam Music Gathering or Trout Festival, once he receives proper accreditation to do so.
“Pisew Falls, Iskwasum, the Karst spring… I can name a ton of places where I want to fly,” said Murnick.
“I’ve been asked to go to Snow Lake - I’m going to wait until the spring for that one, to fly at Wekusko Falls. I’m lucky enough to drone there because I’m outside the helicopter range of operations.”
Murnick's content can be found on social media platforms at North of 54 Cinematography.