Flying with Maine Drone Imaging

blog by Gabrielle Martin, photos by Sam Trafton

Introducing Samuel “Sam” Trafton to the Official Sugarloaf Blog—though you may know him better as the man behind the brand Maine Drone Imaging. Or maybe you know him from the awe-inspiring aerial shots shared to your Instagram feed. Whether you’re a friend or follower, it’s likely Sam is no stranger. Here’s your chance to get to know him, and his business, better: welcome to your first-hand look at flying with MDI.

Trafton, a native of Auburn, Maine, began attending school in the Sugarloaf area in the seventh grade; he would go on to graduate from Carrabassett Valley Academy (CVA) as a Nordic skier. “I think it’s safe to say I’ve been a Loafer since the mid-80s,” he says. “My wife was also a CVA Alumni—alpine—and started coming to Sugarloaf in the early 80s with her family. Our kids have grown up on the mountain [and have been] skiing since they could walk.”

The father-of-two has been using drones for six or seven years now. Sam shares he’s always had an interest in and love for photography, but explains, “The idea of a different view was intriguing; I was also amazed at the technology that is needed for drones,” adding, “My first drones didn’t have cameras… I think my first camera drone was about 5 years ago now.”

The first step in Trafton’s journey was becoming FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Certified. “I studied for my license, but the test doesn’t share much about  how to fly in different conditions or temperatures—it’s more about airspace and reading aviation maps, which is definitely helpful to know, but there's  so much more that goes on while the drone is in the sky,” he recalls.

“Depending on the drone, this is an ongoing learning process; I think that keeps it exciting.” No doubt it’s exciting—even exhilarating! Flying a drone allows you to observe familiar places from all new heights. “I love the ability to see areas from different a angle,” Sam says. “I also enjoy sharing those views with others, and the progression of technology that comes each year with drones, and how it helps with flying and other challenges.”

“You never know what you will find!” he adds. “It’s very common that I’ll fly somewhere that I’ve been many times, and you realize something new and unique that you might not see from the ground. And anyway, every day is different, even when you are shooting even in the same place. It’s fun to have the challenges of weather and lighting; I find it interesting how the weather keeps changing—you never know what you might capture.”

Trafton currently flies three drones:

  • the DJI Inspire 2 (X7), which Sam says “is my biggest drone that allows for me to shoot with different lenses and have more options.”
  • the DJI Mavic 3 Cine, his “everyday, go-to drone that allows for fast operations and great results; it’s very easy to carry on the mountain, boats, or when hiking around.”
  • the DJI FPV, which " allows to have fast, first-person view footage. It’s also another drone that is easy to carry around.”

I think it’s safe to say no one knows Sugarloaf’s angles better than Sam—but, as you can imagine, there are a number of challenges associated with flying here, from elevated winds to inversion; however, Trafton says the most difficult aspect is “multi-tasking with watching the drone and shooting in different weather conditions or at different events.”

Want to ski like Sam? This Sugarloafer says he doesn’t think he has a favorite glade or trail; instead, he shares, “I enjoy following the sun on the mountain and going where the snow is best, depending on the day.” As for food? “Nothing beats a Bag Burger with curly fries.”

In addition to being our mountain’s resident drone man, Trafton has worked with a number of companies, ranging from international film operations to many of Maine’s top businesses and film production companies; he also works with private home owners and different real estate operations. “Every year there are new clients from different markets trying out different ideas.”

Maine Drone Imaging was founded on the idea that aerial photography and video should be available to everyone; using the latest technology to capture breathtaking results ensures our clients come away with a great experience and great results.