Kerry Mapes: how she pulled off that viral Barbie drone photoshoot

You might know Kerry Mapes for her Barbie-inspired drone photoshoot, which went viral. Released around the time of the Barbie movie, the Barbie shoot was the brainchild of a team of creative women — and Mapes led the aerial aspect of it.

But flash Barbie drone photos are not necessarily what Mapes does all the time when it comes to her drone photography. Her love of nature shapes much of it. The team at Drone Girl recently had the opportunity to connect with Kerry Mapes, an aerial photographer based in North Carolina, to find out more about how she pulled off such a unique Barbie project, what’s her must-visit place to fly drones, and how to break into a career in drones.

The viral Barbie moment

Though Mapes is primarily a nature photographer with expertise in mapping, she made headlines with an aerial photoshoot she conducted based on Barbie.

Originally featured in “Heart of NC Weddings,” the photoshoot was done in tandem with an article on Barbie bachelorette and bridal inspiration. Mapes’ aerial photo features a blonde, Barbie-esque woman laying on a pink convertible, clad in a pink swimsuit and surrounded by pink flowers.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Mapes

The Barbie shot drew inspiration from the Barbie movie around its release time, and was originally published on the Heart of NC Weddings site in July 2023.

“It wasn’t entirely my idea, but I was thrilled to shoot it with my drone,” Kerry said. She reflected on the excitement of collaborating with various vendors, including those specializing in hair and makeup to floral arrangements.

Kerry highlighted how drones offer unique perspectives often overlooked by traditional photography. “People usually think about handheld cameras, but drones reveal special angles.” She used a DJI Mavic 3 Pro for the shoot.

“It’s not every day you get invited to something like that,” she said. “It was very special. I’d love to participate in more shoots like this.”

Photo courtesy of Kerry Mapes

Combining nature and drones

Despite the novelty of movie-inspired photoshoots, Kerry’s passion lies in capturing nature.

With an undergraduate degree in biology and conservation ecology, Kerry finds a natural connection between her academic background and her drone work.

“At least 75% of my work involves some aspect of the earth or nature,” Mapes said.

Living in North Carolina, Kerry says she is drawn to marshes.

“They’re my favorite ecosystem to explore,” she said. “Seeing them from above offers a unique perspective.”

Kerry travels extensively, always with a drone in tow. Some of her favorite destinations include Scotland and Utah.

“Utah is a must-visit for drone photographers,” she said. “It’s like nowhere else.”

Photo courtesy of Kerry Mapes

Mapes utilizes various mapping software to scout exciting locations, a skill she honed during her graduate studies and her career at Geo Owls. 

“Drone mapping was my introduction to drones,” she said. Her Instagram handle, @unmappearth, reflects that.

Being a female drone pilot

Kerry’s journey into drone piloting began in graduate school at UNC, where she used drones for data collection and mapping.

She met her mentor, Dr. Narcisa Pricope, there, who opened Kerry’s eyes to the vast possibilities of drone technology.

In a field often dominated by men, Kerry credits her mentor with helping her navigate the drone world.

“Having a mentor was crucial,” Mapes said, emphasizing the importance of supporting and uplifting other women in the industry. “She’s why I know how to fly.”

Now an established drone photographer, Kerry dedicates time to mentoring others through teaching and workshops.

“Seeing someone hesitant at first fall in love with drone piloting is incredibly rewarding,” she said.

So, for women considering entering the drone industry, Kerry’s advice is straightforward.

“Just do it,” she said. “Don’t let anyone hold you back. It’s so rewarding, and despite what the statistics say, the drone community is incredibly welcoming.”

Do you know any great drone girls who deserve a profile (including you!)? Contact us here. 

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