Megan Brake is relatively new to New Brunswick. But it's just possible that she knows its nooks and crannies better than most people who were born here.
Brake moved here four years ago from Ontario, and realized pretty quickly that she'd found a special place.
"The mountains, the wide-open spaces – I just fell in love," she said.
A photographer at the time, Brake brought her camera along as she explored the province, trekking through fields and back roads, capturing moody, atmospheric landscapes, sunsets and beach scenes.
But none of those would compare to the breathtaking views she was about to discover.
About a year after she moved here, Brake stumbled across a YouTube video on drone photography, and her interest was piqued.
She bought a $500 drone and hit the road, and suddenly the skies – and entirely new vistas – opened up to her.
"I started finding all these spectacular locations," she said in an interview from her home in the western New Brunswick village of Centreville.
"The perspective it gives you on what's around that you would never see through the lens of a camera on the ground – I completely fell in love with it."
Brake began spending all her available free time studying drone videos, experimenting with different angles and heights and locations, making some mistakes, just basically being "really curious and really patient."
Eventually, she got her drone pilot's licence.
And that's when things really took flight, so to speak.
Dream-like images as seen from the sky
The results, captured from about 100 metres up, were dream-like and stirring, even to Brake, who was there when the shots were captured.
She started posting some of her favourites to Facebook and on her Instagram account, searchin4serenity, and people started taking notice.
People who had never been to New Brunswick were "stunned" by the views, she said. And people who knew it well were just as gobsmacked.
"I've heard from a lot of people who have moved away from New Brunswick," Brake said. "They message me all the time and say that I'm making them homesick, that they want to come home. Or they'll say 'Oh I think I know where that is,' and it's a guessing game."
Three years later, Brake's weekend hobby is muscling its way into becoming a career.
She now has a $2,200 drone, more than a thousand followers on her Instagram account and occasional commissions for her photos.
She's working on a coffee table book depicting the cabins of New Brunswick, since these "surprises" that she finds tucked away in the middle of nowhere have become the accidental stars of some of her most beautiful shots – with the cabin owner's permission.
Brake spends the weekends hitting the road with her fiancé and their ATVs, taking the drone to new locations and new heights, then coming home and uploading her favourites.
She has criss-crossed much of the province – Upper Kintore is a current favourite – but there are still "so many more places to see," Brake said.
A respect for nature, a passion for preservation
Brake's deep-rooted love of and respect for nature is at the heart of every drone shoot.
There have been some near run-ins with birds who weren't keen on sharing their fly-zone with a humming drone, for example, and that's an instant "down tools."
"As soon as I see something flying in the sky, I'll bring the drone right down because I'm not trying to stress anything out, out there," she said.
That respect has taken on a political edge of late.
"Lately, I've been trying to bring awareness to all the clear-cutting that's been going on in the woods," she said. "It used to be that I would take a photo and I would crop out where the clear-cuttings were. Because it's not pretty, it's not pleasing to look at."
But then she began to think maybe she should leverage the power of that unpleasantness.
"So I decided, you know what, I'm going to share this photo and try to bring some awareness to it. And, well, it blew up pretty big."
Turning her lens on activism
Earlier this week, Brake released one of the starker images, one that says more about "what's going on in the woods of our province" than she can say in words, Brake said.
With its denuded, tobacco-brown sprawl as a focal point, it's a stark contrast to most of her shots.
"It's a pretty powerful photo," she said. "There's not a lot of people who can see what's going on in the woods, and it's devastating."
There's also the matter of the one that keeps getting away.
That, Brake said, will keep her searching, and droning, for a while.
"I'm still waiting for my bucket-list shot: finding that a moose has wandered into the scene I've captured," Brake said. "It hasn't happened yet, but I have a place in mind. I'm waiting."
BEEN THERE, DRONE THAT: MEGAN BRAKE'S TOP 5 TIPS
1) Know thy drone: Take the extra time to get to know its settings, and find the best ones for smooth movement in videos
2) Frame your shot, and take the time to try different angles and altitudes
3) Shoot in RAW if your drone allows it. It makes for higher-quality image and can make editing/correcting a lot easier
4) Plan your flight before getting into the air so you can utilize all of your batteries
5) Seek out symmetry, patterns, lines and contrasting colours