The New York Times staff photographer Josh Haner was an early adopter of drone photography. His earliest forays were with a $60 gadget that he maneuvered around his living room. Since then, he has aimed ever higher, making videos and stills high above the Gobi Desert and the Marshall Islands. He has embraced the technology in ways that add a stunning dimension to his storytelling, while at the same time presenting unforeseen challenges. His conversation with James Estrin has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. How does flying a drone add to your visual storytelling ability?

A. One of the first things that attracted me to drone photography and videography was the ability to easily photograph scenes that in the past would have cost us thousands of dollars. It democratized the skies.

That’s not to say that every assignment demands aerial photography, but it’s nice to be able to have it as a tool.

Q. Not only is it less expensive, it also gives a different view.

A. Movement becomes really key with drone video, and that’s very difficult to do with a helicopter at some altitudes. It’s a unique experience to be able to navigate like a bird.

I try not to use automated flight patterns because I feel that the rigidity of the curves that automation gives you isn’t very pleasing to the viewer. More organic movement that shows there’s a human behind this helps to bring people into these somewhat complex stories we’re trying to tell.

Q. As a child did you want to fly planes?

A. When I was in fifth grade, we did a project on how to spend a million dollars. I figured out how much it would cost to buy a plane so that I could fly to Scottsdale, Ariz., to see spring training games with the San Francisco Giants. I found out how to get my pilot’s license so that I could commute from San Francisco to spring training games in Arizona.

Q. That’s funny. The New York Times never said to you, “Can you figure out how to spend a million dollars?”

A. No, but in 2012, when inexpensive drones first came out, I expensed a little $60 hobby quadcopter to figure out how to use it. I spent a few months in my tiny apartment trying not to hit the walls and ceiling while I flew it around, trying to get a sense of how to control movement. If you can control one of these tiny hobby quadcopters that don’t have GPS and don’t have obstacle avoidance, you can pick up the finesse that’s needed to manually control the bigger, more steady ones.

Q. What have you learned about composition, both in stills and in video, using a drone?

A. One of my initial projects with a drone was in the Marshall Islands. Before I went, I loaded up Google Earth to look at the islets that I could possibly travel to. I actually picked Ejit Islet to go to based on the Google satellite imagery. It allowed me to pre-envision where I was going to fly, so that I didn’t waste time on a location that wouldn’t work.

Since then, I’ve become a lot more confident in knowing what the situation can yield when I see it for the first time in person. Most of the time I am looking at the screen and making my compositional choices, which takes some of my attention away from actually being able to fly the craft.

I try to have a reporter, fixer or translator act as my visual observer so that I can spend some more time on the actual composition and not have to worry if I’m coming too close to a power line.

Q. I assumed that you were watching the drone the whole time.

A. At all times I’m looking back and forth between the drone and my screen.

A lot of the times I’m flying to a place and then stopping the craft and looking down at my screen to judge the composition and make microscopic changes. It’s very easy with still photographs to focus on both at once, but once you transition to motion, it’s necessary to have a second person with you.

Q. How do you decide whether stills or videos are the best approach, or do you do both?

A. Because of the way I pitched the Carbon’s Casualties with this dramatic drone video opener, I tended to focus on video as my primary use of the drone.

I try to start recording video as soon as I take off so I don’t make a mistake and fly a perfect pattern only to realize that I hadn’t hit the record button. With about half of our stories in this series, we actually ran screen grabs from the 4K drone video. You can barely discern a difference on the web and in print as long as you keep your motion slow. I’m shooting 30 frames a second at 4K. So I’m getting stills out of my video captures that are plenty large enough to use for anything we want. That’s another reason why I can prioritize video footage instead of stills.

Q. Can we talk a little bit more about the Carbon’s Casualties series, which recently took first place for Documentary Project of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International awards. How did you envision it from the start?

A. At the end of 2015, I got the opportunity to travel to Greenland to accompany the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, taking a tour of some of the climate research happening. I decided that was a good place to bring the drone that I had been practicing with. While there, the reporter, Coral Davenport, and I found another story — a research group trying to measure the size of ‘meltwater’ rivers on top of the second-largest reserve of frozen freshwater in the world. They were flying helicopters out over the ice sheet, setting up camp and staying for several nights in freezing cold temperatures. I joined them.

While I was there, we discovered that the researchers themselves were doing drone mapping. They were flying a very high-elevation drone to get middle-range drone imagery that was between the satellites and what I was getting with my drone. Later, we were able to seamlessly transition scenes from ground-level drone footage to middle-range drone footage mapping the watershed that they were in, all the way up to NASA satellite imagery.

Q. That’s something that couldn’t be done before.

A. After Greenland I went to the Marshall Islands. By the time I got there and started talking to people on the islet I had identified from Google Earth, it became clear that residents were starting to prepare to have to move off this islet.

When we got back to New York, there was a meeting of foreign editors and reporters tasked with trying to look for other places around the world where people were having to deal — right now — with the effects of climate change.

We’ve finished that particular series, and we’re now brainstorming how we want to approach our visual coverage to climate change in the future. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’ve done an entire series that follows the same visual rhetoric.

We don’t necessarily just want to continue repeating these visual cues. We want to keep pushing the envelope, so I’m in the process of identifying new technologies we might be able to use for the next set of stories about climate change and its impact on people.

Q. How do you compose for stills with a drone?

A. For still photos I try to use the drone to create very formal, or very graphic composition. I think that it’s best to not shoot at a 45-degree angle with the horizon line in every photo. I’ve been focused on shooting straight down as much as I can, or at semi-oblique angles so you don’t quite show your horizon line. When I’m filming from a helicopter, that’s a very stressful, dangerous angle to take, because you’re really hanging outside of the helicopter. With a drone, it’s a lot easier to shoot straight down.

Q. What is the role of changing technologies like the drone in visual journalism?

A. One of the things that I think working photojournalists need to do is constantly adapt. It would have been very easy to do these Carbon’s Casualties stories from a purely still photographic perspective. And I think the still photographs I took on the ground would have been greatly improved had I been able to spend three times as much time on just the stills. But I think that it is a service to our readers to constantly experiment and figure out how to integrate new technologies into our storytelling in successful ways.

It was important for me to be one of the first to use this technology. Luckily, The Times prioritized it and sent three of us to a drone training workshop under the F.A.A. at Virginia Tech to practice with this technology before we could even use it. And what was unique about the time period we chose to do this series is that many countries still hadn’t formalized their drone laws.

In some ways it was the golden era for drone exploration. Even six months later when I tried to do an assignment in Canada, I had to fill out an 80-page application and wait weeks to be able to find out if I was certified to fly in their airspace.

Q. You had to take an exam in the United States to get a pilot’s license?

A. In the past, you had to be a licensed pilot in order to fly a drone. But the F.A.A. announced a new rule so people who understand the drone laws can be certified to fly in certain airspaces under a very strict list of rules. So I took the test the first day that it was offered.

Q. In five years, will there be drones everywhere and an oversaturation of drone imagery?

A. Definitely. I was lucky to be able to use this technology so early on because millions of drones were sold for last Christmas. What’s unique about our drone laws in the United States is that hobbyists can fly in many more situations under more relaxed restrictions than commercial operators, and the law considers media organizations commercial operators.

Just like the influx of digital cameras and camera phones created a saturation of imagery, we’re going to have to adapt and figure out how we can bring our creativity to these new technologies. With this series, I tried to be thoughtful about how we employed the drone and not just fly it everywhere — to make sure that this is the right technology for the right story. Just because you have a drone, doesn’t mean you have to use it.

Q. What new technology is next?

A. Here’s a scenario to consider: I think it’s only a matter of time before we have micro drones with high-quality cameras that reporters can take into the field.

Am I then sitting at my home in San Francisco talking on the phone and I’m flying a drone, taking pictures and shooting video for a reporter who’s working across the globe? I think that would be a huge disservice to our industry, because we photojournalists bring so much to the reporting.

So in similar ways that the United States is conducting drone warfare from an office building in Las Vegas, I think it’s only a matter of time until that technology gets small enough to put in a journalist’s pocket. We need to plan for a world where that’s possible and decide how we want to treat storytelling should that happen.

Q. But perhaps the photographer is also the reporter.

A. Hopefully as we think through the newsrooms of the future, photojournalists will be able to maintain the journalist part of our job title. And we’ll be recognized for the breadth of both the visual journalism and the text journalism that we can bring to each story.

One story we did that was purely visually driven was called “Living in China’s Expanding Desert.” This was a new type of storytelling that we championed for this one particular piece in the Carbon’s Casualties series. It was a story that the reporter Ed Wong and I conceptualized from a purely visual standpoint along with Hannah Fairfield, Jeremy White and Derek Watkins.

The way our industry categorizes things hasn’t caught up to the type of visual journalism that we’re able to do with all of these new technologies. So we’re still honoring separations between still photographs, multimedia, documentary and video reporting. We haven’t settled on an overall visual journalism category. I think it’s unfortunate that we haven’t figured out a way for all these tools to integrate and work with one another.