A Buzz in the Air: Keeping Up With the Evolution of Aerial Photography
by Theano Nikitas
May 07, 2015 —
The past couple of years have seen a growing cadre of pilots—quadcopter pilots, that is.
Colloquially known as drones or “birds,” the formal designation (according to the FAA) of these small flying machines is Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Regardless of the name, the popularity of quadcopters has grown exponentially as more multirotor devices have become available. Some—like the DJI Inspire 1—come equipped with an integrated 4K camera, while others are adaptable to a variety of camera models from GoPro, Sony and more. Needless to say, quadcopters have opened up an entirely new point of view for photographers, videographers and cinematographers.
Aerial footage—whether video or still—offers a unique perspective that can be used to raise the bar in your photography. This gorgeous image was captured in the Bahamas. All photos © Chris Crumley Productions, Inc.
Similarly, San Francisco-based wedding videographer Sigmund Reboquio of REB6studios added aerial footage in 2014, because “I think that it adds a little bit of flair to my films,” he says. “I have shot so many weddings, and it gets boring at times, so I took the plunge to invest in one and it actually paid off. My clients love it!” Reboquio’s current quadcopter gear includes the DJI Phantom 2 with the GoPro HERO4, along with the Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal, first person view (FPV) monitor and Futaba controller.
Chris Crumley, of Chris Crumley Productions, Inc.—a well-established underwater photographer whose expertise extends above water as well—purchased his first quadcopter in mid-2013, to “have another perspective for photography,” he says, “to give me another point of view.” Crumley currently shoots aerial video and stills with a DJI Inspire 1 and its onboard camera.
ESTABLISHING THE SCENE
The ultimate party favor—a “dronie.” This aerial selfie was captured from a height of about 75 feet in Virginia Beach.
Roman currently uses aerial footage to “enhance the films” that he produces for his wedding clients. Visually, he prefers “using the drone around coastal areas—beaches that have rocks and mountains in the background look great,” he says. “Once legislation is released [see sidebar at right] and we acquire the proper licenses, we will definitely offer this service as an add-on.”
Similarly, Reboquio explains that while aerials are generally used as establishing shots, “we’ve also used [aerial footage] to do creative shots of the bride and groom,” incorporated to end the film. At outdoor weddings, Reboquio may also shoot aerially during the bride’s procession and incorporate the clip into the final film.
But, like other unique perspectives and techniques, aerial photography is best used with restraint. “These drone shots shouldn’t be overused,” Roman says. “If I can use one or two shots in a film to raise the production value, that’s usually perfect.”
Adept at shooting both underwater and above water, Chris Crumley captured this visually stunning aerial shot of a “mermaid circle” during his Mermaid Portfolio Workshop.
But Crumley says that real estate photography is also a hot market begging for aerial coverage. “People are clamoring for aerial footage of properties, whether it’s residences for sale or part of marketing programs for other businesses where the building is an important piece of what they’re selling—resorts, boats, marinas,” he says. “It could be retirement homes or medical facilities, too—it runs the gamut. And there’s just no end to it.”
LEARNING TO FLY
Before he purchased his first quadcopter last February, Reboquio says he bought a “small, tiny copter (4 channel) for $40 and practiced inside my house. That tiny copter actually helped a lot just to get a feel for it.” He eventually transitioned to practicing with the quadcopter in a park. “At first, you’d watch YouTube videos,” Reboquio explains, “but nothing really beats going out there and trying it out.” After 20 hours of flight time, Reboquio began offering aerial footage to his wedding clients.
“There’s a lot more that I want to know how to do and do it well,” Crumley admits. “You can watch a movie and you can see the techniques that are being used by the camera [operator]. It takes a while to learn and develop those skills, so that’s what I’m working on.”
Shot from a height of about 100 feet, the setting sun at dusk provides soft lighting of this oceanfront amusement park’s ferris wheel.
While photographers may be capable of flying solo, it’s often more convenient to work with another pilot. Roman, for example, partners with his son, who drives the drone while the photographer controls the camera movements with a second controller. “I direct the flight path,” Roman says, “so we can execute the shots.”
Reboquio’s pilot is a “fellow wedding videographer who happened to also have a quadcopter,” adding, “he’s self-taught and flying all the time.” When looking for a pilot, Reboquio suggests that you “look at their portfolios and ask how many hours they’ve flown a quadcopter before.” And, when you find a suitable flyer, “Make sure that you give them specific instructions on the objective of the shoot and what shots you need,” Reboquio says.
Another alternative, once you’re skilled, is to train an assistant. Crumley, who uses two controllers—one for flight and one for the tilt and pan of the camera—sees his next step as training his assistant.
Quadcopter photography is in its infancy so expect a lot of changes and advances in the future, but no doubt there are exciting times ahead. “We’re in sort of the Model A era of aerial photography using drones,” Crumley says. “The [technology] that’s coming down the road—there are going to be things that you can’t even imagine.”
Rules of the Sky
In advance of these new rules, the FAA has loosened the guidelines for those exemptions. With the new exemptions, you’ll be allowed to operate an unmanned aircraft (UAS) that weighs less than 55 pounds at or under 200 feet anywhere in the country except restricted airspace or major cities as long as the UAS is operated:
A. During daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions
While it’s still up for public debate, the FAA has laid out a number of rules it wants to see govern commercial drone use. Among them:
A. UAS must weigh less than 55 pounds.
1. Know your drone and how to operate it. Study the manual, educate yourself and practice, practice, practice.
The DJI Inspire 1 features a built-in 4K camera and a full, 360-degree view.
At 2.2 pounds, the DJI Phantom 2 offers customized H3-2d and H3-3d Gimbal support and a smart battery that delivers 25 minutes of flight time.
The GoPro HERO4 (which attaches to a drone) offers UHD 4k30 video and 12-megapixel photos up to 30 fps.
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