DRONE PHOTOGRAPHY HISTORY
I wrote a piece here on The Discerning Photographer back in 2010, as we were sweating our way through the infamous BP oil spill, about a former Getty Images editor who was using a small drone helicopter to shoot aerials for a fraction of the cost of commercial helicopter charters. Anthony Jacobs had come down and shot some footage of the spill and I ended up interviewing him about his service, Perspective Aerials, which is apparently still up and running, using drone photography as its main business model.
Since then a lot has changed, and some things haven’t about shooting commercial photos and videos with this type of drone helicopter. The machines themselves have gotten better, and cheaper. (Now you can control one remotely in tandem with your iPhone.) And the FAA, which controls all commercial airspace in the United States, continues to fumble its way along towards effectively regulating this gray area of aviation.
Up until two weeks ago, all commercial use of drone helicopters was illegal. Then a judge struck down a case in which the FAA was attempting to fine a commercial photographer for drone photography–essentially an unregulated commercial flying machine–saying the agency had not written rules for these aircraft. Now the FAA has come out with its own ‘myth busting’ FAQ on its website about drones and reasserting its right to regulate them.
AMATEUR HOUR IN NEW YORK
But the plot thickens: on March 13th, when an explosion in East Harlem flattened two buildings, local New Yorker Brian Wilson raced to the scene with his drone helicopter, a DJI Phantom 2 , a machine which can fly for about 30 minutes on a battery charge, shoot HD video and stills, and tie into an iPhone app which allows the on-the-ground pilot to see what the drone sees on his iPhone. Although they were uncomfortable with the situation, New York City police allowed Wilson to fly the drone, at least for about 30 minutes. His videos appeared on the website of the New York Daily News as well as other places.
So what is going to happen? Should you rush out and buy yourself one of these babies and set up a new revenue stream for your photography business? How is this going to all play out?
Personally, unless you’ve already taken the plunge and started down this road, I would suggest you keep your wallet zipped shut. The FAA will eventually get their act together. They will get the legislation written to control these drone photography machines, and at that point you will be dead in the water. Why? Because, as a pilot friend of mine explained to me, the insurance required to fly one of these units commercially will make it cost prohibitive to operate them: you’ll be looking at spending upwards of $10K a year to insure your $1200 drone helicopter, if you can even get licensed to fly the thing. (You’ll need a commercial pilot’s license of some sort.)
But they are totally cool, aren’t they? As someone who’s done a lot of photography hanging out the open cockpit of a ‘real’ helicopter, the notion of having all of that aerial photography available for such a small initial investment is awfully tempting.
But don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Update 3/20/2014: Here’s another story about yet another photographer using a drone to shoot news and this time, getting into hot water with the FAA.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page ,Google+ page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog