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Aerial Photography is Forever Changed

flockshot

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I have enjoyed aerial photography throughout my adult life. It has sold well, mainly because it is the singularly most unique perspective you can put on a familiar place. Everybody loves aerial photographs.
With the advent of drones, the uniqueness of the view is diminishing day by day, and within a year or two, everyone will at least know somebody that has a drone that will come shoot their property for free. Aerial photos will become as commonplace as any other perspective.
 
I think the advent of the drone increases competition and so forces more creativity and quality if anything. We used to have to hire in a helicopter with gimbal at £7k p/h for clients that were rich enough to afford it, for a fraction of that they can have me for a whole day's shoot now.

Whilst I agree that there are a lot of people that have bought UAVs with little knowledge of either filming or photography and think it is a license to print money (if my ground school was anything to go by), in the same way that anything happens quality will out. Yes there will be people happy to do things for nothing, but you still need the creative eye to produce a quality product. You have to embrace new technology and constantly re-invent yourself and can't sit back and rely on the same revenue streams for ever.

I have been working in the media for the last 25 years, in the aerial industry for the last 3 - my customers are getting a much better service at a much reduced cost.
 
I am not saying it is changing for the worse or the better. Just that it will be forever different than it has been.

If I was a 16 year old kid with a drone, aerial photography would be my summer job. Arts and Craft shows, door to door, selling aerials, or flipping burgers at 10 pm? No contest.

People will get better quality at a much reduced price as you say.
 
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I had a pretty good thing going doing aerial photography from manned aircraft, but competition from drones has really eaten away at my business, though it had been declining before the advent of drones. I still do aerial photography from airplanes, as some facilities are so large that 400 feet isn't high enough, but I do much less than before. Things I like about drone photography vs from an airplane or helicopter is that I don't have to bother with scheduling aircraft at times that are not convenient for me, I don't have that cost, and I can compose the images much better because using a drone is like having a camera on a gigantic tripod, instead of while bouncing around orbiting a site. The type of aerial photography I do requires good photography skills, and I don't believe most newbie "pilots" can compete with me in that regard, but prospective customers don't know that, and neither do some of them understand that their nephew or employee who owns a drone does not have the same equipment and skills that I do. So it's a challenge to market my services in this new environment. Also, while competent "ground" photographers are usually not at home flying around in an airplane and might have difficulty coaxing a pilot to maneuver into the right positions and quickly get the shots they need, they don't have that challenge using a drone. So any good photographer can now be a competent "aerial photographer."

There were many properties that might have been too small to look good from the air flying at 500 or 1,000 feet, but by use of a drone at lower heights, they are now good aerial photography subjects and prospects, so there are many more prospective customers.

I'm referring to taking still photos that are aesthetically pleasing that might be used in websites or as wall hangings.

There are of course many other photographic and non photographic uses of drones.

I should have been thinking as Red90 suggested years ago, and "reinvented myself" as sales began to diminish. I think for me aerial photography using a drone or from aircraft is something I want to phase out eventually and move onto something else, though I enjoy it very much. And after a year of using my drone, I am still totally amazed by what it does.
 
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Taking pictures from a plane is a lot more expensive, a lot more inconvenient, and a whole lot more fun.

I would be curious to find out what the 'market share' is for retired guys with drones, in the aerial photography business. Whatever it is, I predict it will increase over the next couple of years.
 
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One thing that may well help airplane/helicopter photographers, is the 400 foot limit on drones. As drone photography gets more common, some customers will want more in the shot. If you are covering a large area only manned aircraft can get that shot.
 
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The situation is very similar to the one I faced being a pro photographer when digital cameras came out. With in a few years everyone and his dog had a digital camera and all could be wedding photographers. They were soon to discover it takes more than a camera to photograph a wedding. Yes drones have and will change the aerial photography industry, But quality, value, professionalism and a unique approach will ensure success for the established firms.
 
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I live close to Yosemite Park, and drones are not allowed to fly in the park. I have taken many people sight seeing and doing photo shoots over Yosemite from the air. At 12,000 feet one can get a beautiful view of Yosemite Valley. Not only that flying allows one to see parts of Yosemite you would never see otherwise. Even if drones were allowed to fly in the park, the 400 foot restriction would really restrict the photo opportunities. Many visitors to California want to see the coast line from the air, again the California coast from the air is breathtaking. I know there are pilots doing grand canyon tours by aircraft.
Drones certainly have their place, but they aren't going to replace aircraft and helicopters very soon.
 
Yes to the original point. When the media (of which I am a part) find something new, they kick it to death very quickly. Just look at time lapse and interminable slow motion!
I used to film Natural Worlds for BBC NHU, and aerials where taken very seriously, because of the cost. Also with film, and working abroad, you didn't see the results until it was too late!

Now I watch people using drones, often not because it's a better shot, but because it's easier that levelling a tripod.

I suppose the discussion about the merits of 'planes, helicopters and drones will rumble on, but they each have their advantages and can do things that the other s can't. Fly high, fly low, fly cheap and so on.

It hurts me to say so, but filming skills are less important than they used to be - just fix it in post'. Crop, reframe, stabilise, 12 stops latitude, 4k originals, superb colour grading, key framed exposure adjustments, the list goes on (and on). You can get away with a lot now and it is changing the business dramatically - pun intended!

AND ITS CHEAP!
 
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Have an award winning photographer friend who just lamented the impact iPhone and other readily available platforms have impacted his business. To me, the loss of the importance and desire of customers to have printed photographs, the explosion of social media, and a shifting towards video have negatively impacted professional photography.

I have been doing aerial photography since 1984. Platforms have included just about every imageanable aircraft as the mission required. Drones have been able to suffice for nearly every mission that previously required expensive and less agile aircraft. The 333 Exemption allows me not to be constrained by the 400 ft AGL rule. And as long as your within 400 feet of the structure and airspace rules permit, most missions can be accomplished, safely and compliantly.

I am also fortunate to be a Commercial and Multiengine rated pilot. And while I love flying my drones nothing beats a successful landing in minimums in an aircraft. Keep the shiny side up,
 
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I have enjoyed aerial photography throughout my adult life. It has sold well, mainly because it is the singularly most unique perspective you can put on a familiar place. Everybody loves aerial photographs.
With the advent of drones, the uniqueness of the view is diminishing day by day, and within a year or two, everyone will at least know somebody that has a drone that will come shoot their property for free. Aerial photos will become as commonplace as any other perspective.
This is why I am heading into the direction of the commercial aspect of aerial photography, inspections, and surveillance with the M210!
 
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The situation is very similar to the one I faced being a pro photographer when digital cameras came out. With in a few years everyone and his dog had a digital camera and all could be wedding photographers. They were soon to discover it takes more than a camera to photograph a wedding. Yes drones have and will change the aerial photography industry, But quality, value, professionalism and a unique approach will ensure success for the established firms.
Not necessarily!
I’m finding that the financial arm of business is superseding the creative arm and now the first priority is the bottom line.
It’s getting to the point that they “accept” lousy footage either from inexperienced kids or people with cheap equipment because they have no choice!
Same with the TV freelance industry. It used to be a fantastic source of income where we made good bucks with our Betacams and HDCAMS but now corporations are happy with the DSLR that kids shoot on and on top of that, they get paid peanuts and these companies know they can get away with it.
Sad!
 
Astute comments in this thread, that would resonate with several of my friends who are professional photographers or GA pilots. My interest in providing commercial services grew out of many hours of assembling and testing remote-control multi-rotor aircraft, followed by learning how to apply robotic systems technologies. I wanted to learn more about how these aircraft can be "controlled" by an operator/remote-pilot in real-time, but more importantly how to see the aircraft as a programmable flying machine of varying capabilities (camera/sensor/payload types and weights, flight durations, flight path accuracy, airspace positioning repeatability). All things considered, I was prepared to trust the equipment more than myself after a launch, at least part of the time in the field at a job site. As you might imagine, sometimes my trust level was tested... while coping with the rapidity of software changes from manufacturers or software developers.

Great, so what are they (UAVs, "drones", UASs) good for, and who would pay for Service 'X', if I invested in developing and offering that service, enabled by some configuration of equipment? Not being a Professional Photographer, Videographer, Licensed Surveyor, or (house/building) Architect, I spent 2016-17 doing low-income experiments, literally in the field but more so in the office, with or without input from various professionals. This range of experiences led to a greater appreciation of equipment other than the aircraft itself, and especially the integration of software in ground-located equipment with firmware in the aerial vehicle. Eventually, FAA website authors acknowledged this perspective in this FAA definition of a UAS, which positions the UAV as a component of a larger scope system called a UAS. Of course not every source agrees with those terms and definitions (not even on at least one other FAA webpage). And programming of attractive or informative aerial shots for various clients/customers is not a focus of FAA interest. Neither is low-altitude flights using PPK or RTK techniques for photogrammetry to produce accurate 3D models that various professionals would value.

So here's some observations so far, from one viewpoint. In some ways, one can say that a specific Service that applies a UAV/drone to a real-world problem/challenge/opportunity is like another tool in a current Professional's toolbox, and the full potential for the tool may be constrained by permitted professional norms/practice, human abilities, or lack of imagination/vision. In another way, a Service can be developed something like as in "Field of Dreams" (If you develop something new, appealing and affordable, they will come). That said, sometimes "the market" for a given Service simply isn't there now, and may never develop to be anything close to a primary activity that generates substantial income. Continual outreach with examples is probably key (if you can get in the door, so to speak). One's current equipment, particularly the software, may limit what you can offer with a high degree of safety and responsibility. One's operating location can also limit the scope of services and actual markets served, unless you are prepared to travel more or compete more vigorously with the aerial alternatives available to the client/customer/consumer. Most current demand that I see is for video clips with minimal, quick editing and maybe some discrete text annotations. I would prefer to be doing more 3D Site Modeling for environmental monitoring projects or supporting higher-end property development, however I'm not counting on those activities to consistently generate income through a year. Time will tell. Certainly heard a lot of overly-optimistic predictions from product/service marketers, friends, acquaintances - and myself - about future business activity. :)
 
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Astute comments in this thread, that would resonate with several of my friends who are professional photographers or GA pilots. My interest in providing commercial services grew out of many hours of assembling and testing remote-control multi-rotor aircraft, followed by learning how to apply robotic systems technologies. I wanted to learn more about how these aircraft can be "controlled" by an operator/remote-pilot in real-time, but more importantly how to see the aircraft as a programmable flying machine of varying capabilities (camera/sensor/payload types and weights, flight durations, flight path accuracy, airspace positioning repeatability). All things considered, I was prepared to trust the equipment more than myself after a launch, at least part of the time in the field at a job site. As you might imagine, sometimes my trust level was tested... while coping with the rapidity of software changes from manufacturers or software developers.

Great, so what are they (UAVs, "drones", UASs) good for, and who would pay for Service 'X', if I invested in developing and offering that service, enabled by some configuration of equipment? Not being a Professional Photographer, Videographer, Licensed Surveyor, or (house/building) Architect, I spent 2016-17 doing low-income experiments, literally in the field but more so in the office, with or without input from various professionals. This range of experiences led to a greater appreciation of equipment other than the aircraft itself, and especially the integration of software in ground-located equipment with firmware in the aerial vehicle. Eventually, FAA website authors acknowledged this perspective in this FAA definition of a UAS, which positions the UAV as a component of a larger scope system called a UAS. Of course not every source agrees with those terms and definitions (not even on at least one other FAA webpage). And programming of attractive or informative aerial shots for various clients/customers is not a focus of FAA interest. Neither is low-altitude flights using PPK or RTK techniques for photogrammetry to produce accurate 3D models that various professionals would value.

So here's some observations so far, from one viewpoint. In some ways, one can say that a specific Service that applies a UAV/drone to a real-world problem/challenge/opportunity is like another tool in a current Professional's toolbox, and the full potential for the tool may be constrained by permitted professional norms/practice, human abilities, or lack of imagination/vision. In another way, a Service can be developed something like as in "Field of Dreams" (If you develop something new, appealing and affordable, they will come). That said, sometimes "the market" for a given Service simply isn't there now, and may never develop to be anything close to a primary activity that generates substantial income. Continual outreach with examples is probably key (if you can get in the door, so to speak). One's current equipment, particularly the software, may limit what you can offer with a high degree of safety and responsibility. One's operating location can also limit the scope of services and actual markets served, unless you are prepared to travel more or compete more vigorously with the aerial alternatives available to the client/customer/consumer. Most current demand that I see is for video clips with minimal, quick editing and maybe some discrete text annotations. I would prefer to be doing more 3D Site Modeling for environmental monitoring projects or supporting higher-end property development, however I'm not counting on those activities to consistently generate income through a year. Time will tell. Certainly heard a lot of overly-optimistic predictions from product/service marketers, friends, acquaintances - and myself - about future business activity. :)
Excellent points and market assessment! Sometimes when there is a gold rush the only one successful is the one selling the shovel...sometimes there just is no gold in them thar flights.. Another risk as an industry is that when operating any UAV the operators personal safety is rarely at risk leading to dangerous flying habits. A major peeve of mine is Range Testing. Never in 32 years of flying have I ever tested the aircraft manufacturer range specs. But there seems to be a plethora of YouTube videos of UAV being flown WAY beyond LOS! An industry could be decemated the day one of these wayward craft hurt someone or worse. I treat my UAV flights with same planning and execution as if I aboard and with the utmost care for persons and property on the ground. That’s the difference, IMHO, between being a Pilot of a UAV or being an operator of a piece of equipment/toy...
 
well back when you were a kid all you had to do was stick up camera on a balloon youd get the drone shot.

i’m going to say the same thing as everybody else is been saying anybody can take a camera up on a remote control little helicopter you don’t need an expensive drone for that. Go ahead and push click and send that Polaroid on! That doesn’t take any mind, talent, education, continuing education, staying ahead of what the latest and greatest is on YouTube. If anything it’s gotten even more competitive more challenging And we have a lot of really great videos to show for it too.
 
yea Im sure someone said something similar back when colour photography became mainstream. And all those companies you had to take your little cartridge of film to so they can develop it.I remember these days, and the waiting for a couple of weeks to get your nice photos back, only to find half of them where crap :)

innovation pushing us forward to the next best thing
 
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I think the advent of the drone increases competition and so forces more creativity and quality if anything. We used to have to hire in a helicopter with gimbal at £7k p/h for clients that were rich enough to afford it, for a fraction of that they can have me for a whole day's shoot now.

Whilst I agree that there are a lot of people that have bought UAVs with little knowledge of either filming or photography and think it is a license to print money (if my ground school was anything to go by), in the same way that anything happens quality will out. Yes there will be people happy to do things for nothing, but you still need the creative eye to produce a quality product. You have to embrace new technology and constantly re-invent yourself and can't sit back and rely on the same revenue streams for ever.

I have been working in the media for the last 25 years, in the aerial industry for the last 3 - my customers are getting a much better service at a much reduced cost.
Yep!
yea Im sure someone said something similar back when colour photography became mainstream. And all those companies you had to take your little cartridge of film to so they can develop it.I remember these days, and the waiting for a couple of weeks to get your nice photos back, only to find half of them where crap :)

innovation pushing us forward to the next best thing

Well in today’s day and age you either embrace the change, or get run over by it.

one’s choice. :)

I’m not exactly a spring chicken myself. But I’ve got quite the set a gear starting to accumulate. Starting my drone business having a ball doing to do all facets flying the drone postproduction you name it. It’s all pretty fun
 

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