Aerial photography is so much more than just hanging a camera from a drone. Photography will always be, first and foremost, about making great images as only a human eye can see and control. An experienced aerial photographer paired with a skilled pilot should give you images that are so much more than just what something looks like. The world looks so different from a few hundred feet off the ground - don't lose the opportunity to grab your viewers' attention and show off your project with images that are truly different from anything else they've seen. While lifts, rooftops, catwalks, and even tall ladders can give interesting perspectives from above, aerial photography generally refers to images shot from airplanes, helicopters, balloons, and other manned aircraft. Depending on the aircraft your photographer plans to use, there may even be room for you to ride along!by Andrew Buchanan
We all know how fast technology moves, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's or "drones") have exploded in availability lately. You've probably read about them in the news and seen their videos on the web. But there are limitations to the technology that an independent photographer and pilot combo don't face.
"Aerial photography" can mean different things to different folks. Photos shot straight down from 20,000 feet showing the plan view of an entire city are aerial photos, as are oblique, detail photos from 500 feet showcasing a single building, campus, or park in great light. Be clear with your photographer what you're hoping to show, and with how much detail. He or she should be able to quickly tell you if it's feasible.
When shooting from the air, lots of things are out of the photographer's control. Weather shouldn't be one of them. An experienced aerial photographer will choose days with certain kinds of weather, depending on the subject and the goal of the shoot. Be prepared to wait a few extra days to get the weather s/he needs. Your images will be better for it.
Ask your photographer how s/he plans to stabilize their camera to avoid motion blur in the final images. If they don't have a plan or seem unsure, make certain your contract has a provision to avoid paying for images that aren't up to basic technical standards. Images that aren't sharp also aren't very useful.
There’s no doubt that great aerial photos are an eye-catchingly different way of viewing the world and grabbing your viewers' attention. But paying for aerial photography means not only paying the photographer, but also for time in the helicopter, plane, or other aircraft, including fuel and pilot. Unfortunately, even small 2-seat helicopters can be quite expensive, so the cost can add up quickly. Small planes are cheaper, but offer less flexibility and less positional control. The good news is that distance, and therefore time, both go by quickly when flying 80-100 mph in a straight line above traffic. Ask your photographer about the possibility of sharing costs among multiple sites or clients. Depending on your market, the smallest aircraft will start at $150-250/hr. and go up from there. Large, fast, stable helicopters capable of carrying multiple passengers may run $750 or more. Photography fees will likely be based on the time the project takes, how many images are delivered, and the uses they’re licensed for. Once airborne, digital fees are a small expense so make sure your photographer shoots lots for you to choose from. Serendipity favors those who push the button a lot!
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