Is Drone Photography a Good Idea?

I’ve thought about offering Drone Photography to my clients. It would be less expensive than aerial photography. Is drone photography a good idea?

Is Drone Photography a Good Idea
Is Drone Photography a Good Idea?

Why Not Use Drone Photography?

Drone photography. Sounds like a great idea, being able to get images from angles that are not possible from a terrestrial point of view and having some neat toys to play with. I admit that I have thought about offering it; after the initial investment of the drone platform and camera, it would be less expensive than my current method of chartering a plane and pilot for doing aerial work plus I would get a neat toy to play with and who doesn’t like neat toys? Confession here; I am a major gadget junkie and gear head and love playing with stuff like that. With prices starting around $300 for a camera equipped unit, drones are cost effective and easy to use except ….

Drone Photography For Commerical Use Is Illegal

Using drones for commercial use is illegal according to the FAA. At this time there are no regulations allowing unmanned commercial aircraft use and drone use is prohibited in densely populated areas around airports due to safety concerns. These concerns are very real, there has been an increase in reported cases of manned aircraft having near collisions with drone aircraft, with the FAA recording more than 175 reports of drones flying close to airports. If one would happen to actually collide with an airplane, the results could be tragic. Think that a 50 pound drone couldn’t do much damage? Just ask Captain Scully what a couple of geese did to the passenger jet he was flying over the Hudson River in NY. With the increase of drones flying about, the FAA is turning its attention to the different uses that they are put to. Right now, non-commercial use is allowed as long as it is under 400 feet and over five miles away from an airport but commercial use is banned and having people deciding to fly them anyway for commercial use is not helping the situation. The FAA is starting to levy fines against violators of the current regulations, especially ones that they feel are using their drones in a reckless manor such as the videographer who was hired by the University of Virginia who was fined $10,000. He did fight the fine, winning initially but lost on appeal. However that is not keeping some people from using their drones commercially, taking the chance that the long arm of the federal government will not be bothered to go after them. The other issue with drones is that people who see them flying about feel that their privacy can be violated. A writer to my radio show Facebook page expressed this very concern, stating that her neighbor kept flying his drone around her home even though she requested that he not do so. If that had happened in my area, I imagine someone would just shoot the drone down.

When Will the FAA Cave?

The multitude of uses for drones means that they are not going to go away anytime soon. The FAA knows this; currently the FAA is considering anyone wishing to fly drones commercially get a pilot’s license including the requirement of having actual flight time which would place the price tag higher than what many would pay (a sport pilot’s license starts at around $4000, assuming that the licensee passes all the tests on their first try). There would actually be a 400 foot altitude cap, flying only during daylight and being within the controller’s line of sight. Judging from the conversations I have had with a couple of pilots I know, something does have to be done, both have said that they have almost gotten hit by drones while flying. They do mention that the flight requirement is overkill, however they both felt that the drone operators need to know what the flight regulations are so that everyone could share the skies safely. Hopefully the FAA decides how they are going to regulate drones sooner rather than later, from what I have researched, I have a feeling that there will still be the no fly restriction around major airports which means that I’ll still be hiring pilots when I have clients wanting aerial work in those areas but for other areas it would be fun.


Originally published in “Carolina Photographer”, November 2014