Photographers have been using helicopters to get amazing aerial shots since the first helicopter left the ground. Drones have recently given helicopters a run for their money as a tool for aerial photography. We’re the first to admit that sometimes a drone is the most cost effective tool for getting the shot you want. We’re also convinced that for many aerial photo/video applications a helicopter is still the best tool. A helicopter can often save the professional photographer both time and money. Let’s find out how.
We recently flew with professional photographer Joel Riner (pictured above) for aerial shots of a local university campus. The client wanted a shot of the whole campus with views of the nearby lake and mountains in the background. To capture the scale and size of the area, we flew 700 to 1000 feet above the area nearly a mile from the campus. Drones are limited to an altitude of 400 feet and the pilot must keep the UAV in sight at all times. It would be impossible to get the same angle and field of view using a drone for this shot.
Another challenge for this photo shoot was the location. The campus is very close to both a hospital and an airport… both with regular, unscheduled aircraft operations. Drone operators must get permission to operate within 5 miles of an airport. Given the proximity to both the airport and hospital, getting permission to operate a drone for this shot would be difficult and time consuming.
A commercial helicopter operator does not have those time consuming restrictions. Flying in this airspace is routine for us. A few quick radio calls enroute to the photo shoot is all it takes.
Camera drones with all the bells and whistles are now available at the local Best Buy for about $1,000. How could a helicopter possibly be more cost effective then? The answer is payload. That fancy DJI drone at Best Buy is very light. Making lightweight drones requires lightweight cameras. Engineers have yet to figure out how to provide the same quality and capability found in professional level cameras in a package that a $1,000 drone can carry.
That $1,000 drone from Best Buy might be the perfect tool for your real estate shots, but simply would not do for our campus photos. In order to fly a payload the size of a pro level camera, you need a much bigger drone. Drones capable of flying those cameras can easily top $20,000 with accessories and support gear.
This, according to Joel Riner, is one of the primary reasons he uses the helicopter over a drone. Not only is the upfront cost of a high end camera drone high, but he’s also concerned about having his $5,000 camera dangling from a drone 400 feet above the ground.
Most reputable drone operators will also have a 2-4 hour minimum. We spent less than an hour in the air to get every angle at every altitude Joel needed for the client.
Joel is a freelance photographer based in Coeur d’Alene, ID. He specializes in Commercial Photography with a focus on helping businesses in North Idaho and Eastern Washington promote themselves.