Should we use drones for aerial photography?
While I dislike the use of the name drone because it seems to denote some sinister flying death machine, the fact is, we now have easy to fly aerial platforms that are capable of getting fantastic shots. From a purely technical perspective, these are just another tool for us to use to allow us to get photos and video, just from an angle not previously available to us. There is a more fundamental question that we need to ask ourselves, and its not whether we “can” use these new aircraft, but whether or not we should. In this article I am going to discuss the arguments against aerial photography and how we can address these issues as professionals.
This is a fundamental question that we, as photographers, have to face on a regular basis. Where and when does somebody have a reasonable expectation of privacy? In current times, this amounts to very little in practice. If someone can be seen without the use of an help, then it is not really expected to be private. For example, your master bedroom located on the second floor of your house, facing away from anyone else that could easily seen in. Sure, flying a copter up to that window to look in would certainly be an invasion of privacy. My hot tub is strategically located on my deck so that my neighbors cannot see it from their houses, does that make it private? You might think so, but overhead flights of airplanes and helicopters can easily see from their perspective so my expectation of privacy is not as strong as you might think it would be. There is also a question of intent, regardless of how easy it might be, if I am intentionally trying to get views of someone within their house, this could easily be used against me. People can be very uptight about this issue and my next door neighbor saw this photo and said he couldn’t believe I had a camera 30 feet from his bedroom window. The fact is, it was a lot further away and not pointed at his house at all, no zooming in would let you see into his house. Regardless of facts, that is how he felt and even threatened to shoot it out of the sky with a shotgun the next time he sees it. (this would be a serious mistake on his part).
I have been flying these type of aircraft for almost five years. In all of that time I know of only a single aircraft that has not experience a crash or failure of some kind. It is only a matter of time before that outlier has an issue or incident. Given that stellar record of reliability, how comfortable would you be with one of these flying over you in a crowded situation where you had nowhere to run away if it decided to crash?
What about over your house? Car? or other property? Today I was shooting some aerial work for a real estate agent, there were no children in the street, no cars, no traffic, nobody around at all. I take safety very seriously and would never endanger anyone to try to make a buck. However, after posting the video to YouTube, I got slammed by some guy repeatedly about how drones should not be allowed on public streets and how I am endangering everyone around.
If you do not have your head in the game and think about safety as the number one priority then I will be the first to tell you that you shouldn’t be doing aerial work. The following is the video from the shoot.
If you ask a handful of people what they think about drones with cameras flying around (yes, that’s a very baited way of asking) a good number of people will have nothing to say besides “its just creepy”. I think the creepy factor is more about the unknown. The reality is we have had remote control helicopters with the same ability for over 20 years. It never seemed to bother anyone before, so why all the fuss today?
The main difference than in the past is the R/C helicopters and even the multi-copters of several years ago were rather difficult to fly. You wouldn’t dare fly them outside a huge field just in case something went wrong. Secondly, the cost to get into them and repair them was extremely high. Today, products like the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ can be had by anyone with $1,500 to blow, can be flown by someone with absolutely zero experience, and this leads to unsafe flying from people’s backyards and taking risks that are unacceptable to people who know how unreliable these can be.
What Do You Think?
What do you think? Are these just another photography tool that is just misunderstood by the general public or are should we seriously consider not allowing them to be used outside of designated flying fields? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between.