How to choose a drone / aerial photography supplier

Choosing a drone supplier can seem a bit daunting especially if it's something you are doing for the first time.... but there are a few easy steps you can take to help remove much of the risk and hassle and also ensure that you get precisely what you are expecting.

Firstly and most importantly, consider what you want to do with the output, is it simply photography or video for the web or are you looking for something you can put through a large projection system in a corporate presentation or have printed in a large format - the filming process and its outputs / format can have very different requirements or specifications (to be web friendly and with a resolution [that is the image size and amount of detail contained in the image eg no of pixels or dots per inch etc] ideal for use on or in web pages or social media is quite different to that required for a wall splash in an office or images for a corporate presentation - where you will need a much higher resolution so that the projected image remains crisp and clear when projected large on a screen or printed for a wall).

One of the first questions that often gets asked is 'what do you fly?" and while that is a valid question, the better questions are 'do you have a track record in delivering the kinds of images and output that I need, do I like your work, have I seen live examples of what you are proposing to deliver and do you have all the skills I need (mainly post-production for video and editing for stills photography but also in precision flying or at least the ability to handle the drone correctly to capture the right sort of images / footage required in the required time).

Just because someone can fly a drone doesn't mean they can frame / take a picture correctly or produce a professional video.

Also on the question of 'what do you fly', there is no point paying the higher costs of a higher-end drone to film something that needs to be professionally but cost efficiently done for estate agent work for example where profit margins can be under pressure. A lighter weight drone with an experienced single operator / pilot can often film where a more sophisticated and therefore heavier drone may not be able to get permission to fly or have ready access eg built-up and congested areas. Larger drones often require a pilot, a camera operator and possibly ground staff with the associated costs of a larger film crew - assuming that you aren't looking for broadcast quality film, (and even if you are the general principles remain the same) we won't be covering that level of film commissioning here, as that is a topic in its own right better covered by specialists in this area.

Firstly make sure you see examples of the kind of output that you are looking for (photography or video), that your supplier has a track record in the technical skills needed to meet your requirements and that you like or find a style of filming and production that works for you and your project.

If you are looking for survey type photos or video then you will need photography or video that meets those needs, so possibly less creative and artistic and more of a detailed and analytical approach to the subject.

Whereas if you are selling a luxury property, you are selling a lifestyle so while needing to cover all the basics in terms of frontage, elevations, situation / plot but you will probably want some more creative and mood setting images in a more polished and highly sophisticated presentation format.

So make sure your drone supplier has examples of work relevant to the types you are looking to commission, be ready to ask questions, seek clarification or tweak a brief to get exactly what you need.

However you proceed, you just need to bear in mind the basic limitations of drone filming & photography, height is a maximum of 400 feet and reach is 500 metres (the mix of units of measurement is intentional here) with the drone in line-of-sight at all times. The pilot will need permission of the land owner to take-off from the launch site. While most mid-range drones don't have or have limited zoom lenses because of the issue of keeping the camera steady and any impact the degree of zoom may have on the quality of the final image, it is possible to take off from multiple points on a single shoot and when shooting in 4k it is possible to zoom in on areas in the editing process.

Standard Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permissions (formally a Permission for Aerial Work or PfAW) DO NOT allow for flying:

  • within 150m of events or gatherings of more than 1,000 people - so concerts and sports events

  • within 50m of anyone or anything not directly under the pilots control

  • near military or restricted sites eg power stations or other permanent or temporary (special events) sensitive locations or locations that could have an impact on control of the drone (high intensity radar)

  • near airports, aerodromes or other air users (parachute, hang gliding sites etc)

To film under the above conditions, additional permission can be sought from the CAA and may involve the production of specific safety case. This is time consuming and complex requiring the relevant expertise and time to obtain.

In addition to the licencing elements above, there are a number of practicalities that need to be considered when commissioning video or photography - for example the relation of the subject of the film or photography to its plot, can the drone get around the subject easily (the most common issue here is tall tree lines, high voltage power lines, telephone cables, multi-storey buildings, highly built-up areas (with unusual wind conditions around these structures etc) or are there animals or children on or in close proximity to a site (schools for example)?

The other obvious limitation is weather, most drones can fly in moderate winds but anything over 15 mph needs to be handled carefully and high winds can result in a 'no-fly' as will rain and extreme cold (minus four degrees or more). If you are looking for video especially then you will need to consider the impact of wind on any footage. Although most drones have self-stabilising technology, there will be some movement in the final image if there is any real wind, unless carefully managed.

Additionally, make sure you see the supplier's pilot's licence (technically a Permission for Aerial Work as mentioned before), any additional permissions from the CAA (again technically exceptions to the standard Permission for Aerial Work), their valid insurance documentation and their Operations Manual (essentially a method statement for their operations) to ensure that they are set-up to deliver your project efficiently and safely.

All that being said, drone technology can be of huge benefit for those seeking to see things (property, land, structures) from a different perspective or to get easier, safer and faster access to areas normally only accessible at much greater cost (both in terms of GB £s and resources more generally).

If you would like more information or to discuss a potential project please do just get in touch with any of the team here at Thames Valley Drones on 01628 436b494 or 07595 662472.