Taking wing.  Hercules Plaza, 1313 North Market Street, Wilmington, DE.

Taking wing.  Hercules Plaza, 1313 North Market Street, Wilmington, DE.

Closing in on 2:00pm.  Detail of clock at Hercules Plaza from vantage point afforded by a drone.

Closing in on 2:00pm.  Detail of clock at Hercules Plaza from vantage point afforded by a drone.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve fantasized about being a pilot. As a photographer of buildings, I’ve staged dozens of shoots from helicopters—but somebody else was always doing the flying.  Now, with drones, I finally get to fly solo.

City views. Philadelphia seen from above University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Park; new FMC building on the left.

City views. Philadelphia seen from above University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Park; new FMC building on the left.

I’ve been shooting with drones for a few years and I still marvel at the angles and perspectives I’m able to achieve for my clients—without sacrificing clarity or quality. Now that broad expanse of multi-dimensional space between me shooting from the ground and me shooting from a helicopter is part of my canvas—and under my complete control.

In the heights. Façade of Bentley Homes’ model house shot from 15 feet above the ground

In the heights. Façade of Bentley Homes’ model house shot from 15 feet above the ground

It does take a lot of practice and experimentation to get the hang of it—and just like anything else related to flying, safety is priority one. I went through a lot of studying and training before I was granted an FAA 107 license allowing me to operate a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) for commercial purposes. 

And as I got better, drone technology got better, too. Better cameras. Better stability. More flexibility and greater agility.

Second story job. E.A. Delle Donne Corporate Center I, Wilmington, DE

Second story job. E.A. Delle Donne Corporate Center I, Wilmington, DE

I’m a big fan of drone maker DJI. They’ve developed some amazing technology for the control and flight of their UAV’s and their Phantom 4 Pro is an incredible flying camera, capable of producing a raw still image using a 1-inch 20 megapixel Sony chip. It also features a lens with minimal distortion (meaning straight lines stay straight) and has a wide angle lens that’s great for photographing buildings, close up and far away. For capturing video, its automated flying modes assist in achieving consistently smooth and steady flights.

Of course, I could drone on and on…but I think I’ll let these pictures tell the rest of the story.

Going wide. The Royal Athena apartment building next to the Schuylkill River, as seen from a drone operated next to the building.

Going wide. The Royal Athena apartment building next to the Schuylkill River, as seen from a drone operated next to the building.

The Royal Athena shot from the ground without a drone. Due to limited space and maneuverability, it’s very difficult to get a camera angle that shows the whole structure.

The Royal Athena shot from the ground without a drone. Due to limited space and maneuverability, it’s very difficult to get a camera angle that shows the whole structure.

Looks like it could be shot from a helicopter, but it’s a drone’s-eye view of Polo Run, an apartment complex .

Looks like it could be shot from a helicopter, but it’s a drone’s-eye view of Polo Run, an apartment complex .

DJI Phantom 4 Pro with integral camera. (photo source: DJI)

DJI Phantom 4 Pro with integral camera. (photo source: DJI)

Me, piloting, and Fernando Gaglianese, waving, captured by the drone itself.

Me, piloting, and Fernando Gaglianese, waving, captured by the drone itself.

Drone vs. Helicopter

  • Drone flights limited to 400 feet above ground, high enough for many site views.
  • Drone can also be thought of as a “tall tripod,” 15-30 feet above ground.
  • Drone flights can operate at lower costs.
  • Helicopter can fly higher—a good way to show how a site sits relative to surroundings like highways and landmark buildings.
  • Helicopters can fly in some areas that are restricted or difficult for drones, such as dense urban areas and near airports, and for a multi-site assignment, helicopters can travel quickly to multiple places.
  • From a helicopter, I can shoot with a very high quality camera and a larger variety of lenses.

 

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