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Reaching the dizzy heights

Welcome to our first post of 2017. I would like to start by wishing all our readers and viewers a happy and prosperous new year.

For this post, I decided to go back to where we started as a freelance photography company and get back to our roots. Andrew Lyons Photography came about after diversifying from our previous company “Skyviews 100”. At the time we started this, nearly a decade ago, we provided a ground based, aerial photography solution, using a 26m mast system. It became apparent quite quickly that this was a very specialist area and that we would need to expand to bring in a sustainable income.
In this post, I want to look at the different ways of getting a camera into the air, and show the different results these methods can achieve.

If you prefer to watch our video blog of this post, please scroll to the bottom of the page.

Mast based systems for aerial photography.

Masts vary in height from portable, tripod mounted, systems that typically extend to 10 metres. Above this height, masts are vehicle mounted for support (attaching to the tow bar). These masts are usually up to 17m or so. Larger masts, up to 30m, are also vehicle mounted, but are permanently attached to the roof of the vehicle (usually a large 4×4 or a van) and are deployed using a built-in air compressor to provide the power needed to raise them.
Clearly, masts do not reach the heights that drones or conventional aircraft can obtain, but can take images that cover a surprisingly large area of land. In many cases, such as photographs of individual properties, this height is excessive. Go too high and all you get is a fantastic photograph of the roof. However even modest heights can considerably alter the perspective of a scene and give the photograph a dramatic edge.
In addition, they can often operate in areas that drones simply cannot fly, or where a plane cannot fly low enough to get a detailed shot.
The shot below was taken from our 26m mast system for a local housebuilder and shows the progress of one of their constructions sites after work had commenced.

aerial photography shoot of construction site

Conventional aircraft.

Whether you choose to use fixed wing aircraft or helicopters, these are the traditional means of obtaining aerial photographs. They obviously have the advantage of being able to operate at greater height and can cover immense areas of land. Conversely, however, this can also cause problems when trying to obtain detailed shots of small areas. Aircraft cannot fly below 500 feet and often pilots choose to fly much higher than this and keep out of the way of the emergency service craft that typically fly as low as legally possible. Over built up areas, the minimum height, at which they can fly, increases to allow the aircraft time to glide “clear” in the event of a breakdown.
Aircraft do have the advantage of being fast, and allow coverage of multiple sites in a single flight. It is amazing how quick you can get across country when flying at over 100mph and in a straight line.
The photo below was photographed from a fixed wing aircraft and shows the same site as above. The brief was to show the whole of this site (along with four others) and an aircraft was the obvious choice.

Aerial photography shot of construction site

Drones (or UAVs).

These are the new kids on the block and the recent progress of these remotely piloted small aircraft has been phenomenal. As with any new technology, the use of these small craft is evolving. They can also be subject to scrutiny and suspicion, from both the government, and the public alike.
To use a UAV for commercial operations, however, it is not just a simple as ordering a craft online and then going out and flying. A commercial operator must hold a “Permission for Commercial Operations” certificate issued by the Civil Aviation Authority. They must also fly within a set of parameters laid down by law. The UAV must remain within sight at all times, and not flown more than 120m above ground, nor within 50m of any person, building, or object that is not under the pilot’s direct control.
UAV development is heading towards the video market, with a recently announced craft being able to shoot 5.2k video (a little over 20mp, in photography terms). Most craft, and certainly the more affordable ones, are limited to 4K video, which is around 12mp.
Additionally, drones are being scrutinized by the public, over fears of invasion of privacy, which is a factor that needs to be considered when deciding whether to use one for your project.
The shot below is the most recent in this series and was taken using an Asctec Falcon8 drones, by one of our strategic partners as an ongoing project. We are currently embarking on our journey towards CAA certification.

aerial photography UAV shot of construction site

For a video transcript of this blog post, with further examples of aerial images, please take a look below.

If you have any queries about the content of this blog, or want to find out how we can help you, please do not hesitate to get in touch. You can use our contact page which is here.

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