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Blog | Keith•Photography

Ethics of Aerial Video

2014 has seen some interesting trends.  The selfie, The Frozen Soundtrack, a hugely successful Lego Movie and of course, hobby drones.  One of the reasons aircraft with cameras attached are so popular is because they offer extremely advanced technology at an affordable price.  Most of the current line of aerial video rigs come from China, which has a reputation for lower production costs.

A few years ago, getting stabilized aerial photography meant renting a helicopter (and a pilot), along with large, heavy camera gear.  The cost typically exceeded $10,000 for less than a full day of shooting.

The fact that such great technology is accessible to so many people means there will be an initial period of interest by many that will fade.  This is similar to the first camcorders, podcasting and more recently, wearable action cameras.  These are great devices but without a constant opportunity for use, most people will lose interest.  I believe the same is true for hobby drones.  There really aren't that many out there when you compare it to the other items I listed.  They are new, people are curious and thus we get a large amount of media attention over the subject.

If you are considering the use of aerial equipment, there are a few things to keep in mind regardless of your intent.  These are really no different than most other applications such as filming on the ground or recording a band in the studio, but without experience we can sometimes find good judgement to be in short supply.

  • Always fly insured.  If you are flying near people or away from your own property then you must assume the worst is possible and CAN happen.  There are things in the environment that are both unpredictable and outside of your control.  Birds, people throwing things, falling tree branches, RF interference and random equipment failure to name a few.  Even the best pilots in the world have to deal with problems.
  • Don't fly over people.  Not only is this a responsible practice but you'll get better shots from an angle.  Shots taken directly overhead look bad and are rarely used professionally.
  • Don't fly at head level.  Again, this is not only a safety protocol, but a professional method.  It's better to shoot above or below eye level for visual interest.
  • Keep your equipment in sight.  There are times when you must briefly lose visual contact and they are necessary to get the shot.  However, you should never intend to fly by FPV or remote camera feed.  If the video feed from your equipment is lost and you can't see it, you will risk the safety of both your equipment and the things in your environment when you attempt to fly it.  Googles are great but don't fly with them.  Get a second operator or a cameraman to use them.
  • Don't fly in areas where you don't have permission.  This is probably the number one issue that makes everyone with R/C look bad.  Someone uses bad judgement, flies in an area without asking for permission, films it and makes the other 99% of us look bad.  10 minutes later, the footage is in on the news and web.  It doesn't matter if you think it's OK.  If the other people in the area don't like it and the owner didn't approve it, you're going to look like a creep.  Yes, I've seen the fireworks videos and yes, they're cool.  Do you know what those pretty fireworks are made from?  Mostly burning metal.  What happens when burning metal makes contact with flying plastic?
  • Learn from someone with experience.  A few years experience at the lest.  If you've never flown R/C aircraft before or have just a few hours under your belt, find someone to learn from.  The amount of knowledge you'll gain will make a huge difference in your results and you'll make a lot fewer expensive mistakes.  Start with your local hobby shop.  If you don't have one, check here.

Generally speaking, assume you will always be questioned and be able to articulate your safety plan as well as your approval for shooting / flying.  Think about the risk before you fly.

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