There’s no question drones have become prevalent in our society. These remote-controlled small aircraft have found their way into the hands of hobbyists, kids and even professional photographers. The drone-saturated economy has affected a number of aspects of life, including public safety, product delivery, and perhaps most of all, photography and videography.
There are certainly situations where drone-generated photos and videos make the most sense–we even advocate for them at times–but there are plenty of reasons why professionals still rely on helicopter photography and videography for their projects.
In a recent interview with photography hub Zenfolio, aerial photographer Jon Hope–who has had experience with both drones and helicopters–said one of the biggest differences between helicopters and drones is with regard to federal regulations.
“Drones can only fly out to 400 feet above the ground, and if you’re doing this as a photographer for commercial use, you need a special exemption from the FAA, which is expensive,” Hope told Zenfolio.
According to North Carolina/Georgia-based aerial photography company Helivision “helicopters easily win, hands down” when comparing the range capabilities of drones and helicopters.
“Typically drones get about four minutes of flying time before needing a battery change and can only fly out to 400 feet above the ground per FAA regulations. Flight distances over a quarter mile also introduce lag into the flight control system.”‘
And because of that, even drone-based website DroneAbove.com says, ” to get a truly magnificent birds eye view, a lot of times shooting from a helicopter is the only way to go.”
On the website Breed Media, a superyacht photographer compared and contrasted drones and helicopters, and said that among its advantages, helicopters provide panoramic views that allow “the photographer, and others, to anticipate changes in the light and the scene… to shoot landscape and portrait photos… the composition options are almost endless.” Meanwhile, photographers “can only really view the subject and surroundings via the drone’s screen.”
Plus, aerial photographer Jon Hope said that he chooses excellent pilots (like the ones we have at Longhorn Helicopters) to steer the aircraft while he can focus on photography. When it comes to drones, “I’m likely to be reliant on myself, which may not be quite as good.”
Olympic photographer Jeff Cable summarized, “I’ve flown drones enough times that I’ve gotten pretty confident, but it does mean that you’re having to fly and shoot at the same time vs. having someone who is going to be doing the flying for you.”
One Example: News Coverage
While a 2016 law eased restrictions on who could pilot drones and what kind of training they needed, it doesn’t present a silver bullet for news coverage. Despite drones presenting lower-cost options for aerial journalism, there are still limitations to a drone’s abilities for news purposes.
As Patrick J. Kiger reported in HowStuffWorks, despite the cost savings of drones, there are key differences that have significant effects on a news organization’s ability to cover a story:
“For example, the FAA prohibits operators from flying drones directly over people, which would make it difficult to get close to a massive protest rally or a celebratory parade for a sports championship win. Most drones’ electric battery packs only allow them to stay aloft for 20 minutes, while helicopters can stay in the air for hours at a time. And FAA regulations require that drone operators on the ground must maintain visual contact with the unmanned aircraft.”
The article quoted journalism professor Matt Waite–who heads the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Drone Journalism Lab–as saying drones “would have been ill-equipped to cover what is perhaps the most famous aerial-footage story ever — 1994’s two-hour police pursuit of football star-turned-murder suspect O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco on the Los Angeles-area freeway system.”
Kiger summarized that due to the strengths of both options, “there probably will be room for both copters and drones in journalism for the foreseeable future,” as copters get to a scene quickly and drones get access to more places.
Got a photography/videography project in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that needs some aerial support? Let us do the flying and focus on capturing high-quality, well composed works of art from the air. Head over to our WORK page and we’ll talk about it!
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