Aerial & Architectural Photography

Drones. Flying Tripods

Spring 2016

Turbo Ace 5861-00010 Dec-29-2015

Drones are wonderful additions to the photographer’s arsenal. They are flying tripods that augment our existing tools and open up new ways of seeing things.

However, like everything else, they take some understanding. Common sense is needed to use them safely and legally.

Historically, this disruptive technology is a continuum of the personal computers and distributive processing evolution.

What are they?

Drones, also known as SUAVs (small unmanned aerial vehicles), for my type of commercial photography, are small remotely piloted aircraft.

Airplanes have greater range, which is good for pipelines and large homogeneous sites.

I prefer multi-copters for their control, maneuverability, and close-in operations. Quadcopters are the most common. Adding rotors for hexacopters and octocopters increases the payload and stability, which we want for my commercial photography. My intended client sites are isolated projects: industrial, offices, shopping centers, bridges, museums.

There is a tradeoff for capability and cost. Larger drones allow for fancier cameras. For 3D modelling, multicopters let me look into streets and alleys, and behind trees and smaller structures to minimize obscurations.


Flying tripods allow fast and vastly less costly positioning that lets modern high speed, high resolution cameras combined with excellent software work to their capabilities of rapid capture and video continuity. They can fly both outside and inside. Exterior flights might go between trees and other obstructions for typical architectural photography viewpoints and rise above ground clutter. Interior flights might fly at the vertical midpoint so that the images have least keystoning.

Time lapse photography and repetitive coverage are easier for sites that have their own drones or contract for construction progress coverage.

Continuing advances in drone design and camera miniaturization allow very high quality photography in increasingly small and more capable packages. My preferred drone will carry medium format cameras, such as the new Phase One IQ3 100mb XF 100 camera, and the Canon 5DS with it’s wide variety of lenses. More exotic choices are available. GoPro and a wide variety of video cameras and effects can be employed, with care and skill.

The scope of products is enlarged due to economy, flexibility, and miniaturization. New imaginations are possible.


  • Clients can be exposed to severe problems from hiring bandits without FAA exemption, liability insurance, rigorous operating procedures and with amateur results.
  • High cost of insurance.
  • Usually cannot operate in brisk winds.
  • Airport controllers may be reluctant to allow operations near their airports.
  • Some contractors have ‘No Drone’ policies.

FAA limitations:

  1. Drones have FAA imposed restrictions. FAA 333 Exemption.
  2. Qualified pilots and observers. 2 person crew.
  3. Must be over property and/or persons with permission
  4. Formal ok from controllers or airport if w/i 5 miles. May not receive ok.
  5. 250' agl max in most of Chicago area (under 30 mile veil of ORD)
  6. No night flights
  7. May not operate from other vehicles, cars, trucks, other aircraft.
  8. Extreme logging and reporting FAA requirements.