Until recently, the only way to get aerial photographs and video of a hotel property has been to use a helicopter or small plane. That has meant dealing with high prices, unpredictable weather, and inherent danger. All that’s changing as “photo drones” enter the marketplace. These are radio-controlled aircraft on which you can mount a camera. The drone flies over your property while you stand on the ground looking at a monitor and directing your shoot.
Photo drone photography offers multiple advantages, says Matthew Lavin, owner of Aerography. “We come in much lower, capturing architectural details that would be impossible with a helicopter. We launch on demand, taking advantage of the best light and weather conditions whenever they are available. We let our clients on the ground direct what our camera is doing in the air, so we get exactly the shot they want. And we are much more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than full-sized aircraft.”
However, drone photography operates in an uncertain legal environment. This year, a photo drone operator won a big court case against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to his attorney, “The FAA’s policy since 2007 has been that it is prohibited to use a model aircraft (a drone) for business purposes. In the first commercial drone case in U.S. history, we challenged that policy on the basis that it is non-binding and the judge at the NTSB agreed with us. However, the FAA appealed that decision, so the situation can best be characterized as unclear.”
States also are considering their own drone legislation, and it’s hard to keep up with the changing legal landscape. That’s why Lavin says it’s best to work with a professional operator who carries the needed insurance, knows how to operate a photo drone safely, can work with local government and neighbors to get needed permissions, and is knowledgeable about privacy law, property law, and the latest state and federal legislation. “When you do it right,” he says, “the images are just spectacular.”