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Methods - UAV's

Model Helicopter for Photography

Methods of Aerial Photography - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's)

UAVs (also known as UAS - Unmanned Aircraft Systems) are a large, diverse group of aerial craft that have no human pilot on board. This group includes model helicopters, drones and other remotely and/or radio controlled machines. New versions of this class are constantly being designed and upgraded to provide a wide range of commercial aerial photography services (stills and broadcast-quality HD video) for industrial photography, feature films, sports coverage, power & gas pipeline surveys as well as overt/covert surveillance for the police and military.

UAVs are now regularly used for commercial/industrial aerial photography and often considered the method of choice for capturing high quality, low altitude imagery for many applications. Using heavy lift UAVs capable of carrying professional DSLR cameras (24-36MP resolution), Sky Eye Aerial Photography has pioneered special techniques to provide architects, architectural visualisers, construction companies and property developers with high resolution images at specific GPS-controlled points in the sky and storey heights. These images are captured immediately above the site for new tower blocks to provide accurate views from every floor level and direction for use in cgis, marketing materials and websites. UAVs are also used to produce 90-360 degree panoramas, 360 degree immersive/spherical virtual tours and for filming low level full HD video for broadcast TV and other productions. Due to the professional standards we have developed and operate to, Sky Eye has been the first choice supplier of aerial photography and specialist UAV imaging for the majority of all the new towers built in London over the past decade.

CASE STUDY 1 (Stills photography for Property Developers): 

A UAV was selected as the best and only method for this demanding project because the assignment required photographs were taken at very precise points in the sky at many different altitudes and from a very confined space. The property developer who commissioned Sky Eye wanted high quality marketing photographs of the views that the prospective occupants would have when the riverside tower was completed. It was essential the machine didn't stray into the airspace over the river, which is a designated helicopter route, and therefore a highly controllable and powerful craft was used which could resist the wind blowing it off its vertical trajectory. At each height, a series of overlapping images were taken from the same point to allow all the images to be stitched together afterwards to form 360 degree panoramas. The state-of-the-art UAV below, being operated by Sky Eye and a specialist UAV pilot, is seen flying up to 350 feet where it took pictures which precisely corresponded to the various floor levels (plus 1.6m to represent eye level) of the proposed tower. The picture on the right below shows the UAV launch site and the camera height when it captured the image of the river Thames below.

UAV        Sky Eye crew flying UAV       


Aerial view of River Thames


CASE STUDY 2 (HD video photography for Television):

A BBC producer needed unusual and interesting low level aerial imagery for a major TV documentary history series. Sky Eye was commissioned to shoot HD video for the series with a UAV and below are shots of the presenter being filmed in different locations.

(For examples of HD video footage taken with UAVs, please contact Sky Eye for a show reel)


ADVANTAGES of UAVS : The various types of craft in this category offer different advantages and have widely different capabilities and applications. Probably the main general advantage, from a photography perspective, is that they are able to work at much lower altitudes than full size helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft and consequently offer greater operational flexibility for low level work. UAVs are quick and easy to deploy at short notice and can take still photographs or HD video at specified heights and extremely close up to the subject. They can take off from almost any reasonably sized space and can be used for low level and exacting tasks where alternative photographic capture methods are unsuitable. These vehicles offer a useful method of achieving difficult photographic objectives at altitudes above the range of land-based booms, cranes and aerial platforms and lower than conventional helicopters. With the increasing miniaturization of technology they have become widely used in commercial photographic applications, especially as they can carry professional DSLR high resolution full frame still cameras (eg 21-24MP) and full HD video cameras. UAVs can be precisely positioned in the sky and can be flown to pre-set GPS positions and automatically held there long enough to take stable video or a series of overlapping still photographs to stitch together to form 360 degree panoramas. There is a trend to use UAVs more and more as their sophistication, and that of the cameras they carry, increases and the demand grows for more accurate and precise aerial photography by commercial clients.

DISADVANTAGES: The different types of craft have different limitations but all are regulated by the CAA with regard to airspace policy. All small UAVs have limited payloads, distance and height ranges and endurance (the time they can remain up in the air without refueling). Most of the larger UAVs used by professional companies have a sufficiently good payload to enable them to carry professional DSLR camera equipment, although some smaller ones (amateur/hobby craft) do not. Sometimes the locations that radio controlled craft are legally allowed to operate in are limited by the CAA for safety reasons (eg over people and congested areas and property). All commercially registered vehicles are required by law to have failsafe mechanisms to shut down the throttle in the unlikely event of a failure in their radio link and sometimes equipped to fly back to a predetermined 'home' location. One practical limitation for event photography or when there are specific days when filming must takes place (eg TV and film productions), reasonably good weather (eg no rain and light winds) is necessary. For still photography this is less of a problem as fast shutter speeds can be used to overcome camera movement. However, for video use, even with sophisticated UAVs with gyro-stabilised camera gimbals, winds of more than 10mph can cause difficulty with framing and composition and also unstable footage which post-stabilisation techniques cannot always completely rectify. Unlike helium balloons and airships, which are able to remain in the sky for many days at a time, UAVs (with exception of HALE UAVs - High Altitude Long Endurance craft) are not able to remain airborne for very long in any one period and need refueling or battery replacement frequently, if they are of the quiet, electric type. Internal combustion powered craft (eg petrol driven) do not often much or any significant advantage in this regard. This, however, is not generally a serious issue, but more of an inconvenience as it limits the continuous flight times for certain, mainly video, assignments. Overall, even with the limitations described, UAVs offer aerial photographers and film makers the opportunity to produce exceptional and exciting images which no other aerial photography method can match.

HEIGHT and RANGE: For conventional aerial photography in the UK, the height and distance UAVs can operate at should never be beyond the pilot's unobstructed line of sight and up to a maximum altitude, as defined by the CAA, of 400 feet (c.122m) for normal civilian photography.


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