Drone News

The world’s tropical forests lost around 39 million acres of trees in 2017, largely due to anthropogenic deforestation, but conservationists are finding hope in using drones to monitor, preserve and even regrow the Earth’s forests and wildlife populations.

In January 2011, two conservationists met for the first time and changed conservation history. Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich envisioned an inexpensive way to improve monitoring wildlife in remote regions. One year later, they built and tested the first-ever conservation drone in North Sumatra, Indonesia, and the results were unprecedented.

Most of us have heard about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones, and some of us might even own one. Although drones originated in the military, their use has expanded to include recreational and commercial purposes, and scientific research that can be used to save forests.

Surveying wildlife is what Koh and Wich had in mind when they designed a low-cost UAV equipped with cameras, sensors and an autopilot system to gather data on declining orangutan populations in Indonesia. The drone flies itself along a pre-mapped route, taking photographs and videos along the way. Alternatives such as satellites, helicopters or counting wildlife populations manually are costly and time consuming, and do not provide high-resolution images or up-to-date data.

During the test flight in Sumatra, the drone captured videos of oil palm plantations, orangutan nests, and logging and vegetation burning to clear forests for agriculture. It was clear these drones could not only be used for data collection and topography, but also for protecting forests and wildlife from deforestation and illegal activities.

“One of the people we have helped in Indonesia was able to detect loggers encroaching in a national park and also collect evidence of illegal logging within the national park at a small scale,” Koh said, “at a scale where the [drone] technology is able to perform well.”

Conservation drones are mainly used for mapping habitats, counting wildlife and patrolling protected areas. Despite the limited flight time of drones due to current battery technology, Koh asserted that conservation drones are making a difference in forests all over the world, and the technology will only continue to improve allowing drones to stay in flight for longer periods of time.

“The other way the technology has been able to address [deforestation] is to help with reforestation,” Koh said. “In places where the forest has already been felled, drones can also be used to try to assess the extent of the forest loss to help with developing plans for reforestation. Some of the more recently developed drones can even be used to shoot capsules or pellets of seedlings or seeds to directly help with the reforestation efforts.”

Wich and Koh started the nonprofit Conservation Drones in 2012 to provide information about using drones for conservation and to train conservationists, nonprofits, and national park personnel on using these drones. They co-authored the book “Conservation Drones: Mapping and Monitoring Biodiversity,” which is the first book that provides information to conservationists and engineers on how to use drones as tools in conservation activities.

“[We wanted] to raise awareness about this technology to people who are not aware of it yet,” Koh said, “and to also hopefully inspire people to think about new technology that could be adapted for conservation use.”

In the U.S., drones are being used for various conservation purposes, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and nonprofit conservation groups.

Lake McMurtry Friends, Inc. is a conservation nonprofit organization in Stillwater, Okla., that began using drones for basic video and photography purposes in the maintenance and marketing of Lake McMurtry. In 2017, a team from Lake McMurtry was asked to do an aerial survey at nearby Lake Carl Blackwell to investigate an invasive plant species called yellow floating heart. Jared Avilez, park manager and assistant director of Lake McMurtry Friends, Inc. said using the drone produced prodigious results.

“Part of the problem with this specific plant is if you drive a boat into it that’s going to basically cut the lily pad up and make it reproduce quicker,” Avilez said. “So you can’t really drive a boat into it to see how far up into a tributary the plant has spread.”

Avilez is confident that as drone technology continues to improve, conservationists will regularly be using drones in their work monitoring, mapping and sustaining ecosystems.


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Mike Mazur is a Drone Pilot Ground School alum with a huge range of experience in cinematography.

He started out working in Manhattan in post-production. From there he learned about shooting and directing, and built up his skill set to the point where he is now, as the owner of his own production company, Diario Films. Mike has worked with artists like Kesha and Steely Dan, and he’s also flown missions for non-profits in Guatemala and elsewhere around the world.

We wanted to sit down and talk to Mike both about how he built up his production business, and also about his decision to add drones to his list of tools as a cinematographer.


Tell us about your background. How did you first get into work as a photographer and cinematographer?

My career started out very differently from many drone pilots I’ve met and heard about.

I first started work in photography and videography in post production, as an editor and and after-effects artist. For a significant part of my career I was managing a green screen studio in lower Manhattan, and only did post production work.

But after a while that work became tiresome, and I realized that I didn’t really want to spend the rest of my life in a dark room, looking at other people’s adventures.

So I eventually got a job as a producer, because I had been producing some of the shoots that we had done in lower Manhattan (including one with our current president, which was a funny experience).

The agency I was working for, which was called Cross Borders, eventually merged into another agency called Rain, and that was a creative agency where I handled projects in which we were creating digital content for corporations to use in one form or another. We worked with companies like Walmart, Subway, and Hess

Although I wasn’t very enthusiastic about a lot of the more corporate work, we got to make a short documentary series about sports in America to be used in tandem with the 2012 Olympics, and I really loved that work. The goal of the series was to showcase how American society looks at sports—we did an episode on the Special Olympics, one on Jackie Robinson, things like that.

While at Rain, in addition to working in production I started picking up a camera. The first thing I really learned how to shoot well was a time lapse—I’d always be shooting time lapse photography while these bigger projects were going on. But we’d always hire a cinematographer and a director of photography to come and shoot the project for me.

And then, when I was 29, I had a sort of serendipitous occasion on a trip to Guatemala, back in January of 2013. I ended up getting a fellowship with a non-profit there, and staying for the entire year of 2013 doing work in both Central America and Southeast Asia.

To do this work, I would literally go from country to country, from town to town, with a big backpack that had a camera, a tripod, and a laptop. So I was finding stories, shooting them, directing them, editing them—I was delivering them, all by myself. And that was one of the coolest experiences of my life.

When I came back from that year I had so much experience to draw from for my work in cinematography.

I wanted to finish a documentary I’d started about a famous figure in Puerto Rico, so I teamed up with my friend Fernando, who is a brilliant cinematographer, and we raised a few thousand dollars through an Indiegogo campaign, and we spent two weeks on the island and were able to finish the project.

Around the same time, I met a producer named Matty Parker, who had just secured the life rights for the story of a man who was the first African American to play in the NBA, who is named Earl Lloyd. The NBA film premiered a little while back at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and we’ve secured international distribution, so we’re really excited about that.

So that’s the story of how I went from work in post-production to getting behind the camera.

What made you start using drones in your work?

It’s kind of a funny story.

At the same time DJI released the Osmo, which allows you to get incredibly smooth shots, and the X5 Handle—but the two didn’t actually work together.

They said it would, but in reality, it just didn’t. (The following spring, after releasing these two products, they released a little piece that allowed you to connect one to the other.)

The X5 handle was pretty expensive—it cost more than $2,000—but I couldn’t use it since it didn’t connect to the Osmo, so for a while I just had this really expensive paper weight sitting in my office.

At the same time, I’d been wanting to expand my repertoire and my business, and so I just compulsively bought a DJI Inspire 1 and started flying

How did you first start using drones as a commercial pilot?

The first time I flew a drone on a shoot was for a job in Guatemala, for a non-profit called the Friendship Brigade, which does loans to women in rural areas to help them start businesses. (This was on a return trip, not during my first period there where I was given the job to travel around the world.)

After that first experience, I realized that I really loved shooting with a drone, and I realized how much it improved the quality of the work that I did there.

The piece I made for the non-profit was a profile of a woman named Gilanda. She used the loans to really improve her life, and she helped all these other women in the community improve their lives.

Being able to follow her from the sky, and to shoot her house, was huge, since part of what she did with the money she borrowed was expand her home. And even at the end of the video I was able to get a great shot with my Inspire I that really helped close things out.

Have you ever crashed during a shoot?

Who hasn’t?

No, but seriously, I definitely have had to deal with a crash, and it was heart breaking.

I was in Puerto Rico working on that documentary I talked about earlier, and still fairly new to flying. I was flying near a lake, and decided to pull back a bit without turning the camera around and looking at what was behind the drone—I just impulsively went backwards, and I got the drone stuck in a tree, about a hundred feet in the air.

Before I knew it a local man was chopping down the tree to get the drone back, and he’d cut it down within less than ten minutes with his machete. And I watched in agony as the tree turned in the air, at the last minute, and completely crushed the drone.

It was definitely a learning experience. Since then I’ve been through the Drone Pilot Ground School course, and I know a lot more about how to check yourself and be careful when you’re flying, to prevent those types of scenarios from arising in the first place.

When did you start flying commercially in the U.S.?

I shot abroad quite a bit, in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, India, France, both with a drone and with other equipment

And finally, when I was back in the U.S. and ready to work I decided I wanted to pursue Part 107 certification and became a professional drone pilot here.

I made the decision for a few reasons: I wanted to know the material, I wanted to get better at flying—and I figured the certification process would push me to do that, too—and I also wanted to separate myself from other cinematographers, who either weren’t flying drones at all, or who were flying drones illegally.

This was in late 2016, shortly after the Part 107 rules had come out, and I knew a few cinematographers who would just use a drone in shoots without knowing the rules at all. They’d show me their drone footage, and some of it would just be so illegal.

Have you ever had to turn down work because it would violate the Part 107 rules?

There have been multiple times where I’ve had to turn down jobs because I didn’t have the night time waiver, which I applied for and wasn’t able to get.

I’ve also had to turn down work in New York City on a few different occasions. Even though many locations in New York look like they’re OK for flying when you’re in the AirMap app, you then learn that the reality is way more confusing. And, of course, NYC claims to have a city-wide ban on drone flights, but even that doesn’t actually seem legal, it’s just something that the city has put on their website to discourage people from figuring out where they actually can and can’t fly.

Basically, it’s so confusing that I’ve decided not to do it, since I don’t want to risk breaking the law.

How do you typically find clients?

Word of mouth is key.

Every job I get is essentially stems from an existing group of contacts that I’ve built gradually over the years, and we all support each other and give each other work. Almost everything I do is an extension of some kind of work, some kind of contact that I’ve made in the past through previous networking. Your experience just snowballs.

If a contact I have sends me any kind of opportunity, I’ll immediately stop what I’m doing and apply to it. And often, because it comes along with my contact’s recommendation, I’ll get the job.

Of course, your work has to be solid enough to get your foot in the door, and you also have to be able to deliver when you show up to do the job.

One thing I did that helped me get work, and really distinguish myself, was that when I upgraded my cinematography services and started adding drone services as well, I made sure to send out emails to my contacts and let them know, and share my aerial reel.

And actually, creating that reel was one of the most important things I did to get those new clients who were interested in aerial shots. After my first drone shoots in Guatemala, I did some aerial shoots in New York and New Jersey, just flying around my family’s home, and put a reel together to show off my new skill set.

The key is to just keep chipping away—adding on footage to your reel, making it better and more diverse as you get more jobs, and also to keep adding on skill sets.

If you make it your goal to keep growing and keep getting better at what you do, you will find work—it may not always be easy, but it will come.


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Drone technology is becoming increasingly available, yet organisations and professionals still need to work out the best time to take this development on board. What it boils down to is perceived value: whether an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can produce goods in a way that's quicker, cheaper, or offers better levels of worker safety. 

Answers to queries about the perceived value of drones are flying in from industries as diverse as construction, building and infrastructure inspecting, mapping and surveying. Professionals utilising this new technology are helping to define the value and uses of UAVs. 

Defining the value of drone technology

Many businesses will delay adopting drones despite the fact that their perceived value is pretty well defined nowadays, usually because they object to the cost or feel an aversion to trying new technology. But these objections are not really a legitimate excuse for failing to utilise the many benefits of drones.

Objecting to price points

We offer a range of finance options for organisations who are looking to take on drone technology but reluctant to finance the purchase outright. The initial purchase price of UAV technology may be too high for small businesses, so we offer the opportunity to spread the costs over a longer period of time. Many businesses presented with our finance options will step back and reconsider, realising that their core objections are not actually related to cost.

Technology investments bring exciting benefits to professionals in a range of sectors. For example, surveyors and construction workers will be able to use drones to obtain an aerial view of a site, providing much more accuracy than physically walking the area. Drone technology has unlocked a new level of efficiency which is likely to continue developing over the coming years, so it's wise to consider all finance options which will allow you to follow this trend.

Adopting the use of drones often means altering the way in which an organisation approaches tasks. This upheaval is often businesses' number one objection. It can be difficult to carry out adjustments in any size of organisation, so it is important to consider all the associated benefits when pushing for change of this nature.

Embracing change leads to enhanced potential for growth 

Being positive about change can be difficult for workers at any level in industry, so it's important for organisations to make realistic explorations of the value of any developments. Examples of companies successfully adopting drone technology and consequently spending up to 90% less time on site or out in the field provide great motivation to make the switch.

The construction industry is extremely competitive and organisations that are unwilling to face up to new technologies run the risk of lagging behind rivals. This is a surefire way to cut profit, so it's vital that workplace attitudes towards technological advances are geared towards the primary goals of the organisation.

So, is it the right time for your organisation to adopt UAV technology? You will need to consider your current procedures and the sector in which your business operates before deciding on an answer. But, two things are certain: objections to cost or an aversion to workplace change should not be part of your decision-making process.


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As far as drone light shows go, Intel has been the de facto leader in that aerial space of the industry for quite some time now. To celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, and its accomplishments in drone technology, Intel flew 2,018 of its Shooting Star drones over Folsom, California on Wednesday, breaking the Guinness World Record for the most UAVs simultaneously airborne (once again).

For Intel, it isn’t just the roster of venues, opportunities, and events it’s managed to wrangle, from the 2018 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony to giving TIME magazine its first drone-captured cover or helping preserve the Great Wall of China. In just a few short years, Intel’s drone division has etched out its own space in this industry, showing no visible signs of slowing down. 

“Several years ago, we had an idea of flying drones forming the Intel logo over our corporate headquarters, and here we are doing just that,” said Anil Nanduri, VP and general manager of the Intel Drone Group. “It really speaks to the innovative spirit that Intel was founded on 50 years ago.”

Intel’s Shooting Star drones were developed from the ground up to be utilized for entertainment purposes. These aerial LED-fitted vehicles can display a wide variety of color combinations and have been already proven their mettle and capabilities as reliable, synchronized drone units. We first reported on these UAVs when Intel celebrated Singapore’s 52nd birthday last year, and most recently, when the company celebrated Pride 2018 to honor its LGBTQ community of employees. 

On Wednesday, the tech company decided to orchestrate perhaps its most complex drone light show to date.

Watching the team prepare for takeoff and coordinate via walkie-talkie is like being a fly on the wall of an Apollo mission, and without mitigating the efforts of the latter, the Intel Drone Team certainly managed to pull off an impressive aerial display of sophisticated drone technology here. As the promotional video correctly boasts, “the biggest drone light show in the world” included beautifully cosmic spherical clusters, a rotating replica of Earth, a human brain, and inevitably, Intel’s logo, adorned with a strong reminder of the company’s half-century presence in the tech industry. 

While it’s fairly satisfying to see the team celebrate it’s official Guinness World Record officiation as it occurred, it’s far more heartening to know that this crew of highly-skilled drone engineers and developers have only just begun to make a dent.


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Direct Link to the Gallery

Drone photography is still an incredibly new and emerging art form. Just a few short years ago it would have been nigh on impossible to capture some of the images that we now see on a regular basis. It's easy to become jaded by the onslaught of drone photographs out there but a number of artists are still pushing the envelope, experimenting and finding spectacular ways to exploit this nascent medium.

Urban drone photography, in particular, has been a fertile creative zone. Photographers have used drones to explore the often extravagant geometric patterns built into many urban structures from new angles.

Many of these top-down God's-eye snaps reveal secret designs that architects have embedded into their work, and good drone photography can often feel like one is uncovering a secret code hidden to earthbound eyes.

Some fascinating urban drone photography of recent times has reveled in the abstractions of modern cityscapes, turning streets and structures into ambiguous flat geometric lines, while other work takes advantage of the ease with which the technology allows sublime snaps to be captured at perfectly opportune moments.

In particular, a series of shots of Central Park in New York from photographer Bryan Dumas illustrates the shift in seasons across this iconic location using the same angle and perspective from winter to summer. The stunning duo of photographs beautifully encapsulates how this oasis in the center of the city transforms from a lush vibrant green garden into a snowy white landscape over a short seasonal shift.

This collection of photographs highlights the best urban and city drone photography of 2018 so far. Take a look through our gallery here for a glimpse at some of the most spectacular snaps of the year. 


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We first reported on Flyability’s Elios drone last July, and thought that it's a brilliantly designed search and rescue or inspection drone that could reach areas too hazardous for people to traverse themselves. According to DroneLife, Czech beer manufacturer Pilsener Urquell just realized the potential of utilizing this dextrous, nimble unmanned aerial vehicle in the brewery’s own bottling plants. 

The Elios is a durable drone encased in an ultra-light carbon fiber net, which allows it to collide with its surroundings without incurring any damage. That makes it a considerable solution for those in need of reaching difficult spaces that might otherwise pose serious risks. For Pilsner Urquell’s bottling plant, regulations of which require the ceiling to be inspected once per decade, the Elios quickly became the answer to maintain productivity without shutting the factory down completely.

Pilsner Urquell’s bottling plant covers nearly seven and a half acres, and produces 60,000 bottles of beer every hour. Standard operating procedure would have production shut down for more than a month, while five workers climb to the ceiling, visually inspect it, and prepare the requisite scaffolding and safety provisions. Clearly, using a collision-resistant drone that can be operated while work continues as usual is a far safer and more financially viable alternative to the usual process. As it turns out, camera-drones are increasingly practical when it comes to inspecting infrastructure.

The rather ingenious idea wasn’t discovered in-house, but rather from drone service provider Drony SITMP’s Ondrej Bouček, who met Pilsner Urquell’s inspector on another assignment. “The drone was exactly the solution for their situation,” said Bouček. “Pilsner Urquell were really pleased with the results of the flights. Elios provided benefits in safety, downtime, and mainly cost…They are also proud to be the first in the Czech Republic to use this method for roof inspections.”

During the aerial inspection, one pilot operated the drone and another served as safety observer. The inspector then simply guided the pilots to specific areas in the building, in order to gather the required data to produce a thorough report on the integrity of the building’s ceiling. To give you some sense of efficiency here, the entire procedure took a mere 12 days, with four to five hours of daily aerial inspection. That’s quite the contrast from the conventional, month-long process still serving as the standard in these situations. According to Bouček, that could all change moving forward. “This is the plan going forward,” he said. “We’ll be doing more and more of these.”


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Introducing the newest Hollywood star about to shock audiences everywhere: The DJI Zenmuse X5S camera aboard the Inspire 2 drone in a film called The Ascension of Ava Delaine. Oh, and also the lead actress, director, and producer of this single-take, all mobile device-shot film, complete with multiple wardrobe changes: Tonya Kay.

I had the pleasure of chatting with this seasoned performer and new director (Tonya, not the drone). As I imagine a lot of SolidSmack readers are, I was mostly unaware of how the cinema world works, but I was fascinated by Ms. Kay’s aggressive adoption of drone tech. Cinematographer and Drone Operator Andria Chamberlin was also kind enough to answer some of the more technical questions.

How It All Started

Tonya and her team decided to take on the AT&T Shape Create-A-Thon challenge in the Mobile Film category. This year, some of the mobile category rules they had to meet were: films had to be shot on smartphone, tablet or drone and it could be no more than 5 minutes long. Other constraints included having less than 4 weeks between “green light and delivery”. . . which my engineering mind takes to mean between “go time and deadline”.

Something her team DID NOT have to do (but did anyway): shoot that ~5 minutes of mobile device footage in a single take. So that means no stopping the camera while Tonya changed her wardrobe 4 times. Nudity was hidden from the camera’s view, but Tonya tells me her amazing crew braved, “way more of my nekkid (sic) body than they signed up for that day.” She also performed and changed costumes as she ran up multiple floors of a building! On each floor was a different scene representing a different decade of the character’s life.

Some Questions with Tonya Kay

ERIN: “How many were on your crew (besides the drone)?”

TONYA KAY:  “19 altogether, including but not limited to writer/co-producer Shaula Evans, cinematographer/drone operator Andria Chamberlin, sound designer/foley artist Jamie Billings, co-executive producer Dennis Ho, post-production at Digital Jungle Post and of course crazy-eyed me doing lots of things you can read in the credits.”

ERIN: “Why drone?  What cinematic advantages does filming with a drone bring? (Pretend like we know nothing about cinematography . . . because most of us don’t.)”

TONYA KAY:  “I chose to make an all-drone narrative film because I’ve never seen it done and I’m an artistic daredevil.  Screw easy, boring and safe – in my art, it’s okay if it hurts, so long as it’s real.

“Also, as my directorial debut, I was realistic about a 5-minute short not garnering much attention unless it was so risky, so renegade, so ridiculously bold that folk would watch just to see how we did it. Heck, high-level collaborators came on board for the exact same reason.

“Why have I never seen an all-drone, single-take narrative film?  Because it’s difficult af! Had we had a substantially larger budget, we might have taken three days on location to rehearse and capture the five minutes of sunset you’ll see in the film, but that’s nearly all I would have changed. It was suggested that we could have used a ($300,000/day) crane to do this, but I disagree: a crane could not have traveled over the rooftop before taking a 180-degree rotation like we did. A drone was the only equipment that could have accomplished this camera movement and sometimes it takes limited resources to recognize that.”

The Super Technical Q’s With Andria Chamberlin

ERIN: “How was the drone controlled? Were locations and times programmed in before shooting or was it maneuvered in real time by remote control?”

ANDRIA CHAMBERLIN: “We had two drone operators for the Inspire 2 using the X5 camera.  One controller managed the drone’s flight path and the other operated the camera’s gimbal.  The shot started out handheld, so one operator held the drone while the other pulled focus and controlled the gimbal. The shot continued through the launch at which point the person doing the handheld operation switched to control the gimbal, while the other controlled the drone’s flight path.  The drone’s flight path was pre-programmed prior to the shoot off-site on an app called AutoPilot using actual GPS coordinates of the location. We rehearsed the drone’s path in a field up by Paramount Ranch a few days prior to the actual shoot date. When we got to location, the alley and the location being in Downtown LA posed a problem accessing satellites – so although we had the whole operation pre-programmed, the drone couldn’t access enough satellites and we had to operate manually.”

ERIN: “What kind of control do you have on the camera settings during filming? Did you control those in real time or was it all automatic or was one focus and aperture setting and etc. OK for the whole film?”

ANDRIA CHAMBERLIN: “We had complete control of all camera settings throughout the 5-minute continuous shot. We had to rack focus throughout as the drone and the actor moved throughout the windows and each floor. We were shooting on a 25mm lens on the X5 which is a 2x crop factor, and at times all the way open at f2 as the sun started to go down, so pulling focus was essential.  We even racked aperture at points to account for drastic changes in brightness of direct sun, shadow, interior windows, and eventually the rooftop.”

ERIN: “You mentioned the geolocation software not working the day of filming because one of the satellites was not in the line of sight. What were some other technical limitations you ran into?”

ANDRIA CHAMBERLIN:  “We actually only had 5 satellites accessing the drone on the day of the shoot – we needed about 15 for the drone to work properly in our pre-programmed flight path. This was because we were in a tight alley surrounded by tall buildings in downtown.

“Other technical limitations probably would be the drone itself.  The drone on a 25mm lens trying to hold a closeup mid-air is tough, especially when you add wind, an alley into the equation, and a 5-minute single-take altogether where everything needs to be spot on or the whole take doesn’t work. Drones are brilliant for wides and always look very steady, but as you start to film subjects closer and closer it becomes more challenging to hold a shot in place.

“We really wanted to the drone to start off handheld and then seamlessly launch from our hands – but the Inspire 2 has incredibly dangerous blades that could seriously injure someone.  We would’ve needed to purchase specially made handles for the drone, and other protective gear for our bodies but we had limited time due to our deadlines and couldn’t get the handles in time. So what we did instead, was built a launch platform the same height as where the camera needed to be during the handheld portion, and pulled back to a wide where we set the camera seamlessly down on the platform. We launched from the platform without cutting. Some launches were smoother than others . . .

“We also were using the X5 camera which has its own picture limitations. The limited dynamic range of 9 stops on the camera made it tough to go from shadow to interior windows to direct sunlight all in one shot. As such, some highlights are more blown out than say an Alexa’s 14 stops would have.”

ERIN: “If you could wish a feature or gizmo into existence, what would make your job of filming with a drone easier? (This will be read by a bunch of hardware enginerds — maybe they can make it happen!)”

ANDRIA CHAMBERLIN:  “For this particular shoot, a satellite mesh network or ground stations to fill in the gaps in the satellite network caused by the cityscapes would’ve allowed us to use our pre-programed flight path without problems. Better wireless protocols would’ve helped that as well. If the drone didn’t have those problems that day, we basically could’ve sat back and just pulled focus and aperture and let the drone fly the path we had programmed for it automatically.

“Hand launching made easier for the Inspire 2 would’ve helped this shot as well. If ever a shot needs to start handheld on a person’s feet, follow them in a close-up through some action, and then end up on a rooftop (as ours did), the ability to hand launch safely and with ease, would’ve been amazing!”

More Questions for Tonya:

ERIN: “Tell me more about those crazy costume changes! How many did you do? How much did your athleticism factor into you pulling that off? How did you hide it from the camera?”

TONYA KAY: “What you see from the drone front is the movie. What was happening behind those walls was a whirlwind of rambunctious nudity and focused determination. It’s a good thing I was a professional dancer for 26 years before I acted in this shoot, because we treated the staging of The Ascension of Ava Delaine more like choreography between the drone and lead actress. I literally changed clothes while running between floors of the building to meet our drone on a new floor in a new decade of time, in new wardrobe with a new set of emotions.  “The drone, meanwhile, was navigating its own choreography on the outside of the building between our meetups, as well.

“I couldn’t have done it without the crew, braving way more of my nekkid body than they signed up for that day. I had one person on each floor assisting the wardrobe changes. I had another crew member on each floor on walkie communicating with the camera department things like, ‘Eyes on Tonya floor 2. She’s out of her head piece. Pulling up gown. Exiting onto balcony in 3 .. 2 . . .’ Then, get this — I’m the director, too, right? Then I’d hit my mark, yell ‘action’ for the camera to find me and my 1st AD (Assistant Director), SaraAnne Fahey, would yell another ‘action’ to me when she saw I was in frame. It was more like theatre with the energy of real-time everything.

“I decided early on to scrap all shoe changes for time, so you will only see me with footwear in the very first vignette. I under-dressed everything I could. So the lingerie, for example, in the 4th vignette, was worn under 3 vignettes prior.  I wore hats or headpieces to account for the lack of hair style change-time. When I finally got to the rooftop, my chest was heaving so hard, I had to absolutely meditate myself clam in the two seconds it took for the camera to find me.

“As an actress, I’ve never done anything like this. I’ve seen continuous-shot films, but the actors weren’t doing real-time quick changes or ascending entire buildings through five decades in five min. It was insane and ridiculously fun.”

ERIN: “If you could explain to me in general more about how the filming worked, that would be great. I was a bit confused with you saying it was a 5-minute single-take but then you also had to do a segment shot on-location at the WB studios.”

TONYA KAY:  “There’s the movie you pitch, then there’s the requests studios/network place on your movie. In this case, it was the AT&T SHAPE competition which made the request.  This is just like the real-world film/tv-making process, by the way. A producer, writer, director, actress – every artist can expect their initial concept to change and change again every step of the way.  If you want your work to be seen by more than your pets, you gotta be able to collaborate. I’ve always said: a true artist isn’t someone who has brilliant creative ideas, it’s someone who has those ideas, takes the notes, includes revisions, even makes mistakes and then still creates brilliance incorporating all the twists and turns. I find it absolutely thrilling.

“Yes, the competition requested (required) we use a shot from Warner Bros, which threw us for a loop when they also unleashed the news that Warner Bros wouldn’t be allowing drones.  Our green lit pitch was for an all-drone, single-take film and my ego felt a battle!  Instead of going berserk, I decided this was a lesson more about who I am going to be as a filmmaker and less about the project itself. As the director, am I going to cry about the integrity of my film or am I going to craft a way to stay true to the film’s original concept while showing AT&T and Warner Bros that I play well with others? I genuinely crave teamwork and incorporating this request actually challenged me to be even more creative with a solution AND taught me how to keep cool and treat people well even when under considerable artistic and deadline pressure. A successful filmmaker = solutions.

“You’ll see I chose to include a separate shot filmed at Warner Bros right at the top of the film for the production company’s title card. It actually sits in nicely, incorporates the competition’s request and is a creative way to honor the production company, Danger Arts.

“And if I want, I can remove the requested clip for future cuts. You know what I’m saying.”

More Items on the Technical Wish List

Tonya told me there were 2 other camera/drone features from a post-production view that would have made making this film easier.

One was not having compression automatically placed on the video files. While the film was shot in 5k, and while the format appeared to be RAW, Tonya tells me there was still noticeable compression applied. In editing, her team didn’t have full access to colorizing options. She says she’s not unhappy; they still were able to perform a lot of colorizing effects. This aspect was vital to the artistic storytelling of the project as the team colorized the different vignettes representing different decades to reflect the colors and tones we associate with those time periods. They would have liked to do even more, though!

The other thing on Tonya’s wish list was even more image stabilization. While the way these camera-drone combos are built is fantastic for far-away scenery views, it’s not as great for close-ups. I’m told that means any filming done 10 feet away or closer. Because this film was entirely shot in that close-up range, and also shot outside in the wind, adjustments made to the drone’s positioning are much more noticeable.

If you happen to be working on developing hardware for film production that pushes the technical envelope, and you’d like to have it tested out with this production company — Danger Arts, Tonya will be happy to chat with you. To get general feedback or even to get a sample film produced with your stuff, you can talk ideas with Tonya Kay through the contact page on her website.

When Can We See the Film?

The crew will be submitting The Ascension of Ava Delaine to every upcoming film festival they possibly can! Keep watch on SolidSmack for updates. Once those are over, the film will be available online to view. In the next few weeks, a trailer is expected to be available on the film’s website:  The Ascension of Ava Delaine


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Ever since property searches moved online, standing out from other listings has been extremely difficult for real estate agents. That’s where new technology like drone real estate photography comes in.

According to the recent statistics about real estate drone photography, over 70 per cent of homeowners are inclined to use a realtor that provides drone photography services.

And who wouldn’t? Drones give an aerial view of the property being listed including the area around it while providing a detailed view from every angle. This strongly influences buyers who base their decisions primarily on how the listing looks online.

So whether you are a homeowner looking to sell or a real estate agent looking to grow your business, learning some crucial aerial real estate drone photography skills is essential.

And that’s why we have prepared a comprehensive drone real estate photography guide to help you learn this highly marketable skill.

Show Off Your Property From Every Angle

Normal listing photographs may not always help buyers visualize exactly what the property looks like. And that’s understandable since knowing how big the property is and how everything looks together is difficult with regular photos.

For instance, if you have got a huge garden in front of the house you want to sell, separate photos of your home and the garden might not translate the scale of your property to potential buyers. An aerial view of the entire property can make it look more appealing and won’t require that your buyers put in extra effort visualizing the space.

Drone Shots Can Make Your Pitch Shine

As a real estate agent, getting listings is not always a piece of cake. With more and more competitors popping up, getting sellers to list with you can be difficult. However, showing up to a listing presentation with a drone shot of the neighborhood will most definitely impress your prospective clients.

How far is the closest coffee shop?

Or other hangouts and amenities? Since a drone shot is the most effective way of showing the whole neighborhood, they can help people get an idea of how far the property is from nearby hot spots. These are questions that any home buyer would have, and if they can clearly see what the distance is, they can make an informed decision. Grainy Google satellite views or street views don’t even come close to giving people this important piece of information.

What to Look Out for When Picking Drone Real Estate Photography Services

To fully take advantage of the benefits, it is important that as a homeowner or an agent, you pick the right drone real estate photography service. Here’s how you can go about making the correct choice:


There is no standard rate charged by real estate marketers for their drone photography services. Drone operators usually charge over $200 for their services, and that can go up to $1,000 depending on the quality of their work and the post-production services they provide.

Marketing Integration

Real estate drone photography is more than just taking aerial photos. When done right, it can truly elevate your real estate marketing strategy and improve the chances of buyers finding your property appealing.

That’s why you should choose drone operators that have provided real estate photography services before. Review their portfolio. Experienced drone photographers usually have a website or blog showcasing their body of work.

If your drone operator can create high-quality interior photos and videos too, then you have the perfect one-stop-shop for all your marketing needs.

Is It Worth the Investment?

The housing market is exceedingly competitive. To get homeowners to sell through your agency, you need eye-popping images and video showcasing the whole property—both interior and exterior views.

A property sold is money made. Drone real estate photography will increase your chances of selling the house in the shortest amount of time. That’s definitely worth the investment, as long as the drone shots are high quality and properly executed.


How to Get into Drone Real Estate Photography?

If you are just starting out with providing aerial real estate photography services or just want to try your hand at it yourself, you are going to need reliable drone equipment. If you are a beginner, it may not be a good idea spending a ton of money on drones, as they can be quite expensive. So here’s a few things you need to bear in mind when picking out drone photography equipment.

DJI Spark

If you are just now dipping your toes in aerial real estate photography, DJI Spark is a good enough piece of equipment to get started with. It takes photos at 12 megapixels and records videos at 1080p at 30 frames per second. The battery lasts 16 minutes per charge, which is not a great battery life, but at $700, the drone does come cheaper than other models.

The video quality isn’t excellent, but if you are looking to take quality drone photos, DJI Spark will do that for you except when it’s really windy. Since it is very lightweight, the DJI Spark can be difficult to get a decent side-to-side shot. It is good practice equipment, but once you understand the basics of aerial real estate photography, you might want to move on to a better drone.

DJI Phantom 4

DJI Phantom 4 is well suited to the drone photography needs of beginners and professionals alike. The drone is simple to use and takes 20 megapixels photos and records 4K videos at 60 frames per second.

It doesn’t have the same problems with stability as DJI Spark since it has a 3 Axis Gimbal to help stabilize the camera. You can download the DJI GO 4 app on your smartphone, and with that, you can control the drone and customize the camera settings—ISO, aperture, shutter.

At $1000, it’s pricier than DJI Spark, but with its ease of use for aerial real estate photography or just regular drone usage, it comes highly recommended by experts.

DJI Inspire 1

DJI Inspire 1 comes with a slightly hefty price tag of $1500 and a myriad of features for drone photography and videography. It has a high-resolution 4K camera and takes 1080p videos.

This model is best suited for professional photographers.

Aerial Real Estate Photography Tips:

With drones moving on from being a novelty tool in real estate marketing to becoming a regular feature, you’ll want to learn the basics quickly.

You need to familiarize yourself with the equipment and the location where you need to shoot. Plan your shoot beforehand, research the location and the vantage points. Find selling points in the neighborhood such as swimming pools, parks, garden, schools, etc.

Also, remember that your photos should not be a straight down view. Use angles to accentuate attractive features and the best bits of the house.

Final Thoughts:

Hopefully, these tips and drone recommendations will help you strengthen your real estate drone photography game. Just remember to check with local laws to see what areas you can fly a drone in.

Keep honing your skills even after you set up a service and strengthen relationships with your clients through the quality of your service. The majority of the clients you get are from referrals so make client satisfaction a priority.     



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If you are technically inclined and looking to start a new business -- or have an existing business that could benefit from new technology -- why not take advantage of one of the latest trends.

Becoming a drone expert could take your career to new heights.

If you want to use your drone for something more rewarding -- consider becoming a search and rescue drone operator. Drones can fly at night -- and reach areas where helicopters can't travel. The technology is quickly becoming an indispensable tool for first responders and search and rescue organizations. You can rent out your fully equipped drone for the job -- or become an operator yourself.

Surveillance is another opportunity for drones. Entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the trend can offer protection from intruders, fire and water leaks.

If the drone is activated, it can take a live feed and send it to a smartphone -- as well as notifying authorities.

If you own farmland -- or a winery -- use a drone to survey your crops. You can equip your drone with sensors to collect data on things like soil hydration, and checking for infestations. Drones make it easier to fly above your land -- you can get hourly updates if needed.

Taking pictures of landscapes opens up another field you can cash in on -- cartographic surveys. A drone mapping business can offer cheaper and quicker data than survey teams on the ground. Get a jump start in a number of industries using drone services including construction, urban planning, flood monitoring, and archaeology.

Drones make it easier than ever now to capture aerial images. You can get an affordable drone with high-resolution cameras -- so you can snap high-quality pictures of things like: weddings, real estate, sporting events, wildlife and landscapes.

As with any new technology that may affect public safety or privacy, there are regulations.


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The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has harnessed drone footage coupled with artificially-intelligent video analytics to conduct crucial vegetation surveys of remote areas that would otherwise be “prohibitively expensive”.

In a move that reflects the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles by government agencies, councils utilities and surveyors to glean data and imagery of assets more accurately affordably, OEH is using the technology to identify endangered and invasive plant species. 

An OEH spokesperson told iTnews that “scanning and surveying large areas of bushland in the hope of spotting a threatened species usually involves field trips or the chartering of a helicopter to access the area and capture images,” which is both costly and time intensive.

However a recent pilot program in partnership with Fujitsu’s Digital Owl project has already yielded success by identifying two endangered plant species in the state’s Upper Hunter region.

Drones were used to fly over and scan a mountainside with no road access where the summit can only be reached after by helicopter - or a full day's hiking.

A hyperspectral camera fitted to the drone was then linked to an AI engine to different identify species and generate highly accurate distribution maps.

OEH Ecosystems and Threatened Species team senior team leader Lucas Grenadier said it was “critical” for the OEH to understand the distribution of threatened species to effectively manage them.

He added the technology could also be used to better understand and manage “the levels of weed incursions and other threats”.

Weed monitoring and control is essential to effective environmental management because of the effects outbreaks can have on biodiversity, water management and agriculture.

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton is a clear fan of getting a bird's eye view of conditions.

“It’s exciting to be using new drone technology with detailed layers of analytics behind them to get more accurate information including maps of otherwise inaccessible areas,” said Upton said.

Fujitsu said it would continue to refine the AI program used by training it with visual data collected from future drone flights at different altitudes.

The company said the program could also one day be used to identify threatened animal populations.

Similar trials have been already been successful in Queensland, with drones being used to kill weeds and AI to track invasive plants camouflaged against dense growth.


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