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Using A Drone For Commercial Photography

One of the most useful pieces of kit I have bought over the past few years has been my drone.  It has opened a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities,  particularly when I am shooting architectural and construction projects.   It allows me to capture the scale and design elements of buildings and sites that would not be possible when taking photographs at ground level.  I have also used it on other projects due to the unique point of view it gives me. 

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The main reason for getting the drone was to photograph large scale projects such as the factory in the photo above.  It would have been very difficult to show the size of the building from the ground.  By photographing it from the air other elements in the photo such as the cars in car park and the other buildings in the background give a sense of scale which shows the true size of the facility.  

With drone photography there can be a tendency to launch the drone and just point it in the general direction of the building that is to be captured.   I approach it using the same techniques as I do  with  my 'normal' photography.  I use a Mavic 2 Pro.  It has a 20MP Hasselblad Camera which allows me to shoot high resolution images.  It is also very easy to control and with GPS positioning I can put the drone wherever I need it to be.  I can make very precise adjustments to the direction the camera is facing to compose the shot exactly as I would using a tripod on the ground.

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One of the great advantages that using a drone gives me is the ability to point the camera straight down and shoot a location from directly above.  It gives a unique point of view that would not be possible without it.  It can be useful for capturing the layout and design of the overall site I am photographing.

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However drone photography isn't always about flying the drone as high as I can to get the entire site into the photo.  Sometimes I just want to get up high enough to get a background that would otherwise be blocked by the building.  In this case the sun was setting nicely behind this car dealership but it was not possible to get both the building and the sunset from the ground, by positioning the drone a few meters above the roof I was able to get both into the shot.

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As I became more familiar with the drone's capabilities I realised that even  flying a few meters above ground level could result in very striking results.  In this case, I wanted to capture the sweep of the curve of the front of the building.  By positioning  the drone halfway up the facade I was able to achieve the shot I wanted.  I have also found that it is very useful for capturing close ups design elements that are higher up on buildings or on the roof.

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By combining different techniques when photographing an architectural or construction project I can tell the full story of the development or facility I am shooting.  In the example below I was commissioned to photograph a newly completed housing development which consisted of an old convent and school which had been converted to apartments and new town houses.  I used the drone to show the development surrounded by the beautiful Irish country side, the overall footprint, and to get close ups of the steeple which had been retained and footpaths leading to the refurbished convent.

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I also use the drone to capture work in progress on construction sites.  I will visit a site at regular intervals, usually once a month, and the photos I take are very useful for project managers when reviewing overall progress of a development.  

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I also photograph the work being done on these construction projects.  The majority of the time I capture the workers in action at close quarters with my 'normal' cameras but there are occasions where the scale of the work is such that the only way to do it justice is to use the drone.  On a recent assignment a crane was used to lift panels for an extension into place in the back garden of the house.  It was a very challenging operation and the best way to capture the full extent of it was with the drone.  I could only photograph the front or back of the house while on the ground.  I could get it all from the air.

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The drone is perfect for real estate photography for showcasing the positioning of a house on a property.  It captures the overall footprint of the building and includes the gardens and any additional buildings.

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In recent months I have started to use the drone on other projects outside architecture and construction.  I carry out a lot of work promoting tourism in my local area.  One of my favourite locations is a place called Birr Castle.  The grounds of the castle are home to ornate formal gardens and The Leviathan, a telescope that was the largest in the world when it was built in the 1840's.  I had photographed the grounds many times over the years but always felt that I hadn't done justice to either the gardens or the telescope.  Drone use is prohibited on the site when open to the public but I was given access to the site after hours and spent a very enjoyable evening exploring the demesne from the air.  

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Occasionally I use the drone for press photos when I want to achieve something a bit different.

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One of my favourite shots is one I took at the beginning of the pandemic.  The country was on full lockdown and we could not mix with anyone.  Two of my kids and the neighbours kids decided the best way to get around this was to push their trampolines up to the wall between the two houses for some socially distanced fun.  Again the drone was the only way I was going to capture this.

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My drone has turned out to be a far more flexible tool than I ever thought it could be when I bought it.  The one thing to bear in mind if you are considering getting a drone is that their use is becoming more and more regulated with each passing year.  I have trained as a drone operator and I am licensed by the Irish Aviation Authority to use it but I still have to be aware of local restrictions when flying.   They are fantastic pieces of kit when used properly.  

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