Shooting Aerial Footage with UAVs

BY KEITH DOBIE  —  JUNE 3, 2014
Need some aerial footage to promote your business? As a video producer, I’ve started looking at ways to provide affordable aerial footage for my clients. The traditional way is to shoot footage from a small plane or helicopter. They can offer gyro-stabilized cameras with long telephoto lenses, are able to fly at high altitudes, and they can fly for sustained flight times. The downside of course is their cost, which can be many hundreds of dollars per hour. Other considerations are the large size of a helicopter, the noise it produces, the need for a landing zone, and the requirement to book in advance — which means you are subject to the weather that day.

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That’s where UAVs come in. These “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles”  are small, radio-controlled airplanes and helicopters. For shooting video, helicopter UAVs are the most common. They usually have four rotors, run off battery power, and carry an HD camera on board.  Some use a traditional joystick controller, while others can be controlled using an iPad or smartphone. These impressive little machines are becoming better each year, and can produce excellent footage at a relatively low cost compared to hiring a helicopter. They also allow the camera to get quite close to the subject, without any rotor downwash.

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Example of a UAV carrying a camera

Some UAVs have a built-in HD camera, while others allow you to attach a GoPro camera. Larger UAVs can have eight rotors and are powerful enough to carry a DSLR or heavier camera. Either way, videographers are using them to get aerial footage of everything from real estate listings to tours of golf courses. They do have some disadvantages though. It’s more difficult to get stable footage when used in windy conditions, their flight time is limited, and they have an altitude restriction. You are also currently limited to line-of-sight operation.

Now before you buy one and start buzzing around shooting footage for your business, you’ll need to look at the regulations that apply to their use.

If you want to shoot your own aerial video for commercial purposes, you’ll need a permit called a SFOC, or Special Flight Operation Certificate. It’s available from Transport Canada. If you’re in the central Fraser Valley, they have an office on Clearbrook Road in Abbotsford. And while the SFOC is free, it can take weeks for your application to be processed. You will also need business liability insurance and show a plan for safe use of the UAV.

According to Transport Canada, hobbyists can fly UAVs without a permit, as long as they are not paid or compensated in any way.  They are considered model aircraft when used for recreational purposes. There is a lot of information online, with many websites dedicated to UAVs.

You can find out more about commercial use of drones and UAVs from this page on the Transport Canada website.  Another good resource is this Government of Canada paper about drones, with a focus on privacy.

My plan is to work with experienced  local companies that specialize in UAV photography and videography, and have them help out on projects when needed. It looks like a promising way to include affordable aerial footage in my clients’ video projects.

One final note — if you have some existing raw aerial footage you’d like to use on your website or YouTube channel, I can take that footage and edit it into a polished video. I can add video graphics, your logo, narration, and can even shoot additional interview or general footage. Please contact me for more information at 604-807-2150 or send an email to keithdobie@gmail.com

Important note: Rules and regulations are constantly changing. Please check with Transport Canada for the latest information about the commercial use of UAVs.


 

Example of UAV footage from 3Sixty Strategies (California)

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