Top 5 Differences Between Aerial Photography And Drone Photography


Top 5 Differences Between Aerial Photography And Drone Photography

Here in the office, between damagingly strong coffees, we often discuss how we should word our pages and blog articles. We agonise over the differences between aerial photography and drone photography. Discussions rarely descend into shouting, but result in passive aggressive sign offs like, 'Call it what you want, you know best'.  In my soothing manner, I ask if someone needs a hug? Doors slam and the question of whether we are Drone Photographers or Aerial Photographers rolls on. Subsequently, our website uses the terms interchangeably, and I imagine will continue to do so. However, in my quiet moments I ponder the question still. I'd like to ponder serious questions like 'does politics need to be so polarised?' or 'who'd win a fight between a dolphin and a pony?', but they're beyond my pay grade and are best left to specialists.

Knocking this question into some an answerable shape requires looking at the various things that could reasonably fall under the term 'Aerial Photography'. Being a man of little empathy, and having an almost pathological trust in numbers, let's take the first obvious question...

How High Do You Have To Be?

Ok, we're talking about altitude, not psychic self exploration! Where does being 'aerial' event start and end? We'll ease our selves in with the highly uncontentious question of height.

What Sort Of Pictures Do You Want?

Depending on conditions and subject matter, some forms of aerial photography are better than others. Do you need breath taking views of storm systems over Africa? (we bless the rains). Awesome views of autumnal forests clinging to alpine passes? Footage of actors wrecking expensive vehicles? Pictures or video of people and things on a human scale?

What Price Will You Pay?

Every service has a price. Where would you draw the line to get the images you want?

How Will You Be Treated?

It's important to be nice, but it's nice to be important. Do you want to play second fiddle to the needs of the company providing services you commission?

Satellite Aerial Photography

Stop booing, we've got to start somewhere! While it may seem a bit too high, lets face it, we all use photographs provided by satellites every day. Whether you are checking Google Earth to see if it shows the rusting trampoline you got rid of 5 years ago, or trying to finally understanding the actual layout of your home town...' I didn't know district X was next to district Y!', these aerial images are in the fabric of your life.  Flyweight Filming attempted to branch into this area of aerial imaging, but with launch costs of £700,000 per kilo, it's a bit rich for our blood. The less meticulous part of me wanted to say this is definitely 'Aerial' and not at all 'Drone'. However, my inner pedant demanded a more meticulous approach, and duly won a concession. The definition of 'Aerial', according to my extensive, single Google search states, 'existing, happening, or operating in the air'. Now, I'm no Elon Musk, my car still runs on fossil fuels (sorry), but I know satellites operate in space, where only dogs can hear you scream, and there's definitely no air! So for the purposes of our discussion, it is neither aerial nor drone. However, it does produce photography and I did get a paragraph of copy out of it, so it's not all bad.

  • Affordability: Not Great. 1 x Panasonic GH4, Batteries, Insulation, Big Lens... Around $1,400,000
  • Practicality: Fine until you need to get the SD card.
  • Image Quality: If you own the Himalayas, contact Space-X for some lovely pictures for your wall.
  • Turnaround Time: Next mission to retrieve equipment, or wait for orbital decay to deliver your kit back to the surface.
  • Customer Service: If you can't talk Phd Engineering, don't bother.

Spy Planes : SR 71 Blackbird

This scary monster with its macabre alien form is the  first contender in our list for the title 'aerial something'. Granted, it's not cheap, but my word, for getting pictures one country at a time, she's hard to beat. While this plane definitely flies in the air (my inner pedant agrees), there's so little of it at 85,000 feet, the Pilot and Reconnaissance Systems Officer  wear space suits to survive. By staving off suffocation and complete moisture loss due to personal boiling activities, they won numerous photography competitions between 1966 and 1999 when NASA updated its friendliness quotient.

  • Affordability: National Debt Levels. Around $2,000,000 per flight. (Photo processing costs included, which sounds fair to me).
  • Practicality: Average (If you are bent on world domination)
  • Image Quality: Fair, though not  great for portraits.
  • Turnaround Time: Pictures are yours as soon as the government releases them.
  • Customer Service: A tad formal, but most definitely dot the I's & cross the T's.

Cessna 172

Now we're into the altitudes, speeds and prices that count as civilian, practical and somewhat affordable. The Cessna 172 conjures wonderful images of well healed American families cooing at lakes and forests, while dads occasional flying doesn't seem to worry the wife and kids a jot. His part share of this aircraft enables him to maintain the bare minimum flying hours  while exercising  his trust in a thorough and ongoing  maintenance program. It's not just an elaborate SUV though, it is also a workhorse for a number of applications, aerial photography included. For particular types of aerial photography, this kiddie is king. To capture large geographic features and landscapes, you can equip it with a man called Lance. Lance is missing fingers, has cracked ruddy skin on his face, and used to photograph natural disasters until his wife left, citing 'stress'. She took the picture of Lake Tahooma-Bose though, because it's beautiful and difficult to reach by foot. If your subject is at human scale, and that of their structures and belongings, aerial photography by plane is probably not for you. If you want rare pictures of sulphurous lakes on remote mountain plateaus (I know I do), then this is the only way forward.

  • Affordability: A bit extravagant. Not much change from £1000 for a dedicated flight. But Ok  if you are a well off family with a love of large geographical features.
  • Practicality: Not bad, certainly more so than a SR-71 Blackbird. Can't legally fly below 500ft in the UK, and hasn't mastered the tricky operation of remaining still in the air.
  • Image Quality: Very Good. Lances' wife didn't just take the picture out of spite.
  • Turnaround Time: Pretty good, but Lance is sooo busy with his creative cooperative. Buy him a pint and he'll tell you about it.
  • Customer Service: Excellent for calls placed between 10:30 and the start of lunch time.

Helicopter Photography & Filming.

Now you're talking. We're into the sexy realms of high manoeuvrability and staying still in the air without any crashing penalties. Damn the cost, you're getting the real deal. There's not a mirrored pair of sunglasses left in this town. The pilot's a maverick and the cameraman's a rascal. Between them, for reasonable remuneration, they'll film a Porsche shoot off  a mountain road, tumbling and flailing it's way into a ravine,doors flapping wildly like your mate that can't dance. At no additional cost, cut back to the hero chasing a lorry on stolen motorbike. What a lorry is doing riding a motorbike is anyones guess, but that's the crazy world of Hollywood. There's no doubt that helicopters have provided some of the best movie moments in history. For this I salute them and their charming crews.

  • Affordability: Who cares, this picture needs to be made. Get me someone called Harvey on the phone!
  • Practicality: Helicopters have proven their worth, but are quite noisy and blow your set over when too close.
  • Image Quality: Second to none. Nothing provides better images of wealthy people in speed boats.
  • Turnaround Time: Yesterday..possibly tomorrow.. Depends whether we go for a re-shoot.
  • Customer Service: Their office oozes nonchalant sexiness. Hold on to that.

UAV & Drone Aerial Filming & Photography

aerial photography drone

They go by many names: Drones, UAV, SUSA, Nigel, call them what you will. They are to aerial photography what silicon chips are to laying off accounts staff from depressing corporations. To make vast amounts of difficult calculations, a leap of technology so earth shattering had to take place, the world would never be the same. The epoch defining invention of integrated circuits enables you to see endless photos of cats, wine bottles and feigned delight while expending no energy at all. This degree of ease and versatility has found its way to Photography, leading us back to our original question. What is aerial versus drone photography? We've seen traditional aerial photography is a niche pursuit for a limited set of people and organisations. Through its difficulty and expense, it allowed privileged and rare access to views unobtainable to anyone else. For decades we've seen the superb images provided by these wonderful platforms for governments and conglomerates. But they too have their limitations, separated from their subjects by speed and distance, the shark like need to be constantly on the move devours vast resources. However, It's now possible for normal people and small businesses to get aerial photography at a human scale and cost. A drones capability to safely be in the action, then gracefully float away, revealing the bigger picture is  a trick other aerial photography platforms cannot match. The other magic ingredient they cannot match is the price! In the right hands, the photography & videography drones produce is opening up new and imaginative ways of seeing the world, and of course democratising the view of the world from above.

  • Affordability: For a CAA Approved drone photographer, prices can start from around £300 for a simple stills shoot.
  • Practicality: These aerial camera platforms can move between tight spaces indoors, near the ground all the way up to 400ft (legally)
  • Image Quality: Superb if you use professional grade equipment. Don't be fooled by someone who turns up with a drone you saw in Maplin.
  • Turnaround Time: Depending on the complexity of the shoot, from 24 hours to a few days for stills.
  • Customer Service: For independent companies on tight margins, the customer is king, queen, regent or emperor. That means great service all round.

So what do you want?

We hope this guide has been useful to you. It's certainly been useful to us and cleared up some definitions. We think it's most useful to concede , what we supply  is Drone Photography,  a proud member of the  Aerial Photography family. When you need aerial photography or aerial filming, consider what your subject matter is. Whether you need photos of continents or cars, mountains or men, there is the right aerial photography service for that. Whatever you need, we guarantee our craft, skill & dedication results in the best pictures at the best possible price. Flyweight Filming loves aviation, photography & videography.