Drones helping create unique wedding photos

Dreaming of a picture-perfect wedding? The sky’s the limit, because drone photography is the next big thing in wedding pictures.

“The trend has been around a couple years, or about as long as the vehicles have been around,” said Parker Gyokeres, owner of Propellerheads Aerial Photography in Middletown, New York. “I do see an increasing role for qualified, professional operators to perform this service,” said Gyokeres, who is a multirotor unmanned aerial vehicle pilot and photojournalist.

What to know

Having a qualified drone operator is key because accidents happen, like when a photographer underestimated the lift time needed and flew a drone right into a groom’s face during a pre-wedding shoot. The good-natured groom laughed it off, but the exploit is posted on the photographer’s YouTube channel.

The ability of a drone to swoop in and get amazing shots, from an overhead perspective of the overall scene right down into the middle of the action, has led to a sort of technology arms race from cameras and tripods to Go-Pro poles and drones.

“So much time and energy is spent to create a beautiful wedding and people want to capture it from every angle, and that means overhead, too,” said Michael Calcagno, owner of Calcagno Media Video Production in Portland, Oregon.

Indoor flying can be done by professionals, but both photographers advise against flying the drones at the actual ceremony.

“A professional-grade drone isn’t subtle. The wedding ceremony should be about the couple and their public vows to each other, not the electric robot hovering overhead distracting the guests while the priest is talking,” Gyokeres said.

Professionals take precautions such as not flying over or toward people, exceeding certain heights or flying in winds over 15 or 20 mph. A designated clear zone is needed for takeoffs, landings and emergency recoveries, Gyokeres said.

“As a rule, we can control every safety factor but the weather, but a professional aerial provider shouldn’t make you pay for more than his travel and lodging if he isn’t able to fly,” he said.

Drones are more suited to record outdoor shots, cocktail hours and receptions where the drone is often the star of the party, Calcagno said.

“It’s so novel; guests just love it. They see it and point to it. It’s something they’ll remember,” he added.

“Our technology is often the hit of the party, and everybody immediately whips out cameras and cellphones and starts asking questions,” Gyokeres said. “Is that a drone? How high does it fly? Is it hard to fly? Is it expensive? Can I fly it?”

Is it legal?

Drone photography at weddings operates in a sort of gray area, Calcagno said. The Federal Aviation Administration is in the midst of revising its rules, but the current law says that drones cannot be used for commercial purposes. They can be used for hobby purposes, which means that Calcagno is hired as a ground photographer and throws in the drone photography as part of the package, and the couple can edit the photos themselves.

“The FAA is currently not issuing exemptions for wedding photographers, but nor are they taking any actions to stop them. As long as you fly safe and don’t enter controlled airspace, the FAA is focusing on formal rules for the entire community,” Gyokeres said.

Interested in having a drone photographer at your wedding? Remember, you get what you pay for if you’re hiring a friend with a hobby-grade drone.

“The best drone pilots only do aerial work, as the equipment and training requirements for high-end shoots are a full-time job,” Gyokeres said.

“The use of multicopters adds a tool in the toolbox of a wedding photographer or videographer,” he added. “It safely provides an amazing perspective at a fraction of the cost of a manned helicopter. They aren’t for every shot, but if you have an outdoor wedding, nothing works better to set a sense of place and show the natural beauty of the wedding venue.”

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