Why use drones for Aerial Photography?

Discover why we feel drones are the best way to film from the air and what makes them so flexible...

Are drones best for aerial photography?

Are drones the best way to film from the air, at Altitude Aerial Photography we certainly think so. There are various methods for achieving aerial photography and taking photographs and videos from the air, such as using helicopters, planes, masts, cranes and cherry pickers.

However, none are as flexible or versatile as using a drone for aerial photography and filming, which is why we use drones.

How flexible is filming with a drone?

Each method for creating aerial photography comes with it's pros and cons, so in this section we hope to give you a rough over view so you can make the choice that is best suited to your requirements.

UAVs / Drones

Capable of flying from the ground up to 400ft and within a radius of 500m, they can cover a great area. The biggest benefits however are their sheer flexibility. Able to fly over water and buildings like a full size aircraft, they are also able to fly indoors and transition between the two spaces easily. They are also able to fly very close to the subjects they are photographing, as unlike a full size aircraft they are significantly smaller and don't create a massive downdraft of wind.

Full size Helicopters

A key feature of a full size helicopter is the carrying capability, we can't deny that. They can not only carry people, but much heavier cameras and more equipment. However this does come at a cost, both financially and practically. Hiring a full size aircraft is the most expensive route to aerial photography, for example, even a small 3 seat helicopter can cost over £600 per hour. Without specific permission a full size aircraft should stay over 500ft above ground level.

Cranes and Masts

These and other similar methods are potentially the most affordable, but also the most restrictive, as they're limited in the heights they can reach and the positions they can operate from. For example a mast is normally fixed to a trailer or a vehicle, as it needs a solid base for stability and can only reach a maximum of around 90-100ft. This also means that the mast can not be operated directly over a building or over water, as it can only go where the vehicle can go.

Full size Aeroplanes

Small one manned microlights and light aircraft tend to be most popular here, mainly as they can fly slower than larger aircraft and can be cheaper to operate. Just Like full size helicopters they can carry more equipment, but can still be quite expensive to hire due to their need to come from a runway. Their main downside though is an inability to stop and hover like a helicopter or a drone, so you are limited to either static images or continuous panning shots.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a 'Drone' ?

'Drone' is the media friendly term for what we know as our UAV's. 'UAV' stands for 'Unmanned Aerial Vehicle'. occasionally called an 'Unmanned Aerial System' or 'UAS'. Whatever you prefer to call them, they are basically aircraft operated remotely by a pilot on the ground.

Are drones safe?

We aim to make them so. Like any piece of electronics or mechanics, there are inherent risks, however many of these can be managed by a well trained operator and crew, such as ourselves.

As part of our commitment to safety we conduct the following:

Pre-site survey. We check in advance of arriving to fly that it is safe and legal to do so.

On-site survey. Once on site we go over anything that can be identified as a risk and look for ways to be safe, such as identifying back up landing areas just in case.

Flight safety checks. Before and after every flight we check our aircraft is safe to operate.

Fail safes. All Altitude Aerial Photography aircraft are fitted with fail safes just in case. For example, should the transmitter fail, the aircraft is capable of flying itself back to its take-off point and landing.

Emergency procedures. All Altitude Aerial Photography crew members are trained to work as a team in the event of and problems and regularly practice simulated failures and emergencies at our training site.

Our promise. "We will not fly if we do not feel it is safe to do so" We put the safety of people and property first.

Do you need a license to fly a drone?

Absolutely. If you want to fly a drone as a commercial operator in the UK, then you need what is called a 'Permit for Aerial Work'. This is a legal requirement from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK. The CAA measure all those that apply for a permit for aerial work through a strict licensing scheme, which covers the legal and regulatory theory, practical flying and operational skills, that are needed to safely operate an unmanned aerial vehicle in the UK.

The CAA are very clear on how we use their air space and potentially interact with the manned aircraft there in. We were also required to produce an operations manual for our aircraft and crew, which details how we plan to operate, from both planning flights to carrying them out.

Is the permit all you need?

No. It is also a legal requirement to carry insurance for public liability that also complies with regulations set out by the CAA. At Altitude Aerial Photography we hold cover that significantly exceeds the standard set out by the CAA and covers us up to £5 million for public liability.

Are you licensed and insured?

Absolutely and proud of it. All of our Altitude Aerial Photography pilots are permit for aerial work holders and insured. Copies of this, as well as our operations manual are available upon request.

As well as holding permits to fly in the more common 0-7kg category of aicraft, our main Pilot-In-Command Chris is also fully licensed to fly in the 7-20kg category as well.

Can you fly a drone anywhere?

We get asked this and many similar questions, such as, can a drone film over water, can a drone film over buildlings, how high can a drone go, how far can a drone fly, and what can you film with a drone?

And the answer is Yes, but also No. To explain properly, the CAA have strict rules to follow on what we can and can't do in order to protect people and property. This is part of the permit for aerial work that we are granted, which in a nutshell is the follwing:

We will not fly more than 400ft above the take-off point.

We will not fly over 500m away from our take-off point.

We will not fly directly overhead or within 150m of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1000 persons.

We will not fly directly overhead or within 50m of any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure that is not under the control of the Pilot-In-Command. (This can be reduced to 30m for take-off and landing)

One of the key things on this last point is 'under the control of the pilot-in-command'. Although these rules can appear like we can't do anything, it's quite the contrary, we just need to be in 'control'. This is easy to achieve through simple measures, such as having the pilot-in-command brief people on a site as to what is going to happen, and controlling access on a site though yours or our safety teams.

One last thing we also need is permission from the land owner where we plan to take-off and land from.

So to recap, yes we can pretty much fly anywhere and film anything, provided it is done safely, within our limits and under control.

Do all operators have the same restrictions?

Pretty much. These are the standard limitations set out to all operators, but we can approach the CAA on job-by-job basis to discuss aquiring extra permissions for specific jobs. It's worth noting however that this needs to be done with suitable planning and risk assessments, so is never a quick process. Therefore if you have a job that is potentially complicated, the sooner you can discuss it with us the better.

How long can a drone fly for?

This depends on which craft we use on the day, but a typical flight is 10-12 minutes. This can change slightly depending on air temperature and the altitude we start flying from, but we carry spare batteries and charging facilities in order to keep flying.

What is the image quality like?

All of our aircraft operate 3-axis fully stabalised cameras, so no matter what the craft is doing the camera stays still. Tied to this all the aircraft carry cameras capable of filming in a range of levels from 720 and 1080p all the way up to 4k ultra-high definition. We can also take stills shots from these videos or dedicated 16mp shots from our Panasonic GH4.

Is the camera angle fixed?

No, we have the ability on all of our aircraft to adjust the cameras tilt in flight, with our larger aircraft having the ability to add pan and roll, as well as the option for a seperate camera operator for a full 360 degree range of movement.

To further improve the quality of our work and help the operators get the most for you, all of our aircraft have live video downlinks to the ground, which allows you to see exactly what the camera sees as we fly.

What format do you record in?

We can record in various modes and frame rates, so please contact us to discuss your needs.

Can you fly in any weather?

We can fly in winds of up to 20/25 knots for most of our aircraft, but anything stronger and rain or fog just isn't safe to work in. To be fair though, the best images won't be achieved in these conditions anyway. Sometimes this means waiting for gaps in the weather and occasionally postponing a job if necessary.

How long does it take to set the drone up on the day?

Although time is money for nearly everyone, safety for us comes first. We work effieciently, but the time needed for a job will vary depending on the nature of the work.

If my job is postponed by Altitude Aerial Photography do I lose my booking fee?

No, we aim to only ever postpone when absolutely necessary, which is typically down to the weather. So if we are unable to fly we can move your booking to another day at no extra cost.

What do you need to give me a quote?

We're always willing to chat, as this is what we do. We can then tell you if and how we can help. It will always help if you can bring us the following information as a starting point though:


Date and time.

Roughly what you hope to achieve.

Any special requirements.

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01256 363 544

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07929 523 990