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Drone Technology Opens Up New Options for Photographers

  • Sarah Zaman

An interest in remote-controlled helicopters and a lot of practice helped Skye De Moya and Ross Shafer get their business off the ground in 2013.

Based in Baltimore, Maryland, their company, SkyeCam Productions, specializes exclusively in drone photography and videography.

“I started out years ago as a kid and I just loved remote controlled toys," Shafer said. "It’s really hard to control some of that stuff compared to the newer drones. The older ones, that I used to fly, if the wind came in, it would go off in the distance.”

“I actually began as an assistant camera for someone who was flying professionally," De Moya said. "I bought myself a cheap drone and practiced for hours, crashing it.”

Once in the field, they quickly assemble the drone, mount the camera and then calibrate the device so its internal compass can determine direction and the Global Positioning System can detect the drone’s location.

Unlike many amateur drone photographers, these two professionals work as a team. De Moya operates the camera while Shaffer flies the drone. De Moya says this allows for better joint maneuvers and more creativity.

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This also means that it's not just the communication between the devices that's important but also the communication between the operators.

“If I wanted to go up, I had to tell Skye that I was going up," Shafer said. "And I had to say, 'I'm going up!' So the camera, if you don’t do anything, it’s just going to keep going up."

While drones have taken photography to a new height, there are still certain limitations.

“You cannot fly over big crowds," De Moya said, "because if, God forbid, something were to happen, they could really hurt someone below. In certain highly populated areas — for example, in the city — if there’s too much concrete, sometimes it can interfere with the GPS.”

In the U.S., for the protection of air traffic, it’s also not permissible to fly a drone within an eight-kilometer radius of an airport or more than 122 meters above the ground.

For De Moya, the biggest challenge is keeping up with constantly changing technology and rules and regulations. Shaffer, however, has more immediate concerns.

“Biggest challenge is to not hit trees," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration now requires all professional and hobbyist drone fliers in the United States to register their devices with the agency so they are traceable in case of an incident and can be returned to the owner if lost.