A few weeks ago, Martha Stewart posted photos of her farm taken by a drone, and tweeted that the unmanned flying objects were “controversial but fabulous.” Just a week later, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York drew fire for using the same technique to document his wedding. Aerial photography for homes and businesses has exploded in popularity recently, and now brides and grooms are eager to get wedding photos like no one has seen before. But, is using unmanned crafts to take photographs like this even legal? And, are the pictures even good?
Technically, neither Stewart nor Maloney used an actual drone. Their photos were taken by small remote-controlled helicopters, while a drone, by definition, operates totally independently with no one controlling it. Maloney hired an aerial photographer to capture breathtaking images and videos of his glamorous wedding in Cold Spring, NY with one of these little crafts. And, his opponents have been wagging their fingers at him for it. Maloney sits on the House’s Aviation Subcommittee, so he should know there’s a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rule that says unmanned aircraft aren’t to be used for commercial purposes — like wedding photography. Controversial but fabulous, indeed.
However, Maloney’s spokesperson, Stephanie Formas, told reporters that there is a legal gray area around this type of photography, the Daily News reports. A few months ago, a judge overturned the fine given to a drone operator in Virginia, and companies have taken that as a go-ahead to resume commercial uses of these little vehicles. The debate over whether this is legal will surely continue, as more and more people start using the aircraft to document everything from weddings to protests to concerts.
What’s definitely not up for debate is that the footage is stunning. Imagine being able to relive your wedding from above, capturing the memories you meticulously planned for months, and seeing your family and friends dressed up but from a bird’s-eye view.
Parker Gyokeres, who owns Propellerheads, the company that did Maloney’s aerial video, said that this type of photography brings, “a quality of work that is unmatched.” The service is ideal for capturing crystal-clear photos and HD video before or after a wedding ceremony, or at the end of the evening. For the best results, Gyokeres normally shoots from about 150 feet in the air. On the ground, he has a monitor to see what the camera sees, and he can turn and adjust it to take 15 to 30 photos per eight-minute flight. When shooting video, he brings another crew member who watches on a separate monitor and is solely responsible for capturing the best footage possible.
But, the copter can’t capture everything. Gyokeres never shoots during a ceremony, for example. The hexacopter he uses makes noise and can easily be seen from the ground, so it would be too disruptive to shoot during the wedding. “It’s not a subtle thing,” he said. “You’re not spying on anyone.”
In response to cheaper suggestions, like the old strap-a-GoPro-to-a-remote-control-plane idea, Gyokeres stressed, “You could just get your uncle to do it...but then you’ll end up with footage taken by your uncle.” You don’t want the most memorable moment of your big day to be when the mini helicopter crashed into the $1,000 cake — so maybe leave it to the pros.
Despite the seemingly murky legal waters of this type of photography, a quick Google search will find you companies offering similar services. It’ll cost you more than traditional wedding photography, of course, but not exorbitantly so. Most companies offer free estimates over the phone — between $2,000 and $4,000 seems to be the going rate for a day of aerial-footage-taking. And, if you’re thinking about adding a hexacopter to your big day, make sure you get permission from any neighbors whose homes will be in view, and maybe keep an eye on what happens to Congressman Maloney in the next few weeks.