Caution: Drone Wedding Photos

posted on: July 6, 2015

After my Architecture Drone Photography experiment, I started seeing some photographers doing drone photography at weddings and I have to say it made me VERY uneasy.  Even if someone has registered their craft and received FAA authorization to fly a drone commercially, has special drone hazard insurance, and hundreds of hours of drone operation training, there are still several things which would make me extremely leery of having drone photography at a wedding:

1. WiFi, Radio, GPS Interference = Control Hazards

One of the greatest benefits of drone photography is also one of the biggest limitations of drone photography.  The wireless control systems used for drones can be easily interrupted by other WiFi networks or radio transmissions in a given area.  You've probably already experienced this when your phone's GPS puts you two blocks away from your actual location due to a signal reflection, or when your car radio suddenly switches over to another station and then back again as you're traveling, or when your WiFi keeps defaulting to a network you haven't selected- these same signal interruptions can happen with distances between drones and their controllers.

If you're in an open field in the country, you will have less interruptions than if you're in a densely populated area, but a wedding generally has a higher percentage of people with their cell phones emitting or collecting a WiFi  and GPS signal, along with wireless microphone and or lighting systems which can interrupt radio frequencies causing inconsistent drone operator's control of their device.

When the drone loses signal, they can act erratically, which could potentially cause a crash on a wedding cake or on grandma.  Even though they are fairly light aircrafts, when a forced landing occurs from a certain elevation, the blades become spinning weapons that can slice whatever they come into contact with.  Unfortunately Enrique Iglesias learned about drone blades in a very public and painful way.  Of course that's a fairly dramatic example, but it's better to know the potential dangers than to ignore them, especially when you have invited guests who haven't signed liability waivers to attend your event.

2.  Aerial Object Interference = Crash Hazards

Drones are not really created with "extra" propellors that will kick in when one fails.  In order to achieve the stability needed, they need all blades to be fully operational at all times.  If any single blade is interrupted by whatever random item a child can throw, tree can drop, or bird can carry, the  drone can crash instantly without any ability to control the landing speed, location, or direction in which the blades hit the object below.

The absolute worst example I've seen of this was someone trying to operate a drone over a dance floor where people had foam fingers they were putting in the air as the DJ was pressing the music to get everyone to jump higher and higher.  No way would I ever do that.  Perhaps you heard about the incident with a woman getting knocked out by a drone flying during a parade?  Not only is it just begging for a liability issue and endangering the guests below the drone, but the photo and video coverage won't be any different than what you can achieve by just sticking a GoPro camera on a mono pod!

Some drone uses are just excessive and irresponsible for the actual footage that is even possible in a given environment.  It really needs to be considered if there are safer ways to get desired shots in environments that involve crowds of people.  It's been done safely for years with cranes, lifts, and stands that can balance and control cameras which produce much higher quality images than the ones flying on most drones.  Just because someone has drone availability, doesn't mean it's the most appropriate tool for the job.

3. Usage Limitations = Is It Really Worth It?

Most people who have never flown a drone fail to understand how limited the flight time is and what areas are actually legal to operate a drone in.  Currently, one of the best photo drones on the market can only fly for about 20 minutes while capturing continuous footage.  This makes it an interesting use for random bits of unique footage, which can only be captured by drone, but it's not realistic to think that a drone is going to be capable of capturing an entire wedding ceremony, or an entire wedding day without interruption or increased hazards and complications.

If the additional cost of a drone only ends up adding 2 minutes of final edited video to your final wedding coverage or only 2 special images to your wedding album, is it worth it?  Is the final result worth the hazards, the insurance, the potential FAA violations?  I'm just not convinced it's worth it, even if the coverage is free experimental coverage by a friend.

For a special portrait session, in which the only hazard is the drone falling into the ocean and being irreversibly damaged or recovered in order to achieve an impossible shot by all other measures?  Maybe it's truly worth it in a spectacular location.  But if that drone is potentially flying over people you love and care about?  Not worth it in my opinion.  Whatever you end up deciding for your wedding, make sure you've consulted the FAA Authorization Site for Unmanned Aircraft Systems to confirm you're hiring an authorized commercial drone operator in order to ensure the highest quality experience and safety measures are being considered.

Now that I've given you a disclaimer, here's a sample of what most people's first few drone flights end up looking like before they have sufficient experience controlling a drone... some wins and a lot of fails until people figure out how to watch the drone location and the image capture simultaneously.  Remember that people have paid hundreds for these drones, and they aren't intentionally choosing these results...

1 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. Great info, the best I have come across.


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