What Goes Up

April 17th, 2015

Richard Gill

What goes up doesn’t always come down in one piece or in the right place. The use of drones for aerial photography is becoming increasingly popular, but it is also raising many legal and safety concerns. There are other options though and in this blog post I look at the pros and cons of using a drone and compare it with the use of a telescopic mast.

Aerial photographs can be a great tool in the marketing of a property. They can also be invaluable for surveys or roof inspections. Traditionally these kinds of shots would be taken from a helicopter, micro-light or small plane or for lower level photo using some sort of access equipment like a cherry picker. But the introduction of drones has changed all that. These small battery operated flying vehicles can have a camera strapped to them and allow the user to film video of still images all controlled by an operator on the ground.


House front obscure by trees

House front obscured by trees – standard shot

House front taken on 6m mast

House front taken on 6m mast

They offer a number of advantages. They are quick and easy to deploy.   They are convenient as they can be set up very close to the site that is going be photographed. They are easy to control so it is straight-forward to get a number of different shots from different heights and angles. They are capable of going up to a few hundred feet, so give lots of options for sites surrounded by tall trees. If they are combined with a video camera, it is easy to do an aerial video tour of a large property and its grounds. And we shouldn’t forget that they are fun to operate!

Of course there are some drawbacks. With the increasing misuse of drones, legal and safety issues are becoming prevalent. Operators need to be licensed and follow strict flying regulations. Battery life is limited, and consequently so is time in the air. As the battery runs out the drone should return to a home or safe location hopefully not half way through filming.   More serious problems can include “fly away” when control of the drone is lost completely and it disappears in to the far blue yonder. Other problems include crashes which can be both expensive and dangerous especially if they hit something or someone.

Photo quality will depend on how good a camera is attached to the drone which is in turn governed by the size and weight carrying ability of the drone. To get good quality HD video or stills then a drone with a 3 axis gimbal, image stabilizing technology and the ability to lift something like a professional DSLR is required. Even so, it can be difficult to frame the shots to their best advantage when trying to fly the vehicle at the same time.

A great alternative to drones is to use a telescopic mast. At Great Impressions, I use 2 types of mast. A lightweight mast which extends up to 6m and a heavy weight version which can go up to 15m. For most property photography the lightweight mast is sufficient. A camera with WiFi capability is attached to the top of the mast and then the mast is extended to the height required. Using a smart phone or similar device, the camera is controlled from ground level. A live view of the image being photographed is shown on the smart device so it is easy to frame shots. For larger sites, such as a farm, housing or commercial development site, the heavy weight mast is ideal as the increased height gives a good overview of the site.  Like drones the masts are quick, easy and convenient to deploy. You can see exactly what the photograph will be like on the accompanying smart device so the risk of a poor photo is minimal. An additional benefit is that the mast and a suitable camera can be left in one place for an indefinite period, which is ideal for creating time-lapse videos of construction projects for example.


Photo taken from 6m Mast

Photo taken from 6m Mast

House and grounds taken at 15m height

House and grounds taken at 15m height


In practice the two technologies of drones and masts sit well alongside one another. For low-level still shots or for prolonged project recording, a mast is the ideal choice. However for video tours or a higher level photos then a drone is the better choice.

Will I be getting a drone at Great Impressions? Not just yet. It seems to me that there are still some technology issues, which need to be overcome to avoid costly crashes or fly-aways. On top of this I suspect the legal issues surrounding the use of drones is not fully settled and that more legislation is likely to come as they become more popular and create more controversial problems. They do look like great fun and applied on the right project, they will definitely bring some great results. So they are definitely on our wish list just as soon as the other issues are addressed.

If you would like to have your property or project photographed using one of my telescopic masts, please give me a call on 07557 780336 or get in touch using the contact form below.