As a Professional Aerial Photographer, lately I have been noticing a growing number of questionable drone photographs being used in the local press, and lets be honest, have probably been taken illegally and in contravention of the CAA guidelines for drone use. I am talking about photographs such as a bird’s eye views of the centre of London, or a bird’s eye view of a church in a town centre, overhead videos of Liverpool town centre, that sort of thing. You are probably wondering how the pictures where taken, in fact we as professional aerial photographers are wondering the very same thing.
In my own home town, we have had the local press publish stills from videos and links to youtube videos that have clearly been taken illegally. By Illegal I mean they have been taken by an enthusiastic amateur photographer with a drone, and then they have been published in the newspaper. there are, as I see it at least two issues with this.
1. The newspaper in printing the photograph are in some ways complicit in the taking of the illegal photograph by allowing it to be printed without checking on the photographer’s credentials.
2. This fuels the illegal uses of drones, and fires the aim to get more and more “risqué” pictures.
This sort of, turning a blind eye as to the authenticity of the photograph, by the press is at best a “little disappointing” from a professional’s aerial photographer standpoint. All too often we see Drones being flown to overlook people’s gardens, all too often they are being flown too close to airports, being flown in such a way that they scare livestock, you know the sorts of things, all to get that “special image”. With Christmas around the corner things will only get worse as the market explodes with drones being bought as the “Christmas toy to have”. Even a modestly prices UAV now is capable of being flown way out of the sight of its owner and potentially into the path of a plane. Surely the press have a duty, as well as the Drone industry, to collectively educate the public. The Drone Manufacturers put a leaflet into every purchased Drone highlighting “The Drone Code” as issued by the CAA. Perhaps they, the press and manufacturers, should also pay for some infomercials or print some informative articles in the local and national press prior to the Christmas rush highlighting the dangers of operating drones. Any intervention from the Professional aerial photographer against an over enthusiastic and miss guided amateur will, and can only be interpreted as sour grapes on the amateurs part so self regulation will not work in my opinion, although we do have a duty to report the worst offenders to the police. I say this as my experience of being known in the area as a professional drone operator, has led to people accusing me of overflying their gardens or their piece of land. Taunts of "I saw you the other day flying over that house", when in fact it was another amateur drone operator breaking the rules.
Manufacturers also need to stop making ill guided claims that “their Drone will fly X” number of kilometres away from the base unit", this is really unhelpful in educating the public as to what they can and cannot do with their Drones. As Professional Aerial Photographers we have all seen YouTube and its full of videos of people doing distance tests, in doing the distance test they are breaking the “Drone code” as the drone will be well out of sight during most of the test. By way of example of these cavalier claims the new Mavic drone launched this month by DJI as part of their selling points a line in their spec sheet says” New OcuSync transmission system offers up to 4.3 miles of transmission range”. Some people may see this as a challenge and not just a flight statistic.
My fear for this industry is that, unless the public are educated they will continue to ignore the rules and regulations, as this industry is predominately unregulated. It will take nothing short of a disaster for the governing bodies to wake up and pay attention, by then it will be too late for our industry. Maybe we as professional drone operators should self-police it in the interest of our businesses, but that raises all kinds of other issues as previously mentioned. The fact remains that something has to be done to safeguard the future of our businesses, after all we have made a sizeable investment to just get started as a Professional aerial photographer, and "I kinda like the job", long may it succeed !!
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