Why You Should Use Helicopter Aerial Photography Over Drone Photography

A while back, I wrote an article titled The Bird’s Eye View: Helicopter Aerials for Architectural Photography. In it, I talked about my personal experience doing aerial photography from helicopters, and how it’s a useful tool for businesses looking to capture unique perspectives of their businesses. In it, I touched on how a common alternative to traditional aerial photography is drone photograph. As someone with years of experience in helicopters as a professional photographer, I wanted to compare and contrast the two a bit more here.


How Aerial Photography Has Changed

I think before everything else, it’s important to stress that there is a place for drone operation in the photography world. The technology is improving every day, and it’s providing a great tool for both amateur enthusiasts and professional photographers. While both drone and helicopter photographer can pull off most of the same shots, it’s important to understand that as an evolving technology, it has some limitation enforced by the technology, as well as by evolving laws that govern it.


Drone Photography Limitation Due to FAA Regulations

As mentioned above, federal regulations (and depending on your location, state and county laws may apply) are still catching up with drone operation. Concerns about privacy, safety, and user have placed limits on drone operation. While there are more regulations (see the full Federal Aviation Agency factsheet here), two are major limiting factors:

  • Maximum Altitude: The FFA limits the maximum altitude for drones to 400 feet, which can be problematic for larger buildings or shots. A waiver can be obtained by companies.

  • Line of Sight: The drone must be kept in line-of-sight of the operator at all times. This includes the drone being in range of unaided sight.

A Matter of Aerial Endurance

Drones are powerful and small, and those both come at a cost. Operators have a limited time to get the perfect shot, with the average drone needing a batter change within 15 to 20 minutes. While helicopters can take their leisure finding the best shots, a drone operator must be more economical on the time they can spend.


Weather, Winds, and Lighting Conditions

Photographers often wear many hats, including being a weatherman. While the weather and times of the day and season have impacts on any photography, drones can be particularly hit hard by both. And while both types of aerial photography can be impacted by winds, drones have a much lower threshold depend on the make and model, meaning yet another factor that might delay the shoot.

Lastly, it’s important to recognize many drone operators aren’t professional photographers or have access to professional cameras for ground-level and interior photography, while those using choppers can bring the same gear ground side. I love doing helicopter photography and have years of experience in this field. If you’re interested in discussion aerial or non-aerial architectural photography for your property and buildings in the greater Boston area, contact me at Shupe Studios.