Aerial photography is a valuable tool because it combines excellent resolution with the ability to view objects and landscape from 1000 to 2000 feet above the ground. Once you have determined that this is the best way to capture the images you want, how do you go about choosing and hiring an aerial photographer?
Think about what type of aerial photography you will need. The most common type is accomplished by small aircraft that will fly from 1000 to 2000 feet above the ground. Another type uses helicopters and is used to photograph moving objects or hard to reach areas otherwise inaccessible by airplanes. This is the most expensive type of aerial photography. There are other types of photography that use balloons, kites and remotely controlled flying platforms like radio controlled model helicopters. These other types of photography suffer from the disadvantage of the photographer being somewhere other than behind the camera to capture the image video.
Look for an aerial photography company in your area. This may seem obvious, but consider the nature of aerial photography when contacting local aerial photographers. There are two main costs involved in aerial photography: the cost of having the airplane and crew in the air and the cost of printing the images. Generally speaking, you want to find a company whose base of operations is within about twenty-five miles of what you want to photograph. This will allow for the total time of the shoot to take no more than one hour of flight time. Remember, the plane and crew have to find the target, circle it several times and fly back to their base of operations. If you choose a company based further away they can certainly fly just about anywhere but it will add to the cost of the shoot and add to the cost of your final product.
Decide what level of professionalism you want for your project. There are three types of companies that tend to offer aerial photography services. One of the most common is a commercial photography studio that also advertises they can do aerial photography. In other words, it’s not their main business but they have photographers and they can rent an aircraft for your project. The second type of “company” is a pilot with a small aircraft who is willing to go up and hang his camera out the window. The third type of company is the type that specializes in aerial photography. There are fewer of these specialty companies because it is a niche market, however this third type is the most likely to produce the best images at the best total cost.
One advantage of aerial photography is the creative aspect of composition. Aerial photos are generally taken from an oblique angle as opposed to from directly overhead. This allows the photographer to work from all sides and at different heights, introducing the best composition. The effect of light plays a big role in the composition of the photograph.
A professional aerial photographer will choose light that best suits the composition of the target images. The amount of sunlight, the angle of the light, the shadows the light produce and the time of day all contribute to a photograph that is both useful in conveying information and aesthetically pleasing. There are also piloting skills that will contribute to the outcome of the end product. A good pilot knows how to control the aircraft to achieve the best angles and altitudes. Choosing a company that is within twenty miles of your target site and choosing a company that specializes in aerial photography gives you the best chance at a quality outcome at the optimal total cost.
Contact a local company and describe what you want to accomplish. What is the site you want photographed? Where is it? Generally you will only have to provide an address and an experienced pilot will be able to find it from the air. If there are distinguishing landmarks it is always helpful to point these out to the person who will be planning the flight. Be prepared to discuss how many sites you want photographed and from how many angles. The more you can say about why you want a particular site or sites photographed the easier it will be to plan the shoot. For instance, if you plan to use the images for a printed sales brochure it will make a difference to the photographer than, say, if you are planning to use the images on a website.
You may want to ask the company what type of photographic equipment they use. For example, do they use digital cameras or film cameras? Digital cameras have become the preferred platform because the images do not require the extra time and cost for processing and they can easily be manipulated. Ask about the resolution of the files and find out how large an image can be blown up before losing critical resolution. One of the advantages and common purposes of aerial images is to have them enlarged for display, sales and planning.
Get an estimate of how much it will cost. Different companies estimate costs differently. Generally the cost will be based on three things: the cost associated with capturing the image (aircraft, equipment, pilot and photographer), the rights you are buying to use the image (how you are planning to use it), and the physical conveyance of the image (digital files, prints, etc.). Make sure these costs are explained to you in the estimate. Some companies will charge a flat rate for the flight and crew; some will charge based on time required to complete the shoot.
Usage rights to the images will play a part in the cost to you to obtain the images. Generally usage rights and the associated costs are determined based on how you intend to use the images. If you plan to use them for a website or for display purposes it is much different than if you intend to resell the images. Tell the person giving you an estimate how you plan to use the images. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have stock images, that is, images already on file that you can purchase. Stock images are usually available at much less cost than images that require a custom shoot. Ask if it is possible to piggyback your shoot with another that may already be scheduled to save costs. You may have to wait until another shoot in the area is scheduled but most aerial photographers will offer a partial discount of costs if you can be flexible in your schedule.
Find out about the costs for printing images, both initial and reprints. Have the company giving you an estimate help you determine what medium to use depending on the intended use of the images. For example, do you need mural printing, inkjet printing, LaserJet printing or archival printing. Ask the company about the processes they can make available to you for your final product. Look for companies that work with professional printing labs that specialize in the field.
Ask about predicted flight schedules. Flying is dependent upon a number of factors. These are generally the weather, the availability of aircraft and photographic crew and previously scheduled customers. Depending upon where your target site is and the season of the year weather may be a significant factor in scheduling a flight. Once you have gathered the information you need then ask your local aerial photographer to schedule a flight. It is common for companies to require a deposit up front. Make sure you discuss the terms of payment and any customer satisfaction guarantees they may offer.