February 3rd, 2014
Over the last few months I’ve started to realize how important RCMA (Remote-Control Model Aircraft) photography is going to be in upper-end real estate photography. I know, I’ve been calling it UAV photography but RCMA makes more sense. It will replace Pole Aerial Photography and traditional aerial photography because it’s so cheap and easy. It also will allow interior shots you could get no other way. Whether or not a photographer offers it may well soon become a significant factor in how upper-end agents choose a photographer. Minutes after writing the above I talked to a Realtor in Southern California that has a member of her marketing team that flies a DJI Phantom… What can I say?
Update 2/4/2014: I just got a promotional e-mail from Tourfactory.com. In addition to other new tour features they are promoting “aerial videos”. An example of their “aerial video” is the RCMA shot video is labeled Aerial Video in this tour. These are the people you are competing with and if I’m an agent in the Seattle area, I can order one of these RCMA aerial videos today! This a national (US) tour company… aerial video will be coming to your area soon! One can only infer that they don’t see much of a legal risk in commercial RCMA real estate photography.
I’m sure some of you will argue, but let’s pretend for a minute I’m correct. If I am correct and you sit on the sidelines and wait for the FAA to deal with the massive challenge it has to create reasonable guidelines, certifications and enforceable laws you will be years behind those that decide to ignore the legal greyness and confusion and just do it. Even optimistic estimates are that clarity is at least a year away. I believe it will be much longer. Because this is a WAY bigger challenge than the FAA realizes. So what do you do to stay in the game? (Update: 2/5/2014: Federal watchdogs told a House panel 2/5/2014 that the Federal Aviation Administration won’t meet its 2015 deadline.) There are two basic approaches that photographers are already taking (of course I’m just talking about the US):
- Ignore the stuff in the press about the FAA and do what you need to do: You can already see that most photographers are choosing this path. They are supported by what seems to be quite good evidence that nothing has ever happened to anyone for operating a RCMA commercially and that nothing is likely happen to Raphael Pirker for operating his RCMA commercially. You can see this happening all over, but very few that do it want to talk about it. A variation of this is to claim that as long as you fly above private property FAA “rules” don’t apply.
- Participate as a “hobbyist”: Steve Loos sent me this video. Steve says, “My current goal is to build a brand looking forward to the day the rules are finalized by FAA in 2015. This would be hard to do working in the dark. Also, not fair to the client in not disclosing the current state of law. I fly according to current FAA and AMA rules for hobby model aircraft flying; line of site, below 400′, in a safe manner etc. My clients offer me access to properties to build my skills and brand, and in exchange I provide the photos at no charge. No promise or expectation of fees or future work is made. I provide a written disclosure to the client that explains the status of current rules and confirms no fee or promise of work has been made. I fly a DJI Phantom version 2 with zenmuse gimbal and eagleeye fpv display, gopro hero 3+ black, video shot 1080p at 60fps rendered at 24fps.”
There are good arguments for either of these approaches. There is a lot to learn and this technology is evolving at lightning speed. The only approach that has a problem is deciding to wait until all of the chaos and confusion surrounding the commercial use of RCMAs clears up.
Also, Steve would like some feedback on his video, that’s why he sent it to me. I think he’s done a great job. But more feedback from some of the Phantom flyers in the audience would be greatly appreciated.