Let’s talk drones! For years, photographers have found ingenious ways to photograph all the guests in one big photo at a wedding. This usually involves hanging out of an upstairs bedroom window, making use of balcony, standing on a chair (precarious) or a small step ladder. I used to carry a stepladder for just such a purpose. The chair however, always got me a few shouts of “hope you’re insured!”, and “that doesn’t look safe!” but it always resulted in a good photo once I could get the crowds full attention!
In 2013 the drone market begun to explode. One maker, DJI, seemed to hold all the best models and I took the plunge and bought a £1700 Mavic Phantom 3. It was a beast of a thing but actually quite easy to control. It took some time to learn to fly and take photos but with practice it all came together.
I took it to a couple of weddings and it was an instant hit. I didn’t bother asking the venues permission as at the time, permission, insurance and certification didn’t really exist. It was fantastic for aerial photos and video and I always got a small crowd of blokes around me as it really is a ‘big boys toy’.
With progress came change and I decided to adapt to the emerging rules and decided to take my CAA course. It was 3 days of studying with a written exam followed by a flight assessment with a CAA Approved Examiner. It was not a ‘turn up and pass’ course! I was then awarded my ‘Permission for Commercial Operations’ (PfCO) certificate which gave me the authority to fly. The course was one of the first in the country and cost £1800 but it did mean I could fly legally with liability insurance at a wedding. Venues began to require the insurance and my CAA Permission but more importantly and it felt good to be one of the first to get their ‘permission’ to fly commercially and it became known as the wedding drone.
In 2017 I ‘upgraded’ to the Mavic Pro which is a much smaller 980g drone but with a considerably better camera. It still takes practice to fly and take photos/video and up until the COVID lockdowns, I was flying around 10-15 hours per year. Not bad when the batteries only last 20 minutes!
I can fly as 500m away from me horizontally and up 400’ above me. In January 2021 the rules changed again and are now balanced against risk so at a venue, I can still fly the drone above you if needed. For group photos, I prefer to be in front of you and around 10m in the air which usually gives me plenty of space to get over 100 guests into a photo.
Certain venues fall within Controlled Airspace such as Aldwick Estate which is close to Bristol Airport. Permission can be obtained to fly there with an application to the CAA. The Hare & Hounds at Tetbury, is in a no fly zone and permission cannot be obtained to fly at all. The drone knows where it is in the world and it simply won’t take off in such areas.
It does need time to set it up and fly it at a venue. If I didn’t have Lisa with me, I wouldn’t be able to fly as it sacrifices time taking photos of the couple and guests.
The only other restrictions to flight are weather. I can’t fly it in winds over 30mph or in the rain and I must keep the drone in sight at all times. Ultimately, I am responsible for flying the drone safely and within the confines of my ‘permission’ when at a wedding and I am always mindful of both small and big children (adults!) who really want to pick it up or have a play with it. If it’s not safe to fly, I won’t fly.
To summarise, if we’re booked at a wedding where we are both attending, I will bring the drone. Subject to weather, I get it airborne for some aerial photos which gives a birds eye view of the wedding from above.
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©Richard Lewis Photography
Wedding Photography in Bristol, Bath, Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and the South West
Based in North Common