Dickson drone pilots provide picture of future


Josh Arntz, The Dickson Herald

In the not so distant past, the angles and perspectives with hobby photography often were limited to the tallest structure the photographer could climb in the vicinity, unless he boarded some type of aircraft.

Two local shutterbugs however, recently began exploring opportunities for aerial photography with drones, and noted the possibilities for image perspectives and drone use seemingly are endless.

James Bendall, photographer for The Herald, suspected drones will be powerful enough to move logs and people in the future.

“It’s just a new technology and a new industry,” he said. “I think it’s really going to take off.”

Marty Allison, also a Herald photographer, described the applications as “almost endless.”

“I’ve told several people that if I were any type of contractor or building inspector, police departments, I would definitely have one,” Allison said. “I would much rather fly a drone over a location to search for a possible suspect than put an officer in harm’s way.”

Bendall described an infrared, night vision camera specially made for drones that would be applicable in “all kinds of connotations,” like search and rescue scenarios, firefighting, criminal pursuits, etc.

“There’s just going to be so many uses for drones,” Bendall said, “and as their uses increase, I would imagine so will their complexity and their size.”

Drone investment

Bendall purchased his first drone for photography “a little over” a year ago. Technological upgrades prompted him to buy his current model, the DJI Phantom 3, which comes with a built-in 4K camera system.

With his first drone, Bendall explained he had to buy a camera (GoPro) separately and attach it to the aircraft, but he couldn’t see what he was filming.

“I basically had to do gun runs, and hope that I got what I wanted to get on camera,” Bendall said.

The Phantom 3 employs a mobile device – such as a smartphone or tablet – to display altitude, distance, speed, camera settings, battery charge, mapping features, etc.

“You control everything on the smart phone,” said Allison, who also has a DJI Phantom 3. “Everything’s done on that screen.”

Allison explained his iPhone attached to the drone’s remote control simulates being in the “cockpit.”

“You can see whatever the drone is seeing,” he said. “So it has a remote control that you attach your smart device to and that gives you your visual.”

Bendall reported another “significant upgrade” from his previous drone was the new aircraft’s flight range, up to a mile and a half distance from the previous 1,000-meter maximum.

“It can get up in the air and you lose sight of it from the ground,” Allison said. “It’s got a pretty good range.”

Bendall noted the average height he’ll hover the drone for a photo is about 200 feet.

The drone is controlled by GPS, Bendall explained, which makes it “really stable” and able to compensate for and cut through cross winds.

“Also if you were to put the drone in a hover, you can walk to it, and you can grab it by the landing gear and you can try and pull it in any direction, and it will fight to stay where you put it in a hover at,” he added.

The drone is “really easy” to operate, Allison noted, and “way smoother” than he anticipated.

“It’s way faster than I thought,” Allison said. “I think it flies 30-35 mph.”

The one drawback has been battery life, he added.

Drone photography

Allison’s drone also has had a slight drawback for his handheld photography.

“Right now the biggest effect is that I’m finding myself not wanting to use a traditional camera, because I’m just having fun with this new toy,” he said. “It’s been kind of addictive.”

Allison got his drone about a month ago.

“Sports was my main focus and purpose,” he explained. “When I thought about getting one a few years ago, I used to shoot for some golf publications and they would always run overhead shots of different holes and so that was one of my first visions, was golf.”

Allison considered high school football games too.

“And when I started getting serious about it, I kept thinking Week Zero football overhead shot Dickson versus Creek Wood,” he said.

Allison’s interest in drones arose from his interest in aerial photography.

“But the cost of actually getting in an airplane or helicopter is prohibitive,” he noted, “and so I started tracking the technology advances in these drones.”

After two years of research, Allison said, “I was finally satisfied with something that was fairly affordable that would put out quality work and I could take it out pretty much any time I wanted to just for different perspective on taking photos.”

Filming a subject from a different perspective attracted Bendall to the drone too.

“Really and truly for me it’s just a new camera platform,” Bendall said. “It’s a new way to take pictures and get pictures and get camera angles that I never have been able to get before, because I was stuck on the ground.”

Bendall acknowledged the image snapped by a drone almost appears to be 3D, where viewers can see multiple angles of the subject as opposed to the typical one or two sides taken by a handheld camera.

“You get a more detailed, vivid image,” Bendall added.

Among the “new effects” Bendall has noticed with drone photography is the reflection of clouds on water.

“It’s just a unique view that most people don’t get to see,” Allison said.

Future of drones

Allison and Bendall reported receiving mostly positive reactions from the community when they’re out flying their drones. People are curious about the drone and want to talk about it.

“I had it at the Creek Wood-Dickson County (football) game and I had several people tell me that they, instead of watching the game itself, once they knew it was in the air they were watching the drone,” Allison said, “so it’s been well-received.”

The “negative comments” Bendall has heard have centered on flying over another person’s property, he reported, “and I respect that.”

“Even though you may have a drone that has a camera attached to it, you still need to follow the rule of the law and respect somebody’s expectation of privacy,” Bendall said.

Bendall and Allison acknowledged few regulations for drone flight, and foresaw stricter guidelines in the future.

Both cited recent instances of drones hindering wildfire containment efforts out west, as an example of irresponsible use.

“As a news agency, we would probably fit into a different category (of regulation),” Allison posited, “but just for the common drone owner, the more that people get these in their hands, I see regulations coming down heavy.”

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