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Understanding Drone Aerial Photography

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By Sherry and Brett Eklund/Desert View Aerial Photography

It’s no secret that aerial photographs play an essential role in any construction project. They help with the planning process, assist builders in documenting the progress of a project, provide an opportunity to spot potential issues that would otherwise be missed, capture great marketing images, and more.

It used to be that the only way to get sky-view pictures for construction purposes was to hire an aerial photography team utilizing piloted aircraft.

However, a new player has entered the scene – the drone. And whether you choose to hire a professional aerial photography team using fixed-wing airplane, helicopter, or drone, or choose to go the DIY route, all have a place in the world of construction.

But the use of drones is complicated and ever evolving, so we’d like to touch on a few key points to help you understand drone aerial photography.

Regulations & Safety

To understand the regulations around the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), a.k.a. drones, on a job site, it is important to distinguish the difference between the hobbyist and the commercial operator. The FAA states that “recreational or hobby use is typically understood as the model aircraft being flown for personal interest and enjoyment and not for business purposes or compensation or hire.”

The current FAA position is that you cannot fly for commercial purposes without their permission. Commercial purposes being defined as anything that benefits your business or could potentially benefit your business, whether or not you’re receiving income from it.

Therefore, as an example, when a construction company purchases a drone and has one of their employees use the drone to take aerial photos of the construction progress, that is considered commercial use and the company is required to follow the appropriate FAA guidelines.

Insurance is another major factor to consider as liability insurance coverage will not be granted until commercial registration and compliance is met. And hiring a drone aerial photography company does not ensure FAA compliance, so ask questions!

Beyond regulations, there are matters of personal responsibility and safety. While drones are generally safe and even fun, inexperienced drone pilots have caused some serious accidents. Operating a drone without proper practice could put yourself, your team members, or even innocent bystanders in danger if you lose control. If you do decide to operate a drone, exercise extreme caution and responsibility.


Images from low cost drones have the “fisheye” effect and may provide distorted imagery for construction progress documentation. Therefore, high end equipment is definitely necessary, but the real value comes from a professional’s experience, skills, and passion. Aerial photography, like all photography, has nuances that are only learned through practice. A professional team knows how to get the good shots and how to work efficiently. They don’t waste time or resources snapping images that will ultimately end up being unusable. Construction photography requires a high level of attention to detail along with high-tech equipment (and knowledge of how to properly use it).

Final thoughts

There will always be tech advances and as the machinery gets more sophisticated and the rules and regulations trickier to navigate, a new crop of professionals that specialize in the field will come onto the scene. We believe there is room for all on the playing field. Just remember to fully consider your options and your goals. By doing so, you’ll make the right decision for you and your team on each and every project.

To learn more about commercial and recreational drone guidelines, or register your drone, you may visit the website for the Know Before You Fly Campaign.


NOTE: Sherry and Brett Eklund are Phoenix Aerial Photographers who provided valuable information for this article. They are husband and wife, and cofounded Desert View Aerial Photography. Sherry is the photographer, and Brett the pilot. They’ve been in construction for over 30 years and providing aerial photo construction documentation since 2006.

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