Look! Up in the sky, it's a bird... it's a plane...

As an FAA part 107 certified drone pilot, I’m diligent in my pre-flight prep and in-flight safety. When an aerial imaging request comes in I do several things to prepare. First I check the property address on the sectional charts for my area to ensure it is outside any restricted airspace and otherwise within an area I’m legally allowed to fly. Next, I take a quick tour of the immediate area in GoogleMaps to get an idea of the site layout, as well as locations of things like trees, power lines, and/or traffic to be aware of. Finally, as the photoshoot date approaches, I keep an eye on the weather forecast.

Recently a drone request came in only one day ahead of time so I did my prep right away and arrived on-site the next morning. A mist started falling as I pulled up and a quick check of the radar told me there might be a break in the precipitation in a couple of hours. I’m comfortable flying in a light drizzle and my drone would handle it fine, but the lens was likely to become spotted with water drops which would render those photos unusable pretty quickly. This was ok since I had interiors to shoot also and could work on that first until the sky cleared.

Alas, the weather didn’t clear… repeated checks of the radar showed only more rain headed my way. Luckily my client had the wiggle room in his schedule to delay the drone work until the next day so I returned the following morning under dry skies ready to fly.

Once I reached the roof of the 5-story property with my gear I noticed a large cloud of black smoke just a couple blocks away. The sirens started a moment later, very shortly followed by two low flying news helicopters. I wisely stayed grounded until they departed but while waiting the breeze began to build and, due to the wind direction, commercial air traffic was now on approach on a flight path that traveled directly over my job-site. Being greater than 5 miles from the airport and planning to fly at very low altitude (less than 125 feet AGL) I was safe to launch, though the swirling wind gusts and aircraft noise made for an exciting experience.

Further restrictions included avoiding flying directly over the busy intersection below, seagulls soaring nearby and the many power poles and wires that line the streets in that area. With careful positioning, I was able to frame the shots I needed while maintaining full aircraft control, line of sight and safe distances from all hazards.

The longer I stayed the nicer the skies began to look as the gusty wind blew the clouds away (although I did end up doing some sky replacements in post!). After getting my last few required photos I took an aerial selfie just for fun before attempting one last capture. It was a side shot of the property I had planned to take from the ground but thought I’d try from above since I was already there. As I maneuvered into position on the far side of the building two ornery crows came charging out of a nearby evergreen, swooping and cawing at the drone. Knowing that it is fledgling season here in Seattle and that crows can be very aggressive in those situations I aborted the attempt, quickly flew the drone to land safely on the roof and packed it in for the day. That side shot was achieved from the ground and no drones or crows were harmed in the process!

(all images copyright © 2019 Jennifer Clark/PorchLight Imaging, LLC)

Jennifer Clark