AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY? OR PLAYER-PERSPECTIVE PHOTOGRAPHY?

The Waterfall Club, 2nd hole from top of the waterfallWHAT'S BEST FOR YOUR CLUB?

In years past, aerial photography required the use of helicopters, cranes or at least bucket trucks. And the costs, the time and inconvenience of resorting to these machines limited the use of aerials to only the most prosperous golf clubs.  With the advent of drones, though, aerials appear to have become more accessible… and are sometimes more affordable than traditional, ground-level shooting.  The reason I say “…sometimes more affordable” is that the more professional drone photographers are actually teams.  It takes a very large, sophisticated drone to fly a heavy DSLR and lens combo, so to even come close to the image quality of a professional DSLR mounted on a tripod, a team is required.  One person to fly the drone and another to handle photography and videography.  Plus an assistant or two to manage the collection of equipment.  And all those things add to the cost.

There are individual photographers who are now providing drone photography, but the drone rigs that allow a single individual to both fly the drone and manage the camera don’t yet offer the image quality available to those of us who work on the ground.  I’m watching the development of drone technology closely, though, and as the technology improves, I may well begin offering drone shooting.  It does look like fun, doesn’t it?

In the meantime, if you’re considering having drone photography done of your course, here are some things to consider.

1. Having a drone and a camera does not necessarily produce great images.  
Drones are fascinating, and the creative possibilities are exciting, but a photographer’s most important tool is his vision.  And his ability to transform a RAW image captured in the field into a great photograph in the studio.  Elevation does not, of itself, create a great image.  All of the images in this article make use of elevation to add interest to a composition.  All of them were shot from a tripod, resting firmly on the ground.

2. Nobody plays golf from a helicopter or drone.  
When asked if I offer drone photography, my standard rejoinder is, “I never played golf from a helicopter, so why should I take photographs from one.”  It’s my somewhat goofy way of addressing an issue I take very seriously.  As a photographer, my goal is to share a moment… and a feeling… with people who see my photographs.  I want my images to speak to the actual experience of walking the fairway, visualizing a shot and enjoying the challenge of trying to reach the green or to simply carry the lake off the tee.  As a golfer, I want to know what it’s like to actually be on a course.  And while aerials are cool, they don’t offer that experience.
 
3. ROI
Bottom line?  What do you get for what you spend?  How many images do you need?  And what kind of quality do you expect?  Before signing up a drone shooter, ask how many images he or she will provide, and ask about the quality of the equipment they’re using.  GoPro’s are the most popular cameras for drone shooting, although there are also several drone manufacturers who have their own cameras.  I’m not currently aware of any of the single operator drone packages that shoot more than a 12 megapixel image.  The Nikon D810s I shoot with capture 36 megapixel images, which translates into  24” X 16” RAW files.  There’s no comparison, quality-wise.  And to take it a step further, because no camera made today can capture the full dynamic range of light that you and I can both see, in order to produce the best images possible, I often blend multiple exposures of the same shot to create a final image.  It’s a challenge to do this when shooting from a tripod.  Impossible when shooting from a flying object.

Conclusion
I share the excitement that many people feel about drone photography.  And I suspect that it won’t be that much longer until I jump in and give it a try. But I’m not going to compromise my standards for quality images just to jump on the drone bandwagon.  Should you?