Events / Technology

3 drone photography tips from Elevated Element

Terry and Belinda Kilby, the husband-and-wife team behind the business, shared some advice for aspiring drone auteurs.

Terry and Belinda Kilby of Elevated Element fly a drone inside the Baltimore School for the Arts. The drone's crowd view is projected on the screen behind them. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Terry and Belinda Kilby of Elevated Element had brought along the “kids” (aka their collection of drones) to talk about their aerial photography business.
It was Friday morning inside the auditorium of the Baltimore School for the Arts and soon enough the kids were delivering overhead views of the Creative Mornings crowd. Baltimore readers are likely very familiar with the husband-and-wife team’s photos of Baltimore landmarks, videos of Maryland beach scenes and 3D scans of historic buildings. The Owings Mills-based couple have been in the business since 2010, when drones weren’t available commercially and building flight controllers required ripping parts out of Wii controllers. They have built their own drones, and were even legalized last year.
And it turns out there’s more to it than powering up a drone and flying toward your favorite landmark.
Here, Elevated Element has these three tips for doing drone photography like a pro:

1. Don’t Get Too High
  • While drones present an opportunity to get a bird’s eye view from way, way up, Terry Kilby said too much height basically defeats the purpose of having a drone. “We like to say it’s above a crane and below a plane,” he said. The drone can fly much higher, but flying too high means there are planes to worry about.
2. Mind the Elements
  • Most of Elevated Element’s Baltimore photos were taken within fairly tight windows of time when all of the elements were just right. Many of the shots were taken at daybreak. In a photo of the Patterson Park pagoda, for instance, the light gives the subject a unique glow. There are also fewer people around at daybreak. Another sunrise photo of the man-woman statue outside Penn Station required a windy day so the American flag next to the statue would be unfurled. But it couldn’t be too windy, Belinda Kilby said, because that would compromise the drone. Sunset was the best time to shoot the Domino Sugar sign because it lights up, Terry Kilby said. But there is only about a 15-minute window where the sign’s lights are on and the natural light of the sun is still illuminating city buildings.
3. Safety First
  • Drones may not be nearly as large as planes, but they’re still aircraft. Another reason many Elevated Element shoots take place in tight windows is safety. Many shoots were on weekends and at sunrise because fewer people are usually around then. Consideration of wind is also a safety issue, and the man-woman statue shoot required permission from the Penn Station security guard. On the flipside, drones can also make getting access to areas safer. “Anytime you have a job that is dull, dirty or dangerous, it’s best to send a robot in to do the work.” For instance, the couple photographed a senior housing complex that burned during the Baltimore riots as it was still smoldering. With heat still melting metal on nearby houses, going to the site themselves would have been hazardous, Terry Kilby said.

Artists who want to come out for a talk on a Friday morning aren’t the only group getting tips from Terry and Belinda Kilby. The couple authored their second book, which is a how-to on drone construction and getting started. With software kits also becoming more widely available, the couple believes drones are set for rapid innovation.
“I like to compare these now to the big huge, fat, brick Radio Shack mobile phone from the ’80s that you always see in those throwback movies,” Terry Kilby said of the drones in front of him. “Ten years from now, we’re probably going to see the nice, little first-generation iPhone version of these.”

Companies: Elevated Element

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