Real Estate Video of the Week #1

It’s been a while since I posted, but here is our first Real Estate Video of the Week.

 

Entering RiverCamps on Crooked Creek you leave the world behind. A personal retreat in a gated reserve, this unique residential community is bordered on three sides by water including the Intracoastal Waterway, Crooked Creek and the spectacular 18,000-acre expanse of West Bay. Nature abounds, including a population of wildlife and more than one-hundred species of resident and migratory birds.

Yet, RiverCamps is so convenient to your every-day needs. Scenic Highway 30-A, home to some of the Gulf Coast’s most acclaimed restaurants is 17 miles away. Destin, 45 miles to the west and Panama City Beach, 10 miles to the east, both offer great shopping and other popular destinations.

The RiverCamps community embraces the outdoors, offering expansive views of its natural surroundings with a sense of seclusion. Choose your homesite to build your beautifully crafted Southern home. Each RiverCamps home is designed to be a personal retreat with every comfort and convenience. Whether it’s a second home or a year-round residence, your home in the RiverCamps community will be a treasured retreat.

 

 

Real Estate Drone Video Tip #3 – Adjusting the Color Settings on Your 4K Camera

It was a beautiful day outside today, so what better way to spend it than taking the drone out for a little flight time. As I am always the perpetual student when it comes to drone photos, I decided to play with the color settings on my camera, just to see how different settings affected the quality of the photos. I selected the clubhouse in my neighborhood, since I could capture a residential structure, water with sun reflecting in the background, a blue sky, and a green pasture. Here are the basic settings I used on my camera. These were held constant, and I only changed the color settings available on the DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone. I wanted to see just what variations I could observe by changing the camera settings.

 

 

Photo – Single Shot

ISO – 100

Shutter Speed – 250

Image Size – 4:3

Image Format – JPEG + RAW

White Balance – Sunny

Style – None

 

I first took this set of photos last week, but had the image format set to RAW. What I didn’t realize is when you take photos in RAW, all your color settings are lost during import. When I previewed the photos on my iMac, the photos looked right (black and white, vivid, etc.), but when they actually imported, they all looked the same, because the RAW format doesn’t do any processing. By contrast, for a JPEG image, all the processing is done in the camera. So, what does this mean? If you want to be able to edit your photos later in Lightroom, or some other editing software, use RAW format. It retains all the available detail from the camera. JPEG, however, has already done all its processing, so you can’t change it later. I didn’t intend this post to become a RAW vs JPEG tutorial, but I hope my costly mistake saves you some trouble of your own. To be safe, just leave your photo settings to JPEG + RAW so you have options later. Better to have too many images that you can delete later, than to not have the format that you need. I used this link when I was learning the differences between RAW and JPEG.

 

D-Cinelike

D-Log

 

None

 

Art

 


 

Black & White

 

 

Vivid


 

Beach

 

Dream


 

Classic

 

Jugo

 

 

Conclusions

It didn’t look like there was much difference between D-Cinelike and D-Log settings. Neither one of them seemed to be much different than the NONE setting. The ART setting took away some color, almost getting somewhere in between original color, and black and white. Black and White is obvious. I think the Black and White setting would be great if you were taking drone photos of a historical landmark, or any other older structures. Vivid is my favorite setting when it is close to sunset. I think this setting can be used to really sell a property. Same with Beach and Dream. These settings really accentuate the sky and water in the background. Classic setting seems to be similar to Vivid, Beach and Dream. The Jugo setting gives a nostalgic feel to the photo. Not as much as Black and White, but it definitely gives a very nice touch. I hope you found this to be useful. Leave some comments below on your favorite camera settings when taking drone photos. See you next week!

7 Tips on Selecting the Right Drone Photographer

 

Let’s face it. Drones are here to stay. With the FAA slowly loosening the regulatory barriers to entry for drone operators, real estate agents and homeowners now have a new and exciting service available to them to better market their listings. What better way to see a property than from a breathtaking aerial perspective!

 

As in any service that you are hiring for, there are certain criteria that must be met for you to obtain a quality product. The same is true for drone photography. Don’t just go out and hire the first operator you run across. Do the proper research, select the operator that best fits your needs, and ensure that they meet all proper legal requirements for the drone photography field. Use the tips below to help you find the right operator for your real estate marketing efforts:

 

 

  1. Make Sure the Drone Operator Has the Proper FAA Credentials

I consider this to be by far the most important requirement for a potential drone operator. It has been a long time coming for the FAA to put in place a LEGAL means of entry for drone operators into the national airspace. In order for operators to safely operate in airspace with manned aircraft, the drone operator must either have a Section 333 Exemption, or a Part 107 Remote Pilot certificate. PLEASE make sure that anyone you hire has the proper credentials to do this type of work. Having these credentials means that your operator understands how to SAFELY operate in the same airspace as traditional manned aircraft. This field has to come too far for it to be set back by reckless operators who do not observe proper protocol when operating their drone. All it takes is for a few tragic mishaps for the FAA to shut down all progress that has been made in the field of drones.

  1. Make Sure the Drone Operator Is Properly Insured

Current commercial drone setups have become extremely reliable, but flyaways and unexpected catastrophes do happen. These small machines are by no means invincible against Mother Nature, and against operator error. That is why you should ensure that your drone operator is insured for at least $1 million in liability insurance. Imagine the potential damage to your livelihood and your reputation if the property you were trying to sell was damaged by a drone operator that you hired. Insurance is not currently a requirement in all states, but you as a realtor should ensure that you protect the assets of your clients.

  1. References, References, References

There is no better way to find a quality service than to ask those who have already used that service. There is no substitute for word of mouth. If you market primarily luxury properties, reach out to other realtors in your network, and ask them to recommend a drone operator that has worked for them in the past. They will be able to give you some details about the drone operator. What is their pricing package? Do they have a quick turnaround for delivering drone photo and video? How flexible are they when scheduling shoots?

  1. Ask to See Samples of the Drone Operator’s Work

This one is obvious. If a drone operator already has a website, there is a 99% chance that they will already have sample drone photos and videos on their site. If not, ask them specifically for samples of their work. This will give you an idea of whether or not they can provide the quality of work that you are looking for. Is there work of the quality that will help you sell more homes faster? That is the bottom line of obtaining any aerial photography, right? Remember, drone photography is meant to complement typical interior photos that are usually shown on a property listing. Photos taken from above can provide a new perspective that traditional photography cannot. Some of the best aerial photos showcase the size of property, and its proximity to other nearby amenities. I recently took some photos of my neighbor’s house, and the one that the realtor commented on was the one that provided a great perspective of the size of the backyard. These are the types of photos that your drone operator needs to be able to provide.

 

  1. What is the Pricing Structure of the Drone Operator?

The last thing you want is to be surprised by a bill that is much larger than you expected. Before you sign up for drone photography, make sure that you are completely clear on the pricing package. Most drone photographers offer several options depending on whether the realtor wants photos, videos, or both. Decide what you need to market your property, and then decide on the package accordingly. Are you marketing a smaller property, or a vacant lot? In that case, a purely drone photo package may be sufficient. Are you marketing a large tract of land, or a higher-end property? If that is the case, a combination of photo and video may be appropriate for you. The video may be a great complement to still photos to really showcase the size of the property. Also make sure you understand whether or not your pricing includes photo and video editing. You don’t want your drone operator to deliver a disc full of raw photo and video that you have no idea what to do with. Try to hash out as many of these details as possible before actually booking a drone operator.

  1. How Does Your Drone Operator Handle the Unexpected?

Drones are very susceptible to weather. Drones do not play well with high winds. Make sure that your drone operator is very accommodating of schedule to make sure that your drone photos are obtained in a timely manner. After all, time is money in the real estate business. Also make sure that your drone operator understands that a certain level of quality must be met, otherwise the photos and video must be done again.

  1. What Kind of Equipment is Your Drone Operator Using?

The brand of drone being used by your operator is not so important, as long as it doesn’t look like they just strapped a camera they had lying around onto a quadcopter they had lying around. Most of the commercial rigs being used right now are of great quality, with fantastic stabilization gimbals that take out all of the jitter of the photos and videos, even when winds are present.

 

 

 

What I Did to Pass the Part 107 Remote Pilot Knowledge Test

Before you can produce any commercial drone photography, you must first successfully pass the Part 107 knowledge test that went into effect August 29, 2016. This post is not intended to be an in-depth study guide for the Part 107 knowledge test. I merely intend to give overall advice on how to prepare for the test, and what materials I found helpful during the study process. Here are the 6 tips I have on what and how to study for the Part 107 knowledge test:

 

  1. Understand the Breakdown of Test Questions – The FAA spells out the approximate breakdown of question types on the test. I have reproduced them below:

 

 

UAS Topics                                       Percentage of Items on Test

Regulations                                         15-25%

Airspace & Requirements                15-25%

Weather                                               11-16%

Loading and Performance                7-11%

Operations                                           35-45%

 

I found this estimate to be extremely accurate. Additionally, the FAA provides the exact topics that are to be covered within these main topics. These can be found on the FAA website.

 

I made sure that I downloaded each reference listed in this breakdown. The FAA did a great job with this reference list, as I was able to find each topic listed in these references.

 

  1. Study, Study, Study – This test is by no means a cake walk, especially if you have no previous piloting experience. I am an Aeronautical Engineer, and I still made sure that I thoroughly studied for the exam. I studied for 2-3 hours per day for several weeks, probably totaling 40-50 hours of study. The only specific section I felt I had an advantage on was the Loading and Performance section, since I use many of these principles in my day job.

 

  1. Do (and Understand) Every Question in the FAA Part 107 Sample Exam – The FAA produced a sample exam ( ) that does a great job of giving you a good idea of the level of difficulty of questions that you will encounter on the actual exam. When I took the exam, I did not feel that the actual questions I had were significantly more difficult than the sample questions. Make sure you do every one of these questions, and understand the concepts behind them. Answers to the questions can be found here.

 

  1. Take Advantage of the FAA UAS Study Guide – This was another very helpful resource put out by the FAA. It had a very good overview of each topic. Of the resources I consulted, I found this to be the best one with regards to information on weather.

 

  1. Take an Online Part 107 Study Course – Since the Part 107 Knowledge test went live, there have been several online study courses pop up. I didn’t personally use one of these, but if it makes you feel comfortable, by all means sign up for one of these. From the ones I have scanned, they all seem to be reasonably priced.

 

  1. COMPLETELY Understand Airspaces – Personally, this was the topic that I spent the most time studying. There weren’t as many airspace questions on the test as I expected, but there were still quite a few. The biggest thing I did to study for these types of questions was purchase a Gleim Private Pilot test prep book. There were tons of airspace questions to practice on, as well as weather questions. This is a great resource, as it has collected actual test questions that have been released by the FAA, so you can expect to see the same types of airspace questions on your Part 107 knowledge test.

 

 

 

Well, there you have it. These are my 6 tips on what and how to study for the Part 107 knowledge test. If you understand ALL the content outlined in the FAA study guide, you will be fine. Through my preparations, I made a 90% on the test. You can do the same or better. Good luck and happy flying!

Real Estate Drone Video Tip #2 – Shooting Video in Tight Residential Neighborhoods

There was a comment on the site several weeks ago asking how to shoot drone videos in closely packed residential neighborhoods versus properties out in the country. This is a very good question, as shooting drone video in suburban neighborhoods present several unique problems that must be addressed:

 

How do I only focus on the property I am interested in?

 

I found this to be the most difficult problem. With houses packed so close together, it is almost impossible to not get other houses in your shot. However, you should make sure that you remove other properties as much as possible, as they are not your subject of interest, and will only detract from the property you are trying to showcase. Here are some general tips that will help you:

 

  1. Plan your shoot before you get there. Check out the home on Google Maps before you get there. See just how close the surrounding properties are. This will help you determine your video sequence before you get there, saving yourself time during the actual shoot.

 

  • Does the property have a large backyard? If it does, this could provide you with a lot of real estate (pun intended) for you to do flyovers of the house and not fly over nearby properties.
  • Is there a long driveway to the house? If so, this could provide with a nice shot leading up to the house, which can give a potential buyer a sense of what driving up to the home would look like.

 

What camera settings/video settings should I use?

 

I am not going to dive into this too much, since your actual settings will be very specific to the day of your shoot, but the 2 recommendations I have are this:

 

  1. ALWAYS use RAW format. This allows you to edit the video later in your post-processing and adjust colors as necessary.
  2. I always set the white balance to AUTO. This automatically adjusts if it is sunny, cloudy, etc.

 

 

 

What privacy concerns must be addressed for surrounding properties?

 

When you are shooting videos in rural areas, you do not have to concern yourself with surrounding properties. You can shoot your video, and not capture any other homes in the process. However, when you are in suburban areas, you will find great difficulty with not capturing other homes. There are 2 main things you can do to only capture your subject property in your videos:

 

  1. Plan your video sequence to capture as few properties as possible – This is easier said than done, but you don’t have to worry about editing out other properties during your post-processing if you don’t capture them in the first place. Try to maximize the number of video sequences that only focus on your subject property.
  2. Edit out other homes in your post-processing – This is probably going to be a necessity whenever shooting videos in suburban areas. The density is such that you will capture other homes during your shoot. When I am editing my videos, I do my best to crop out other properties.

 

 

 

Example Video

 

I did the video below for one of my neighbors. Below are some details from the flight:

 

Drone type:                     DJI Phantom 3 Professional

Total flight time:            15 minutes (1 battery)

White Balance:               AUTO

Video format:                  RAW

Video quality:                  4K at 24 fps

Video Editing Software: iMovie

 

On the Phantom Pilots forum, people often ask what is the best shot sequence for real estate video. Here is what I used for this video. It is by no means the only way to do it, just what I used for this one.

 

  1. Forward flyover
  2. Upward spiral directly over house
  3. Flyover from rear of property
  4. Clockwise rotation around house
  5. Counterclockwise rotation around house
  6. 2nd forward flyover
  7. Ending shot with drone settling in front of house

 

A mistake I used to make in my videos is making individual clips too long. It is helpful to start your video with a flyover with some distance from the actual house, but don’t make it too long. Now, I generally try to keep my individual clips between 8-10 seconds.

 

Okay, here is my actual video. Feel free to leave comments on the video, and give suggestions on how to improve the video. See you next time!

 

 

Essential Part 107 Preflight Checklist

For today’s post, I will be providing a sample Part 107 preflight checklist, and explaining what information should be captured in it. In my dealings with the FAA (admittedly only manned aircraft), they really like to see that procedures are followed. What better way to do that than go through the process of collecting a specific set of data before each flight? Is it a hassle sometimes, yes? But remember, if you are operating commercially, you are held to a set of standards just like manned aircraft pilots. It is in everybody’s best interest to be as safe as possible. This checklist is meant to be not for any one type of small UAS. It covers mainly the regulatory aspects of the flight. You should develop your own maintenance checklist for your aircraft that you can follow before each flight.

 

Here are the three main areas that the checklist contains:

  1. Flight Information
  • Flight Type – What is the purpose of the flight?
  • Crew information – This is just meant to record the official crew members of the flight. It is also important for the Remote PIC to have his or her license available during each flight when operating in a commercial capacity.

It should be noted that other than takeoff and landing times, all of this information can be recorded before the flight commences, thereby saving time once you arrive at the site.

2.  Weather and NOTAMS

  • Proximity to nearest important – This is very important. It makes you aware of the nearest concentration of aircraft to your job site, as well as letting you identify what airfield to check for your METAR information and NOTAMS
  • Airspace class – I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to check the airspace class of your proposed site of operation. Before you even get in your vehicle to drive to the site, you must make sure that you are operating in CLASS G AIRSPACE ONLY. Otherwise, you are operating illegally, unless you have received an airspace waiver from the FAA for the operation.

Obviously, you cannot check weather and NOTAMS too far in advance of the flight, but you can verify your airspace far in advance of the flight.

3.  Small UAS Information

  • Aircraft information – This simply describes the type of sUAS that you are operating. It should be noted that your FAA registration number must be displayed somewhere on your aircraft that is easily visible.
  • Insurance policy – Some states are requiring that a drone operator must have proof of insurance before commencing operations. Probably a good idea to keep it on hand.

 

Okay, that’s all I have for today. The checklist is attached below. If you have any ideas of anything that needs to be changed, please let me know and I will update it. See you next time!

 

Part 107 Preflight Checklist

 

 

Real Estate Drone Video Tip #1 – Spiraling Staircase Maneuver

Real Estate Video Tip #1 – Spiraling Staircase Maneuver

 

This post and video will be the first part in a series giving tips on different maneuvers and shots that make up a great real estate drone video. Your videos need to be more than just flying around a property for a few minutes, it really needs to provide captivating footage that will capture the buyer’s attention, and make the property real estate listing stand out from others.

 

 

I am pretty active on the Phantom Pilots drone forum. If you are not a part of this forum, I highly recommend it. There is a lot of great information on the latest rules and regulations, as well as information on how to fly and troubleshoot all Phantom drones. There is also a great section that discuss how to get into and operate in the various industries that are finding uses for commercial drones. I was responding to a thread on this site, and I mentioned that when I am circling around properties or sites, I like to sometimes ascend while circling to add a nice touch to the shot. I got several questions about how to do this, so I decided to make it a post and video. Here is the basic sequence to follow when accomplishing this shot:

 

 

  1. Stabilize over the property– This is a crucial step. You want to make sure that you are stabilized at your desired altitude. There is no set altitude for this, but for real estate, I like to use 50-125 feet AGL. You don’t want to go too high, or the prominent features of the home will already be nearly out of view. The second crucial part of this step is make sure that the camera is rotated to the appropriate angle over the property. On my Phantom 3 Pro, the camera can rotate from -90 degrees (looking straight down) to +30 degrees (slightly above horizontal). For these shots, I recommend having the camera rotated to look down at a slightly oblique angle. If it is looking nearly horizontal, 2 undesirable things will happen: you will catch the propellers in the shot, which will require you to edit them out in post-processing, and the property will go out of view quickly as you are ascending. If you are looking slightly down at the property, it will remain in view while you are circling.
  2. Start circling the property – This is accomplished by moving at a diagonal around the property, and rotating the drone at the same time. For a counter-clockwise circling pattern, you will move forward and right on the right stick, and rotate left with the left stick. You must exercise caution with the left stick and only rotate during this step. You DO NOT want to change the altitude at this point. You must be stabilized on your circling pattern first. While I am doing this, I like to hold both sticks with both my index finger and thumb. This is generally good to do during any maneuver that requires fine motor skills. Once you have found the right combination of rotational and translational movement around your property, you can begin to ascend.
  3. Ascend while circling – This step will be the last and shortest part. You have stabilized in your circling pattern, and now you can ascend. Hold the same rotational and translational movements, and slowly move the left stick up to begin a slight ascend. Once the ascent starts, you will likely have to make some fine-tuning adjustments to maintain the circular pattern. This is especially true if there is any wind while flying. Once you have as much footage as you want, terminate the maneuver, and move on to your next shot.

 

 

Here is a video I put together giving an example of how to execute the spiraling staircase maneuver. I executed the maneuver around a water fountain in my neighborhood. The round-about gave me a nice frame of reference while circling. It was a little more windy than I would have liked (10-15 mph). It usually takes me a few times around to get a good shot.

 

 

 

 

Well, there you have it. I hope this provides you with a new maneuver to perform with your drone to provide good footage for your real estate videos. It definitely takes some practice to perfect. If you have a better way to execute this maneuver, leave a comment below. The best way for us to learn is for us to learn together. See you next time!

 

 

Should I Create Aerial Drone Videos Myself or Hire a Drone Service Provider?

Should I Create Aerial Drone Videos Myself or Hire a Drone Service Provider?

 

The sole purpose of today’s post is to answer this question. We will be exploring the financial aspects of purchasing a drone and producing your own drone videos, and the typical costs of hiring a local drone service provider to produce the aerial drone photography and video. Before we dive into the cost-benefit analysis of purchasing a drone, I would like to ask you several other questions.

 

Are you proficient flying a drone, or are you willing to put in the time to become proficient?

 

Most people shooting drone videos for real estate are using quadcopters. These are much easier to fly than fixed-wing aircraft, but they still require a degree of skill to master. You don’t want to buy a fancy new quadcopter, only for it to be a pile of smoldering rubble after the first flight. Once you no longer fear that you are going to crash your drone each time you fly it, you will have to start fine-tuning your skills to develop the types of shots that will make for a captivating aerial photo and video. A jerky drone video is not going to do anything to enhance your real estate marketing efforts. These videos require smooth transitions throughout the property you are showcasing. This degree of skill takes some time to develop. It’s impossible to pinpoint the number of hours that will be required for you to start producing real estate quality aerial shots, but it is definitely a skill that must be developed and maintained. Don’t expect to take your drone out once a month, and create breathtaking aerial video.

 

Do you understand all the legal aspects of operating a drone for commercial activities?

 

First and foremost, you must have either a Part 107 Remote Pilot certificate from the FAA, or either a Section 333 exemption. With each these, there is a given set of rules and regulations that must be followed. I will not go deeply into the regulations in this post, as I discussed this in great detail in my previous post:

 

http://www.dronephotographyblog.com/2016/11/28/how-to-use-drones-legally-for-commercial-purposes/

 

All I will say here is make sure you completely understand the latest regulations, both federal, state, and local, before you start using a drone for commercial purposes. I can guarantee you that any benefit you gain by capturing drone video will be far overshadowed if you ignore some regulation, and get into legal trouble with either the FAA or your local state or local governments. I highly recommend going the Part 107 certification route, as opposed to the Section 333 exemption. The process of studying for this test will give you a vast amount of aeronautical knowledge.

 

Does it make financial sense for you to produce your own drone videos?

 

To answer this question, I am going to do a very basic cost-benefit analysis for purchasing a drone to capture aerial photography for real estate purposes. Let’s start with the basic costs of the equipment required:

 

  • Quadcopter outfitted with 4K camera – $1500
  • This was about the price for my DJI Phantom 3 Professional setup. This included the drone, all chargers, several micro SD cards, and 2 extra batteries. I would note that the extra batteries are a must. You don’t want to drive all the way to a property, and have to rely on only 1 battery, which will give you about 15-20 minutes of quality flying time at best for these size models.

 

  • Part 107 Remote Pilot Knowledge Test – $150
  • This is the total cost of the test. I didn’t pay for any of the training courses for the Part 107 test. If you feel like you need additional help when studying, by all means do so.

 

  • Drone Insurance – $1,350/year
  • The link below suggests that you can obtain drone insurance for up to $1 million for this price. I would highly suggest getting drone insurance before you start creating your own videos. If you end up hiring a local service provider, I would also suggest that you verify that they are properly insured also.

http://dronelife.com/2015/02/19/do-you-need-drone-insurance/

  • Drone Registration – $5/drone
  • This cost has no impact on your decision, but it necessary to ensure legal commercial operations, and I wanted to highlight it as a reminder.

 

 

So our total is now up to $3,005/year. Note that this does not include any video editing software. There are a lot great free video editing software out there that I think is sufficient to produce real estate videos with. However, if you are doing luxury properties, you may want to invest in some higher end software. This should also be included in your analysis. It also does not include maintenance or replacement costs, or any other unforeseen costs. This is simply a good starting point for your determination of the potential benefit of doing it yourself.

 

Now let’s look at a couple of examples of determining your break-even point for your particular drone photography needs. For the purposes of this analysis, it will be assumed that for a given property, a single shoot with aerial photos costs $250, and a single shoot with aerial photos and video costs $500. These are prices that are not uncommon in my area, but you should tailor your analysis to actual costs in your area.

 

Example 1:

 

Your particular realty group does exclusively large commercial properties. You currently have a need for aerial video 10 times per year to showcase these large holdings.

 

 

Cost of doing it yourself – $3,005

Cost of hiring a local drone service provider – $500/property X 10 properties = $5,000

 

It can be seen in this example that the realtor would be better off financially producing the drone videos themselves.

 

Example 2:

 

You are a small operation showcasing mostly smaller residential properties, and you only need aerial photos 5 times per year to showcase your properties.

 

Cost of doing it yourself – $3,005

Cost of hiring a local drone service provider – $250/property X 5 properties = $1,250

 

It can be seen in this example that the realtor would be better off financially hiring a local drone service provider.

 

 

These examples are very simplistic, but they do provide a first look at the type of things that the realtor must consider when deciding whether purchasing a drone is advantageous for their business, or if they are better off hiring a local drone service provider.

 

Conclusions

Today we have discussed some basic considerations that must be evaluating when you decide whether or not to purchase a drone for your business. Beyond the basic financial considerations, you must determine whether you have the time to invest in getting property certified, and developing the flying skills necessary to produce the quality aerial photos and videos that will be necessary to create something that will actually boost your marketing efforts. Finally, I leave you with a handy infographic below that I created about making this decision.

 

 

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-9-30-17-pm

 

How to Use Drones Legally for Commercial Purposes

How to Use Drones Legally for Commercial Purposes

Before I discuss the current legal landscape surrounding commercial drone use, namely FAA Part 107 regulations, I would like to briefly discuss the recent legal and illegal use of drones for commercial purposes. Once the cost of drones was significantly reduced, and individuals and businesses realized that there was much money to be made by pursuing commercial drone business, the FAA began to feel immense pressure by the public to provide some form of regulatory framework to operate by. In the absence of that, there was a flurry of illegal drone prior to the FAA’s adoption of UAS regulations.

 

Prior to 2015, drone operations that were of a commercial nature were considered to be illegal. Period. However, this didn’t mean that people weren’t brazenly defying these laws in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Reports can be found as early as 2013 of people illegally providing commercial drone services, and even advertising these services on their websites.

 

http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/06/21/illegal-drone-business-thrives-in-us.html

 

Some people would try to get around the commercial use ban, by stating that the drone flight itself was free, and they were only charging customers for video editing. This tactic didn’t fool anybody, including the FAA, as cease and desist letters began to be sent to these businesses by the FAA. 17 cease and desist letters were sent to UAS operators in 2012 and 2013.

 

http://www.dronejournalism.org/news/2014/2/faa-cease-and-desist-letters-show-agencys-attempts-to-control-drone-use-in-the-us

 

However, due to the unfinished nature of the FAA regulations, many operators began to push back against the FAA enforcement of its fluid regulatory structure. In 2011, a drone operator named Raphael Pirker was hired by the University of Virginia to obtain aerial photo and video, and was subsequently fined $10,000 by the FAA for flying his drone “in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” The infractions alleged by the FAA were that he flew at extremely altitudes, in the vicinity of moving cars in a tunnel, and in close proximity to railroad tracks. Pirker fought this decision, and took his case before an administrative law judge at the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB). He argued that since the FAA had not issued any formal rules governing drone use, it had no authority to fine people operating drones. The NTSB judge agreed with Pirker on March 6, 2014. The judge asserted that if the FAA’s interpretation of its existing regulations were correct, then its position would then result in the argument that any flight in the air could be subject to these regulations, to include paper airplanes, balsa wood gliders, or any other toy aircraft. The FAA immediately appealed the decision, and subsequently settled with Pirker for $1,100 in January 2015. What his case did was essentially leave the FAA powerless to regulate commercial drone usage in the United States while the appeal process was being carried out. This was a very interesting read, and I highly recommend taking a few minutes to check it out.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/09/24/litigation-pushes-back-against-faa-enforcement/

 

 

Section 333 Exemptions

During 2014, the FAA was increasingly under fire for not providing a formal process for drone operators to legally enter the national airspace system for commercial operations. In response to this public scrutiny, the FAA began allowing commercial operators to petition for legal entry into the National Airspace System (NAS). All aircraft that operate in the national airspace require a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval. From the FAA website, “Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).” Prior to the finalization of the small UAS rule (Part 107), the FAA would review petitions on a case-by-case basis to determine whether certain unmanned aircraft were deemed safe enough to perform commercial operations.  As of September 28, 2016, 5,552 Section 333 exemptions have been granted, with the first one occurring on September 25, 2014 for Aerial MOB to perform closed-set filming.

 

https://www.faa.gov/uas/beyond_the_basics/section_333/

 

For now, if you currently have a Section 333 exemption, it will still be in effect until it expires, which is usually two years after it was issued. In addition, the FAA is still processing Section 333 exemptions. It is unclear whether Section 333 Exemptions will continue to be granted into the foreseeable future, or whether the Part 107 rules will become the supreme law of the land, but for now they are still a viable path to pursue legal entry into commercial drone applications. The FAA has done a very nice article providing some guidance to individuals about determining your best option between Section 333 exemptions and Part 107 certifications here:

 

https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=86285

 

FAA Part 107 Regulations

The small UAS regulations (Part 107) set forth by the FAA took effect on August 29, 2016, and allowed a legal way for drone operators to conduct commercial operations for drones weighing less than 55 pounds. The full version (624 pages) of these regulations can be found here:

 

https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/RIN_2120-AJ60_Clean_Signed.pdf

 

I will be discussing how these regulations affect anybody shooting real estate photo and video. A more reader-friendly version of the regulations can be found here:

 

https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf

 

Before you operate a drone for commercial purposes, you must be a licensed Part 107 UAS pilot. I will be discussing this in greater in a later post, but the basic information can be found here:

 

https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/fly_for_work_business/becoming_a_pilot/

 

Additionally, your drone must be registered for commercial purposes. The registration process is extremely simple, and the instructions for registration can be found here:

 

https://registermyuas.faa.gov

 

I have summarized the major operational limitations below, and explained how they affect the individual shooting drone video for real estate purposes.

 

Operational Limitations

  • The unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs.
  • This regulation does not put any burden on the typical operator that is shooting real estate videos, as most systems that would generally be used weigh much less than the 55 lb limit, with most weighing less than 10 lbs.
  • The drone can only be flown visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only.
  • This regulation should not prove to be particularly cumbersome to those shooting real estate videos. This essentially just means that you must be able to maintain visual contact with the drone at all times. This could become an issue if you needed to shoot video behind a tall building. But upon full reading of the regulation, the FAA seems to put some wiggle room in the interpretation. It gives the example of a roof inspection, stating that it was acceptable to lose VLOS “briefly” behind the building, as long as it would be possible to quickly maneuver the drone back into visual contact. Basically, just use your common sense with this requirement. If the video you are shooting only requires you to lose visual contact for a few moments, then you are probably okay. If you will have an obstruction between you and the drone for the entire length of the video, then you are probably not satisfying VLOS requirements.
  • At all times the drone must remain close enough to the remote pilot in command and person manipulating the flight controls to be able to see the aircraft with unaided vision (corrective lenses are acceptable)
  • This regulation means that binoculars are not acceptable, and drones with first person view (FPV) must use a visual observer to maintain visual contact with the drone if the operator is viewing the video through the controller screen. This should only pose a challenge if the property has lots of acreage that must be covered.

 

  • Drones may not operate over persons not participating in the operation, unless they are under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle
  • In most cases, this requirement should not present any issues, but if this is a problem, it is one of the regulations that is waiverable, which I will explain later
  • Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight if the drone is outfitted with appropriate anti-collision lighting. The anti-collision lighting must be visible for 3 statute miles.
  • Most real estate photo and video will be taken during daylight hours, but if nighttime photo or video is desired, perhaps to showcase a beautiful skyline at night, the drone operator can also apply for a waiver to this requirement.
  • Must yield right of way to other aircraft
  • No explanation needed
  • May use visual observer (VO) but not required
  • The decision of whether or not to use a visual observer will come down to what is being captured, aerial photo or video. If only aerial photos are being captured, a visual observer is a nice to have, but not a necessity. You can navigate the drone to the desired location, adjust the camera as needed, take the shot, and move on to the next shot without any issue with maintaining the VLOS requirements. However, if aerial video is being captured, then a VO is definitely a necessity. You will want the VO to maintain visual contact with the drone, while the person manipulating the controls views the video as it is being captured, to ensure that the video is fluid, and all appropriate transitions and angles are being captured. This will help to limit the number of times the video must be recorded.
  • Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph, and maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level

 

 

 

State Drone Regulations

In addition to the federal drone regulations put forth by the FAA, several states have also adopted their own sets of drone regulations. As of this writing, the following states have passed their own sets of drone regulations:

 

  • Arkansas
  • Alaska
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

 

Wherever you are recording drone videos, it is imperative that you verify that you are not violating not only FAA regulations, but also your state and local regulations. The following link gives a great synopsis of the most recent drone regulations that are being put on the books:

 

http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/current-unmanned-aircraft-state-law-landscape.aspx

 

 

Applying for an FAA Waiver/Airspace Authorization

As previously mentioned, there are some sections of Part 107 regulations that are waiverable. These regulations are listed below:

 

  • Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft
  • Daylight operation
  • Visual line of sight aircraft operation
  • Visual observer
  • Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems
  • Yielding the right of way
  • Operation over people
  • Operation in certain airspace
  • Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft

 

The link on the FAA website to request a waiver to any of the regulations listed above can be found here:

 

https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/

 

Another useful link I found for this process is the listing of Part 107 waivers granted. You can scroll through these, look for your particular waiver, and see what additional documentation the FAA required of these individuals in order to waive the regulation.

https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/waivers_granted/

 

It should be noted that there is no guarantee that a waiver will be granted. The FAA evaluates on a case-by-case basis to determine that the UAS can be operated safely within the conditions of the waiver. It should also be noted that the FAA recommends that these waivers/airspace authorizations should be applied for at least 90 days in advance in order to give them time to process.

 

 

Privacy Concerns

We are now in a situation as a society where a great number of private citizens are in possession of a machine that can literally hover over your backyard and watch what you and your family are doing. The FAA does not explicitly address the privacy concerns that are created by drone usage, it simply suggests that all drone operators check local and state regulations with regards to privacy practices while collecting drone photo and video. Some state regulations put forth thus far address privacy concerns by explicitly stating that it is illegal to capture images that can be used to identify other individuals without their express consent. Even in situations where state and local regulations do not explicitly ban drone usage over other’s property, it is best to exercise good judgment, and not violate the privacy of others when flying your drone. When operating your drone for real estate photography, do your best to only capture the prospective property, and not the surrounding homes. For situations where this is not possible, remove as many as properties as possible during the video editing phase.

Final Thoughts

The drone photography world is moving very fast. In an effort to keep up, federal, state, and local government are putting forth legislation to address this new form of media. It is up to you to ensure that you are following all laws, federal, state, and local, before you operate your drone commercially. Ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse if you find yourself to be in violation of any regulations. Well, that’s all I have for today. Now for my legal disclaimer. I am not a lawyer, nor do I claim to be an expert on drone regulations. The opinions expressed on this site are simply that, my opinions. Use them as guidance only. Next week I will be showing a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether you as a realtor should be operating your own drones, or be hiring local drone service operators. See you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a Drone

drone-1624903_1920

 

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you have certainly heard the term “drone”. This has become a blanket term that encompasses any aircraft that does not have a pilot inside. Some are operated solely by a human operator, while others operate by some form of autopilot system and a pre-determined flight plan. While their original applications were almost exclusively for the military, the recent reduction in costs for small drones has led to a boom in the commercial market, with drones now being used for any number of things, from aerial photography, law enforcement, agriculture, and even drone racing. Basically, any industry that can benefit from an aerial vantage point is either currently using drone technology, or will be in the near future.

 

But what exactly is a drone? In this post, I will be explaining the basic components that make up a drone, and their applications and benefits for the real estate community.

 

ANATOMY OF A DRONE

For this discussion, I am going to stick to quadcopters. While fixed wing and helicopter drones could be used to capture real estate videos, quadcopters are in my mind the best fit for real estate applications. There are several drone manufacturers in the market right now that provide phenomenal products with which to capture breathtaking stills and video. Since I own a DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone, I am going to use this for my example. Each drone will be slightly different, but most of the major players feature very similar functionalities. My intention is not to get into an in-depth discussion of every component of a typical quadcopter, just simply give an overview of the major components. If you want a more in-depth discussion, I highly recommend the following sites that I have run across during my research:

http://www.dronetrest.com/t/anatomy-of-a-multirotor-drone/1386

http://hackaday.com/2014/04/29/droning-on-the-anatomy-of-a-drone/

 

FRAME

The drone frame holds all the major components together. Most drones currently being made are of composite construction, which makes them lightweight, allowing for more payload, and more maneuverable. Quadcopter frames will have landing gear, which extend vertically downward from the center section to allow for safe stable takeoffs and landings. These gear will extend slightly past the camera, to allow enough clearance as to not impact the camera during takeoff and landing. In my experience, the quadcopter frame is fairly sturdy. They cannot sustain a complete vertical drop from several hundred feet, but they also will not shatter with mild collisions with structure.

 

MOTORS AND PROPELLERS

For a quadcopter, there are 4 sets of motors and propellers. These extend outward from the center of the frame, and provide the aerodynamic mechanism by which the drone maneuvers. The propellers provide the actual lift that get the drone off the ground. They are essentially the same type of propellers that you would find on any other R/C airplane. By the control inputs given by the operator, or an autopilot system, the speed at which the motors rotate determines the flight direction of the quadcopter. If the drone is commanded to ascend, all motor speeds will increase. Conversely, if it is commanded to descend, all motor speeds will increase. To make a quadrotor turn right, motor speeds will be increased on the left side and decreased on the right side to make it tilt right.

BATTERY

The drone battery is one of the largest overall drivers of drone size and weight. For my Phantom 3 Pro, the battery makes up approximately 25% of the overall weight. The overall flight time of the drone is also going to be proportional to the battery size. The longer the desired flight time, the larger the battery needs to be, but that also drives up the structural weight, thus requiring an even larger battery. This is the vicious cycle that all aircraft designers have struggled with since the dawn of flight. DJI publishes a flight time of 23 minutes for the Phantom 3 Professional. This is total time to complete battery failure. In practice, you do not ever want to approach this limit. The Phantom 3 has a cool feature that will make the drone automatically return home when the battery life reaches its critical limit, which is usually 25% battery life. Once it reaches this limit, the drone automatically returns home to the home point initially recorded at takeoff.

 

CAMERA

A top-notch camera is the most important part of your drone if you are going to be using it for aerial photography purposes. Many current drones on the market carry 4K cameras. But what exactly is 4K? It simply means that there are approximately 4,000 pixels in the footage width. It brings photo and video clarity to a whole new level. I am by no means an expert on 4K video technology, but the link below gives a great explanation. Definitely check it out if you want an in-depth discussion of 4K video.

 

https://www.cnet.com/news/what-is-4k-uhd-next-generation-resolution-explained/

 

GIMBAL

The camera gimbal is as important as the drone itself, as it maintains stabilization of the camera during flight. Without it, photo and video would be very choppy. Most gimbals on the high-end camera drones are 3-axis brushless gimbals. There are 2 components to these, the gimbal itself, and the gimbal mount. The gimbal attaches directly to the camera, and provides 3-axis stabilization. Many also allow the drone camera to rotate during flight. The gimbal on my Phantom 3 allows the camera to be rotate from -90 degrees (looking directly down) to +30 degrees above the horizon. The other component to the gimbal system is the gimbal mount. The gimbal mount attaches at 4 points to the center of the frame. At each of these points there is a shock absorbing material that acts to isolate the camera from the high vibration of the quadcopter propellers.

 

 

Applications

Now that we have discussed the basic components that make a typical drone that could be used for real estate purposes, let’s talk about actual applications in which drone photography would provide additional value to your marketing efforts.

 

Luxury Properties

Let’s face it. When anybody starts looking for a new home, the first place they go is the Internet. If your listing for your high-end luxury property has captivating drone photos and video, potential buyers are going to notice that. It’s not standard for all online real estate listings to provide drone photo and video, but it won’t be very long before it is commonplace. Here are the things that can be provided by drone video that cannot be offered by ground-based photography:

  • Spatial orientation between the home and nearby amenities, such as a park or swimming pool.
  • An aerial perspective that showcases the entire property and land in one shot
  • Easily provide shots of the home at multiple angles
  • Showing the potential buyer what the drive home might look like
  • Stunning fly-bys of the prominent outdoor features, such as gardens, swimming pools, or entertainment areas

Here is a video showcasing luxury properties using aerial drone footage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4E2XRCCwI0

 

Commercial Properties

Commercial properties will benefit from drone photography in the same way as luxury properties. Here are just a few of the types of commercial real estate that could potentially use drones for their marketing campaigns:

  • Golf courses – Some golf courses are using drone photography for hole by hole tours of the course. This provides golfers with an excellent reference to prominent features of each hole. Check out this great video of a golf course flyover by a drone:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igIXMSghkNo

 

  • Apartment complexes – Multi-unit residential units could highlight all the amenities of the property, such as swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness centers.

 

Hopefully, you now have some basic information of what a drone is, and how it can be used to improve your real estate marketing. In next week’s post, I will be discussing the current legal climate of using drones for real estate photography, with the focus being on the FAA’s Part 107 drone laws.