Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs), better known as drones, are great tools to capture aerial photographs and videos to showcase, promote and advertise your downtown’s businesses. These images can give local officials, businesses and shoppers a better overview of individual retail and office locations, residential and commercial real estate opportunities, street layouts, parking locations, and proximity to major roadways and adjacent towns.

The most common type of drone is a quadcopter, a small aircraft frame (approximately 2 pounds) with four spinning blades, which supports a high-resolution camera mounted on a 2 or 3 axis gimbal. The gimbal allows the camera to capture smooth and stable images even as the drone moves or hovers in flight. From the ground, the operator, i.e. pilot-in-command, controls with drone with a remote controller, from which the pilot can control both the flight of the drone, as well as operate all aspects of the camera. A live video feed from the camera is then viewed on a mobile device (e.g. iPhone, iPad) mounted and connected to the remote control, which helps visually guide the drone in flight. Other information displayed on the mobile device includes flight information and status (e.g. compass, altitude, speed, distance from take-off, battery levels) and camera settings (e.g. focus, shutter, ISO, aperture).

With today’s modern drones, awe-inspiring high quality aerial photographs and 4k video can be captured in a matter of minutes. This greatly reduces the time and costs as compared to images captured using traditional manned airplanes or helicopters. In addition, images are of higher quality compared to other online mapping services, such as Apple, Google and Yahoo maps. Plus, the images are real time and up to date compared to online maps, which may be months to years old. In some use cases, the drone can be used to capture a series of images over time to monitor renovation and/or construction projects, which may be shared with interested parties, including the public.

When considering using a drone to capture aerial images, you should keep in mind several important factors.

  • First, the individual operating the drone should possess a current FAA Part 107, Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating. Only certified drone operators can fly for commercial purposes (i.e., capture and sell the images) and are familiar with the safe operation of a drone as outlined by the FAA (https://www.faa.gov/uas/).
  • Second, consider the time of year that would best highlight the area of interest. Typically, in New England, fall colors make for great aerial images, but in reality, images captured during all four seasons can help promote the year-round shopping experience. A snow-covered, Christmas lit downtown can be just as appealing as a crisp autumn leaf-colored one.
  • Third, consider if photographs or videos, or both, would best attract viewers to the website or social media site hosting the images. A photograph can highlight a town’s main attraction, whereas a video can provide the viewer with a bird’s eye view as it flies over the entire town.
  • Fourth, it is important to communicate with your potential pilot in order to properly plan the drone operation prior to any flight. It is also important to discuss if the pilot will provide you the unedited or edited images, as there may be additional charges to provide edited photographs and/or video clips. That being said, it may be helpful if the pilot is also experienced with photo and/or video editing. In addition, some pilots may also offer ground level photography and videography, which may provide a one-stop service for all your visual and social media needs.
  • Finally, be sure the pilot has UAS/drone commercial general liability insurance, in the very unlikely event an accident occurs.


About the Author

Milton Levin is the owner of Levin Aerial Works, LLC, which provides all your aerial and ground level photography and videography needs.  As the owner and a certified FAA Part 107 pilot, he has over five years of experience as a commercial drone pilot and expanded services to include traditional ground level photography and videography (including full editing services), which also includes the capacity to produce 360 degree virtual tours, similar to Google Street view. For more information, visit Levin Aerial Work’s website.