Aerial photography has long been one of the provinces reserved only to those who had the means to get a camera
up in the air. While it has been possible to put a light-weight camera on a remote controlled airplane, it also requires a lot of skill and finesse to work the controls so that the entire thing doesn't come crashing down in heap of broken circuitry and tears. However, some enterprising companies are seeing that aerial photography is becoming more and more popular and have begun to design and sell small personal-use "drones" that photographers can put their cameras on and see them relatively protected or that have built-in cameras ready to go on them.
Rigs like the Parrot Bebop Drone
are fairly easy to use and come with a design that is easily stabilized so that crashes aren't as common with it as they are with novices testing out RC planes or helicopters (which can be both funny and frustrating at the same time). They also generally have a very good range on them while RC gear may or may not function well once it's gone beyond line of sight.
However, these rigs with built-in cameras do have one severe draw-back that RC toys do not share -- battery-life. The Parrot Bebop Drone has a flight-time of 12 minutes. One of the longest-lasting aerial photography drones, the Phantom 2 Vision+, can go for 25 minutes.
Now, if you'd really like to get into some aerial photography but don't want a drone that's going to need a recharge every quarter hour and you don't want to have to master the intricate controls of a remote-controlled helicopter, there is still a possibility that offers a good bit of control, flexibility, and is not terribly expensive or risky. Helium balloons can do everything that a helicopter can do but without the need to fiddle with the controls so much or having to worry about losing buoyancy. Depending on how much helium you have and how many balloons you rig up, you can have your camera ascend to any height you desire. By attaching a string to the balloon(s) and holding on to it, you can guide them in the direction you want them to go or even manipulate the height a bit. Also, so long as your camera rig is sturdy and well-secured to the balloons, you don't have to worry about it landing somewhere beyond your reach (unless you let go of the balloons, of course).
What are some ways you'd like to give aerial photography a try? Are you an RC-addict? A balloonist? A drone user? Or something else entirely? Let us know in the comments below!
-- da Bird