Think of aerial photography and you might imagine someone leaning out of a helicopter shooting migrating wildebeest for National Geographic. That could be fun but those jobs don’t come along very often and fortunately, it’s not the only way to take pictures from the air.
Hanging your camera from a balloon might be a lot less romantic that hanging over the African savanna but you’ll not only cut the cost of the image dramatically, you’ll also be able to fill a demand for the sort of aerial shots needed for a wide range of different clients.
Jack Fisher of EagleAerialImages.com told us that he has
“taken pictures for developers who wanted to know in advance what views each apartment in a projected complex would have, appraisers who want photographs of parcels of land, attorneys who need needed photographs in legal cases, homeowners who just wanted pictures of their homes, real estate companies who wanted to make their listings stand out from the crowd, social clubs, sporting event organizers, schools, golf courses, etc.”
While those shots could have been taken by hiring a plane or a helicopter, Jack uses equipment supplied by SouthernBalloonWorks.com, a supplier of blimps for both advertising and photography. Balloons, he says, are often the best solution for shots taken at altitude, beating even remote controlled model aircraft.
“Shooting from full size aircraft and helicopters is very expensive,” he explained. “Invariably the photographer with a balloon can quote a price at well under their rates. Using radio-controlled models is always going to be a two-person job. One to accurately fly the model, the second to actually shoot the pictures. … [I]n crowded city environments, where projected elevation shots are required at very specific heights, a full size aircraft or helicopter is out of the question. Likewise the use of a radio controlled models cannot only be difficult but also dangerous. Imagine attempting to use an RC aircraft or helicopter in downtown Manhattan to shoot pictures 400 ft in the air. A tethered balloon is far safer.”
Safer but not necessarily easy. Location, wind strength, local ordinances and permits, and even the effect on helium of different altitudes all have to be considered when photographing from a balloon. And then there’s the fear that the camera could fall or the wind could blow it away. SouthernBalloonWorks, for example, sells an emergency valve that releases the helium if the tether breaks so that photographers can get their camera back.
Photo courtesy SouthernBalloonWorks.com
Nor is the equipment cheap. Although it costs a lot less than buying a helicopter — or even renting one a few times — a complete balloon photography system ranges from just under $3,500 to around $5,000 (not including the emergency valve).
Add in the cost of helium and the usual expenses of travel to the location and time on the job, and the minimum price for an aerial photography job can be steep — or at least seem that way to the buyer. Jack’s own rates have ranged from a very reasonable $200 for a single-family home shoot that was close to home and took an hour to complete, to thousands of dollars for a complex city center project.
Not surprisingly, the biggest impact on price though is supply and demand.
“Are you the only aerial photographer in the area? Will the client be able to shop around and compare prices? How quickly does the client need the job done? [For] a recent shoot I quoted for… the variation on prices quoted was from $6,000 to $60,000 for the exact same job,” says Jack.
Location and marketing then are everything. So if you’re in an area with little competition and plenty of potential demand, balloon photography could be an opportunity worth considering.
Take a look at Flickr’s Abstract Aerial Photography group and tell us what you think