The View from Above Just Got Cheaper
When the Bay Islands Airways Air Camera seaplane crashed in West Bay last January, Tim Blanton’s aerial imagery business was temporarily grounded. But as it turns out the mishap was a blessing in disguise for him.
Blanton, who has been providing photography and video services on Roatan since 1994, had rented seaplanes and helicopters over the years for aerial shots, at as much as $1,100 an hour. When the Air Camera went down, he had to look for alternative platforms. His research led him to conclude, “We can do this ourselves,” and at less than half the cost.
The solution was unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Blanton ordered two of them – remote-controlled quadcopters – from the US and began using them commercially in January. He said the UAVs are lightweight, fly at very low altitude and carry cameras that shoot at an extremely wide angle with broadcast-quality high definition. There is no need to file flight plans or deal with weather conditions. They can hover, rotate or move in all directions.
What this means for customers, he said, is that he can provide aerial stills for as little as $300, and he can operate easily in airline flight paths, such as over West Bay.
Since he began flying them regularly in January he has taken aerial shots for resorts and condos, such as Barefoot Cay and Pineapple Villas, Aggressor dive boats and even a wedding party on the beach.
“It’s a very convenient, very economical way to shoot high-quality videos and high-quality still photos,” said Blanton.
Blanton said his company was the only one currently offering UAV aerial photography services on Roatan. Although the equipment is relatively inexpensive, he said he does not expect to lose his market niche anytime soon.
“I’m not overly worried about the competitors in the foreseeable future,” he said, “because there is a learning curve to flying the aircraft, and if you make a mistake, you’ve lost it.” In his case, though, he said, as an “old pilot,” he was able to master flying the UAVs relatively quickly. And he adds that it’s “great fun” to boot.
Blanton plans to move up to a more sophisticated UAV that can carry gyroscopically stabilized cameras to take more stable video images.