You’ve decided to put your house on the market, but are bored with all the stock standard photographs of house fronts that appear in the newspaper listings. You want a sale advertisement that will stand out from all the others, and have people rushing to put in offers. So, why not hire an aerial photographer to take a unique photograph, which will show prospective buyers just how special your property is?
An aerial photographer is someone who takes photographs of a subject on the ground from an elevated position. The term ‘aerial photographer’ often conjures up images of someone taking photographs mid-air from an aeroplane.
While many aerial photographers do still fly or charter aircraft to carry out their work, advances in technology mean there is often no need to leave the ground. Now you can hire camera-mounted, remote-controlled masts, balloons and even miniature helicopters to take low-level, aerial photographs of your property.
Why would I need one?
Aerial photography can have a variety of applications. Aerial photographs are often used to market a property. A photograph taken from an elevated height can add dimension to a property, and bring out qualities that might not show in a photograph taken from the ground. A single aerial shot can show the full extent and surroundings of a property, and is particularly useful for properties with large grounds. It can also help prospective buyers visualise potential for extending the property, or simply highlight an attractive feature – such as a landscaped garden.
Aerial photographs can be useful in applications for planning permission. If you are planning an extension to your home and want to show the planning committee exactly where it will go, a bird’s eye image with lines marking the outline of the proposed extension could help.
This kind of photography is also useful for building surveys. Low-level, aerial photography can show you parts of a property that most surveyors couldn’t (and wouldn’t want) to reach. The equipment can be elevated to roof height and manipulated to take close-up shots from different angles. A live feed to a monitor on the ground allows a safe, thorough, roof inspection without the need for a ladder.
Aerial photography can also be useful in boundary disputes. If you’re convinced your neighbour has unfairly moved his fence to claim an extra foot of your land but need proof, an aerial shot could certainly help your case. Even if the old fence is gone, an elevated shot could clearly show the line of trees or bushes that marked the original boundary.
Which method of aerial photography is best for me?
This really depends on what you want to photograph, and for what purpose. Aerial photography from an aeroplane obviously needs to be taken from a great height – usually about 1,500 ft. As the pilot flies over the property, the photographer will take a number of shots of the property from different angles. While many photographers now work with long, telescopic zooms, the distance from the subject will result in a less-detailed image. This kind of photography is fine for a general overview of large properties in remote areas, but isn’t recommended for anything smaller than a half acre.
Camera-mounted, remote-controlled masts are ideal for smaller properties and close-up shots. They are usually fixed to the back of an off-road vehicle or a portable tripod and can extend up to 90 ft. They are linked to a monitor on the ground, which allows the photographer to see exactly what the camera is seeing and take shots accordingly. As well as extending up and down, they also tilt to take shots from different angles. They don’t need a lot of space, so are ideal for urban or suburban settings.
A few aerial photographers use remote-controlled balloons or miniature helicopters. Again, these are linked to a monitor on the ground, where the photographer can control the movement and angle of the device, fly in for close-ups and choose the shots required. Balloons and helicopters can reach higher than masts – some fly up to 500 ft. Like masts, balloons and helicopters require minimal space and are best used for capturing detailed shots of smaller properties.
Most aerial photographers, whether they are land or air based, work exclusively in digital format, but a few still work with film too. Digital photography is the best option for most purposes. The quality is almost the same as film, it’s cheaper and it’s convenient for e-mailing or uploading images to the web.
How do I find a good photographer?
The best way to find a reliable, competent aerial photographer is through word of mouth. If you don’t know anyone who has used an aerial photographer before, ask your local estate agent if they can recommend a photographer they have used for marketing property.
Otherwise, you can do an internet search and browse aerial-photography websites. PAPA International, the Professional Aerial Photographers’ Association, has a search function which allows you to search for members in your area. You can also contact BIPP, the British Institute of Professional Photographers, and ask them to recommend someone.
However, don’t assume that just because a photographer is a member of a professional association their work is of a professional standard. While some associations, such as BIPP, thoroughly examine a photographer’s work before conferring membership, others ask for little more than payment of the membership fee.
Try to find someone local. This will help to keep costs down, as aerial photographers almost always make an extra charge for mileage. This is particularly relevant to aircraft-based photography, where airtime makes up the bulk of the cost.
Go for a specialist. Many photographers will advertise themselves as an ‘aerial photographer’ when in reality they do very little aerial work. These photographers might lack the necessary skills and experience to carry out quality, aerial photography, which requires a different perspective to other types of photography. Visit photographers’ websites. If you find there are more wedding snaps than aerial photographs, steer clear.
Once you have a list of candidates, ask to see their portfolios. Many photographers have samples of their work on their websites. If not, they should be able to e-mail you high resolution images of previous work. If you intend to order prints, you should visit the photographer in person and ask to see sample prints – an electronic image won’t always give you a ‘true picture’ of the quality of a print.
Discuss your requirements and ask specifically to see previous work of a similar nature to your brief. If you want images of a four-bedroom, family home for use in a sale advertisement, ask to see samples depicting similar houses which were used for the same purpose. Choose a photographer who has a lot of experience photographing properties similar to yours, and whose images appeal to you.
A good photographer will be able to determine a property’s most attractive features and selling points and use them to maximum advantage. As most house sale ads use only one image, you want that one image to show your property at its best.
How much will it cost?
Costs can vary wildly, depending on factors such as equipment used, location and overheads. The same job can attract quotes that differ by several hundreds of pounds. A company that operates its own aircraft and is based in rural Norfolk is going to have lower overheads than a London-based photographer who has to charter an aeroplane.
However, aerial photography needn’t cost a small fortune. If the job is small and you hire someone local, you could get a CD of high resolution images for £150. Prints are normally extra, but can cost as little as £5 each. Whether you want images taken from an aeroplane, or you prefer a ground-based service, it pays to shop around.
Questions to ask a photographer
How long have you worked as an aerial photographer? The more experienced they are the better.
How many shots do you take for each job?
Often this will depend on the extent and nature of the job, but photographers will provide anywhere between eight and 30 shots on CD for most properties.
Are your images taken in high resolution?
The higher the resolution, the better the image. An image with seven million pixels per square inch taken at a low level should be of good quality. Twelve million would be ideal for aircraft-based photography. For film photography, choose a photographer who works in medium format or better.
Is this a fixed-price quote? A good photographer will offer you a fixed quote based on your specific requirements before they carry out the work. The total should include all agreed extras and VAT. Clarify with the photographer that this total will not change after the work has been carried out.
When do I have to pay? Some photographers ask new clients to pay in advance. If the client doesn’t pay in advance, and decides after the work has been carried out that they don’t want the photographs, the photographer will make a loss as there would be almost no chance of selling the images to someone else.
Will you need permission from the Civil Aviation Authority? Depending on the height and location, certain flights will need to be authorised by the CAA, which can take up to a month.
When will I receive the photographs? Some ground-based photographers can write a CD of the images as soon as they are taken on site. Others will need to return to the office before they can e-mail you the images. In most cases you should receive digital images on CD within 48 hours.
Do I get copyright of the images? Some photographers will hand over copyright to the client. Others will retain copyright, but license the client to use the images for all purposes except resale. Make sure you are legally entitled to use the images for the purposes you need them for.
What are your terms and conditions?
Make sure you have read a copy of these before you sign a contract. This should prevent misunderstandings later on.
What should I do if I don’t like the photographs? If you aren’t satisfied with the images, discuss your concerns with the photographer. A good photographer should be willing to hear you out and try to accommodate your requests, as long as they are reasonable.
If you had specifically asked for a shot of the beautiful, water feature in your rear garden, but the photographer failed to take any, you can reasonably expect them to retake the shots at no extra charge. If it was especially cloudy on the day of the shoot, and this had a significant impact on the images, again, the photographer should agree to retake the shots at their own expense.
However, an aircraft-based photographer is unlikely to make the expense of a return journey just because there was a car parked in front of the house when the photographs were taken. This would have been beyond their control.
If you genuinely feel the quality of the photographs aren’t up to standard and the photographer refuses to cooperate, you can make an official complaint. If they are a member of an association, you can make a complaint to the association. The BIPP offer an arbitration service for disputes between photographers and clients. You could also contact your local, trading standards office and ask them to investigate.
- Give your photographer as long a window as possible to carry out the work. The photographer will want to wait for a bright, sunny day to get the best photograph possible. The time of day is also important. Midday is usually ideal, as the sun is at its highest, but an image of a south-facing property taken during the late afternoon might be equally flattering.
- If there is a particular feature of the property you want the photographs to highlight, make sure you tell the photographer beforehand. If they are willing to visit the property before the shoot, ask them to come so you can discuss the best angles and viewpoints. If they can’t visit, e-mail them photographs you have taken of the property.
- Although you don’t always have to be present during the shoot, it helps if you are there to ensure the property is looking its best and there is nothing obscuring it. Ask the photographer for a specific timeslot for the shoot and make sure you are on site during that period. Then you will be able to move on the unsightly, refuse-collection truck parked outside your house.