Weddings from Above

Know the rules before booking a drone photographer

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“Drones photography and videography for weddings are growing in popularity recently,” Matt Celeste of Blueflash Photography said. Equipped with a camera, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or “drone”) can take “the bird’s eye view introduces a unique and beautiful vantage point,” which Celeste says, “is particularly desirable for weddings along Rhode Island’s picturesque coast.”

Peter Haas, the Associate Director of the Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative at Brown University, which studies the societal impact of robotic technology, cautions that for years, operating drones was an unregulated industry, and it’s a good idea to talk to the company and drone operator so you know what you can reasonable expect from the photos. He said there are videos online of pilots doing things that are no longer legal or advisable. “Just because you’ve seen a shot done, and it is technically possible, does not mean it is currently legal or safe.”

What is safe and currently legal? Haas said that “the drone must not fly above people, the must be in line of sight” of the operator. Also they should fly during the day. For those planning weddings or receptions in Warwick, Cranston or East Greenwich, ensure the drone operator is aware “they must keep the appropriate distance from an airport depending on the regulatory framework they are flying under.”

What questions should a couple ask before hiring someone to take photos with a drone that flies over your wedding or reception?

The FAA requires commercial drone operators (such as those working for a wedding photography business) to be licensed and registered. Hass said that when hiring a professional, ask if they are flying under the FAA’s part 107 rules or a 333 exemption, which “grandfathered” in UAV operators prior to the adoption of the FAA rules. He said it’s appropriate “to see the pilot’s certification, proof of insurance, and the FAA registration number of the UAV.”

What if you’re not hiring a professional, but have a friend or colleague who wants to take photos with their personal drone? “If you or a guest is flying non-commercially as a hobbyist that will be covered under AMA UAV guidelines, you will want to notify your liability insurance provider, record the registration number and keep in line with the guidelines” said Haas.

Insurance and liability may limit the use of drones at the venue you’ve chosen. Ask the representatives at your venue about their drone policies, and make sure you understand their rules before signing a contract with the photographer or venue. Because the FAA rules require that “small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation” the venue may rightly restrict if and where a drone can fly on the property for the safety and privacy of their guests.

Drones have been known to crash from time to time, and because it will be flying over your family and friends, ensure your photographer has insurance coverage. And check the venue contract, because some hotels and facilities require the drone operator and/or photography company to provide proof of insurance to the venue, as well as to you, before the drone can fly. Haas said, “Aerial footage in general is amazing, but while accidents are rare they can be terrible. Play it safe and you will be rewarded with a memory you can cherish.”

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