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The Mile-High Club

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane…. Actually, it’s a video camera strapped onto a drone, recording footage of the entire show floor from the air.

Drone technology isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Retail giant Amazon tried to pioneer its commercial use, but that idea hasn’t quite taken off. Instead, the advances in both unmanned vehicles and high-definition video equipment combined have us looking at tradeshow photography from a different angle.

Oscar & Associates, a provider of photography, video production and post-production services to the tradeshow, convention, and corporate event and conference industry, is harnessing the power of flight to capture aerial views of the show floor.

“What’s really changed is the overall aspect of photography and how we’re able to take care of our clients,” said David Hofflich, president, Oscar & Associates.

Photographing exhibits is an art in and of itself. Photographing an entire show floor usually requires more than just a remote control. Often, images are captured from anywhere with a high vantage point, whether atop ladders or from cat walks above the show floor.

In this case, however, a GoPRO high-definition video camera shooting in 3K is attached to a Phantom DJI drone, the market leader in aerial photography systems. As video footage is transmitted in real-time, drone operators, who are firmly planted on the ground, can frame the desired image by adjusting the drone’s flight path.

The 18 millimeter wide lens on the GoPRO camera captures panoramic scenes. For this reason, drone technology is marketed less to individual exhibitors than to the overall show due to the camera’s wide frame.

Photographers pull frames from the video footage to provide still images to clients. While the GoPRO device produces a high-resolution video file, still images are best suited for smaller prints in publications and in low resolution on websites.

A GoPRO HD video camera is strapped onto a compact 4-quad propeller drone for aerial shots of the show floor.

A GoPRO HD video camera is strapped onto a compact 4-quad propeller drone for aerial shots of the show floor.

Using a compact 4-quad propeller drone weighing less than four pounds ensures the safety of those on the show floor as the drone flies overhead. Although the drone can ascend up to 1,000 meters in the air, Oscar & Associates operates only within designated fly zones and times as dictated by the venue. At all times, vetted and experienced operators walk in close proximity to the device whenever it is airborne, carefully controlling the speed and movement of the device.

Oscar & Associates’ first camera drone took to the skies at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN in November 2013.

“Most are using drone technology for video to have an interactive and real experience of the booth,” said Hofflich.

In preparation, drone operators will scout the show floor the day before a show opens to familiarize themselves with the layout, avoid any cables or wires and determine the best angles to photograph.

“It’s not always necessary to fly over the booth,” Hofflich explained. “The aisles are somewhat free of obstructions. You can still see the booth from the middle of the aisle.”

One challenge in using drone technology is the slow adoption by convention centers and other venues, from which approval is needed for indoor use of the drones.

“It’s still a gray area. People are still waiting to know more about the technology. They’re still trying to figure out where it fits,” explained Hofflich.

Privacy issues are one reason why facilities are reluctant to allow drone technology in tradeshow photography. While one exhibitor may consent to its use, neighboring exhibitors may not approve the photographing of their booths.

Another concern is that of liability. To address this, Oscar & Associates maintains a $1 million aviation liability insurance policy specifically for flying the drone. The aviation policy is separate from the liability insurance typically required of photographers as contractors at tradeshows.

While still considered a new technology in tradeshow photography, Hofflich predicts convention centers and other governing bodies will adopt the future use of drone technology on the show floor as demand grows.

“It’s not going away. It’s inevitable that there will be competition,” Hofflich stated. “There’s legislation and regulations being talked about. There will be guides that convention centers will put out.

“It gives people a new way to see the show floor, to give a new perspective.”

 

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