Photo Day at Protect My Car

Planning For My Photo Session

The Gallery Studios was hired for “photo day” at their corporate offices, at 570 Carillon Parkway in St. Petersburg. The plan was to photograph executive headshots of the managers on a studio background, then capture group portraits of the management team and sales team. From there, I was to take candid-looking photographs of employees working as a team at a conference table. Once all that was completed, it would be time to photograph the entire call center, all 250 of them!

There was no room in their office or in the lobby of their building for that many people. However, there was a space in the back of the building that would work. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a grand staircase to put everyone on or a balcony for me to shoot from. However, I do have some experience photographing large corporate groups with my DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone.

To prepare, I had logged on to AirMap global UTM platform app a week before the photo session, to see if there were any airspace restrictions to prevent me from deploying the drone. I had planned on flying only 75 feet in the air, and no warnings were indicated on the app.

The Day of the Shoot (August in Florida)

It is my custom, to arrive one hour prior to my scheduled shoot time. Having set up the studio lights and background in their third-floor offices, I then went downstairs, to the back of the building and set up additional lights for the management and sales team group photos. It as now time to do a quick test flight with my drone. Much to my surprise, the DJI drone software would not allow the drone to take off, due to restricted air space. Just then, my client came out and said that they were ready to start the headshots now.

Wiping the sweat from my brow and marched confidently upstairs to start the headshots. All the while, I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that I need to photograph a group of 250 employees in a couple of hours. 

After the executive headshots were completed, it was decided we would photograph the smaller groups of 20-30 people inside, because it was so hot outside.

The Moment of Truth

As soon as the group portraits were completed, the rumbling and excitement were heard. 250 call center employees being told to put down their phones, and head downstairs for the group photo. The elevators and staircases were jam-packed with employees dressed in their corporate t-shirts and eager to get outside. It felt like a fire drill back in grade school. I managed to squeeze by some folks on the staircase and make my way outside with my drone. On the way, I mentioned to one of the managers that there is a chance that I may need a 12-foot ladder as a backup. 

Nervously, I set up the drone, and again I was denied permission to take flight because I was too close to the restricted airspace of the Clearwater-St. Petersburg International Airport. (I had read an article about this situation and learned it is possible to get permission from DJI to override their software and fly safely.)

How I Got the Protect My Car Group Shot

To get permission for the override, an Internet connection was needed via a hotspot from my iPhone. Once that is set up, there are a series of questions to be answered and boxes to be checked. 

Meanwhile, 250 people were standing in the sun, on a hot August day, waiting for me to take their picture. Was enough time to turn on the hotspot, log into the DJI website, and complete the questionnaire? What if it still didn’t work, what then? 

Off in the distance, a 12-foot ladder was making it’s way through the crowd in my direction. The lights were still set up, so I grabbed the ladder, scurried to the very top, shouted instructions to the group, and managed to capture the group photo before anyone fainted from the heat. 

Fortunately, the big group photo turned out well and the client was happy.

What I Will Always Remember

Expect the unexpected: I relied on Google maps to survey the grounds. And I relied on the AirMap app for flight verification. These apps are never perfect. 

Next time, a drive to the site several days before the scheduled photo shoot and a test flight will be conducted.

Always have a Back-Up Plan: Backup cameras and backup lights did accompany me, however, a backup plan for the drone would have been helpful.  That will never happen again. 

By the way, I have practiced all the procedures involved in getting a DJI restriction override, so that I can confidently execute them (almost) flawlessly.

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