• Dudley DeNador

Remote Pilot Certification

I have had an interest in aerial photography for most of my adult life. I began shooting aerial photos for commercial real estate brokers in 1992 from helicopters and small fixed-wing aircraft using a Pentax 6x7 film camera with multiple lenses.


One of the first aerial jobs came from a Colliers International broker that was selling a building at the end of Van Ness Avenue, close to Aquatic Park, in San Francisco. I rented a Bell Jet Ranger stationed at the Sausalito Heliport to shoot the aerials. The back door of the helicopter was open and I was belted in with a harness that allowed me to stand on the strut outside the aircraft if I desired (I didn’t). I remember having a white-knuckled grip on my camera while bracing with my feet and attempting to frame the shots. My nervousness gave way to joy as I discovered how beautiful the Bay Area is from above. The pilot performed well and we orbited the building and shot the necessary aerial photographs we later used to market the property.


On the way back to the Sausalito Heliport the pilot asked if I’d like to fly over the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge and I thought, why not, so I agreed. We got to a spot close to the north tower and the pilot put the helicopter in a tight turn orbiting above the tower. It all happened so fast, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually taken a decent photo and had to remind myself to breathe. Back in 1992 I was shooting with a film camera, so I had no way to preview the shots I’d taken. When I got the photos back from processing I was pleased to find the photo shown here that has been published a few times in various publications, the first being “Trends in the Hotel Industry, European Edition, 1992.” I also won an award from the European graphics magazine called “Graphis” for that shot. The photo appears at the bottom of this article.


In years following 1992 I continued to shoot aerial photos for Colliers International, Squaw Valley ski resort, Colliers International Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Cushman & Wakefield, Cornish & Carey Commercial and Horwath HTL. They were all long-standing clients along with many other real estate brokers and developers that used my aerial services.


In 2010 the first small aerial camera drone called the Parrot was released to the public. Shortly thereafter a number of companies began production of small remote-operated aerial photo vehicles that use a GPS link to direct the flight. A Chinese company, DJI, seemed to gain the most traction and continued to improved the aspects of stability, flight time and range with each of their successive models. Their “Phantom” series combined affordability with good-quality cameras, a return to home function, object avoidance radar and a reasonable flight time of 28 minutes.


In December 2017 the FAA mandated that all drones must be registered with them whether they are flown by a hobbyist or by a commercial photographer. At the same time the FAA required any drone pilot that is flying commercially (selling the photos) be certified by passing the Remote Pilot Certification exam.


The FAA Remote Pilot Certification exam covers specific rules for flying as well as a ground school with a focus on understanding airspace, flight characteristics, weather, sectional charts, radio communications, traffic patterns and risk analysis.


I studied using an on-line instructional course provided by a service called “Gold Seal,” which has a outstanding reputation for training pilots. On May 31, 2018 I passed the exam and received my official Remote Pilot Certificate. I found the knowledge I gained immeasurable, not only providing me entry into the commercial drone aerial photography industry, but as important information that has already helped augment my aerial photographic endeavors.


I feel the combination of a lifetime of aerial appreciation coupled with hundreds of hours in small aircraft shooting properties from the air, building and flying radio-controlled model aircraft and now the Remote Pilot Certification make me an excellent choice to produce outstanding aerial drone photography. I welcome the opportunity to shoot aerials for you.



Golden Gate Bridge Aerial by Dudley DeNador


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