SkySupplies: “Get to the Chopper!”

We wish there was a zipline over Nashville so we could get super clean shots, but since that’s not an option — we use a helicopter. We love when we get to fly around with no doors. It’s such a thrill, and enables us to get shots in very dense areas like Nashville much easier than in a fixed wing plane.

Just the other day we flew around Nashville in an R44 Helicopter, snapping shots of some in-progress construction sites, the cityscape and a few creative pics. In the helicopter, we fly with the door off and shoot out the side. We do not “hang out” as many people think, but have a very secure safety harness.

We use helicopters mostly in dense urban areas and/or around airports as they are much easier to maneuver in busy airspaces. We like them because they can get low and we get our turns done much quicker so the entire flight is done very efficiently. Flying low is a “must” for us in order to get detailed shots of the construction process. If you read the blog post from last week then you know how passionate we are about accurately telling the story of our clients’ progress — that passion extends to the in-air shoots as well.

For the most part, we exclusively fly in Robinson helicopters because of their comparatively simple maintenance and reliability. We normally take the R22 which is a two seater and always fly with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI); however, yesterday, we had company — so we took the R44 (a four seater.) For anyone who is interested, the R-44 has a two blade rotor system and a T-bar cyclic and can cruise (at maximum gross weight) up to 109 kts (202 km/h).

Typically, we just go up to shoot for some of our clients; however, on a clear day, we are able to get some amazing pictures of the Nashville skyline. If you’re a local, you’ll totally understand the need for consistent photos of Nashville … the place is growing like a weed!


Our SkySupplies… Grounded

Our name, Aerial Innovations, can be deceiving. While we do specialize in aerial photography, whether from a plane, helicopter or drone, we also take a TON of shots at the ground level. Primarily these shoots are for in-progress buildings and construction sites. We frequently are hired to track the progress of construction projects from the foundation on up.

We have a great deal of experience telling the stories of our client’s projects (and staying safe on construction sites!). Most of the time we just try to stay out of the way and let the buildings speak for themselves. When taking the final ground photos (the photos of the finished building) we are flies on the walls, using natural lighting, clean angles, and spacial awareness to get the best shots. We continue our minimal meddling in post-production, where we add very few effects/edits to ensure that we most accurately represent the space.

When we shoot, we have a couple of favorite cameras that we like to keep at the ready, but on our most recent shoot we only used the Canon 5D Mark II – EP 24-105mm and the FujiFilm XT10. The Canon 5D is awesome because of the auto ISO function (which allows us to easily switch between indoors, outdoors, and shadows) and the attention to detail. The FujiFilm is a great camera because it is super light and sturdy. There are no mirrors used in this camera, and it has a vintage feel … but with wi-fi. Both of these cameras enable us to take a journalistic approach to our photography.

Recently we took a trip to the site of the new Tennessee State Museum to shoot the laying of the first stone. We are so excited about this museum! There’s something about following a project all the way to the end with a camera in hand that makes us feel like a real member of the team (and in this case, the community).

Telling the story of a building is a unique privilege… obviously we can (and do!) handle some of the broader strokes from the air, but we are able to really exercise our narrative skills on the ground level. This makes us feel like a photography infantry and enables us to get down and dirty with interior shots, shots of the workers and unique angles that show the buildings in all their architectural glory. It’s where we really flex our photojournalistic muscles–telling the behind the scenes stories of iconic buildings from start to finish.

At Aerial Innovations, we’re proud members of the Tennessee community and look forward to having it well-represented by a state museum, heck, we’re even learning things in the process.


*Big thanks for Turner Construction for having us out to photograph your progress!

SkySupplies: Cessna 172S

This week we are focusing on the Cessna 172S aircraft which we use for many of our aerial shoots.

The Cessna has been in production since the 1950’s and our particular plane was built in 1998. It has a great deal of in-air dexterity and also can manage almost 90 degree pitches so we are able to get awesome shots out the open window. Needless to say, we love the little guy. Its American red, white and blue color scheme, it’s comfortable 4 leather seats, oh, and its history.

Back in 1958 this plane was used to set the flight endurance record, and it still stands! The Cessna was in the air for 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and 5 seconds of flight — the pilot and his co-pilot were able to stay afloat thanks to in-air gas fill-ups and food exchanges. This was done by matching speed with a supply car on straight stretches of highway and some super soft hands. At this time there was only one seat in the aircraft — the rest of the (minimal) space was used to hold supplies and a sleeping pad for the relief pilot.

Today’s Cessnas can travel up to 160 MPH and cruise at around 140 MPH. It’s not a quiet plane, but that’s what they make headsets for, right? We’ve never gone on a 64 day shoot, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.

This plane is typically privately owned, and its size and speed makes it perfect for us to get some breathtaking aerial shots. A huge thank you to the Nashville Flight School for consistently providing us with excellent pilots and aircrafts…. we tried to skywrite that last time we were renting one of your planes… but I guess we caught you when you were looking down!  


Drones & New Disasters

We are watching this  summer’s drastic weather on the southern coast and out west with an eye towards the sky. This is the first year we have heard about incorporating independent drones in disaster areas on a larger and more structured basis to help with search and recovery, image capture for news and inspections for insurance claims.

In past years, the rule of thumb was to not fly in disaster areas because it would inhibit first-responders, especially those fighting fires or attempting air rescues during a flood. Even though this is still the case in a majority of disaster areas, with new technology and coordination between agencies, independent drone operators are being called on more often for assistance. Here are a few news items we noticed lately.

  • An app called DroneUp is coordinating FAA Licensed Drone pilots to help in disaster areas. As a pilot, we can sign up for the service and help with communication during the disaster. All flights are coordinated with FAA agencies.
  • Insurance Companies are finding it much easier to do damage inspections from the air instead of walking and crawling around dangerous sites to assess damage. ABC news had a great article about the use of drones for this purpose.
  • Fire Departments that frequently battle forest fires are beginning to use drones for fire inspection often using thermal cameras and gas sensors to better asses the situations they will be risking their lives in. Article about drones & firefighting

It’s great to see drones finally getting some good news coverage however it is still vitally important that all operators follow FAA guidelines, your local guidelines when it comes to disasters and also common sense. An image of a coast guard helicopter landing in a Houston suburb made it clear that getting images of a disaster area is far less important than rescuing lives. Stay safe out there everyone!


Cumberland River in Tennessee


drone myth – flying a drone is easy

easy can be defined in two parts:  “achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties” the first part is probably the part we gravitate towards, without great effort. and drones can be flown without great effort….but they also present a few difficulties. it’s this second part we may dismiss. but anything that can present difficulties can not be defined as “easy”.

drone myth – flying a drone is easy

the deception in the sentence above is that it only entails “flying”. yes! the flying of the drone is easy. it’s all the other parts of operating drones that can be difficult. i have broken down the entire process into 5 difficult yet key skills to master:

  • the actual operation of the drone including preparation & flying
  • understanding aviation regulations including airspace and self control
  • camera operations for still images including settings & composition
  • camera operations and movements for video including smooth movements & stellar communication with your pilot
  • post production on images including image management & video editing.

phew! that. does. not. seem. easy. we have overcome this by focusing on the strengths of each of our contractors. the pilot flies, the camera man operators, the editor…well…edits.

for drone operators do you need to be proficient in all these key areas? no, and no one can really do these all well. so how do you master this technology? through partnerships. we know what we are all good at and team with people that enhance our weaknesses. drones are a team sport. and that is the best part of flying.

Construction site progress photo taken at twilight in downtown Nashville, TN. Image by Aerial Innovations of TN.



In the Shadow of the Moon

Yesterday, the team at Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc. witnessed a rare event; a total eclipse of the sun. In the weeks leading up to Aug 21, 1:27 pm, several of us grew ecstatic, while others, a little more skeptical, read up and got educated about what we were going to see. And since we are photographers, how we were going to photograph what we saw.

On the day of the eclipse, we were scattered around the path of totality. Some of us went north of Nashville for a few more seconds of awe. We had two photographers along the skyline of Nashville with crowds yelling out in amazement. And some of us took to our own backyards to enjoy with family & friends.

We hope you had a great American eclipse like we did. Please enjoy the images below and stay tuned on our social media accounts for videos, time-lapses and more!

Images below by Tiffany Holmes (upper left), Rick Smith (top right & bottom right), Wendy Whittemore (bottom left) and Bonnie Whittemore (she got cake!) 

The Attack of the Tomato

We got to have a little fun this past Saturday with our #DJIMavicPro. The East Nashville Tomato Art Fest is in it’s 15th year & for the past 5 years, a large tomato mural has been painted in the middle of 5 points. It originated with muralist Andee Rudloff and is now an ongoing project funded by the Nashville #ChamberEast and designed by street artist Troy Duff.

This year’s theme could be called “Attack of the Tomato”. The image of a large tomato looks like it fell from the sky and cracked the pavement around 5 points. And only the drone can show that perfect perspective! It was a dark start so we did a time-lapse first for the 4am painting party. At 5:33 we were cleared for drone flights. The ceilings were a little low but still gave us the clearance we needed to fly. By the time the 5K was to start at 7am, the art was done and selfies ensued. See the final result below and stay tuned for more footage from the mural.

From all of us at Aerial Innovations, hope you had a great Tomato Weekend!

Here are 2 videos from the 2017 Troy Duff Tomato Mural & the 2013 Chicnhair Mural

2017 Mural Drone Video & Time-lapse by Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc.

2012 Mural Timelapse by Stacey Irvin 

Mural by Troy Duff Art and Photo by Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc. & Chamber East

Drone photo of the Tomato Arts Fest street mural in East Nashville. Photo by Aerial Innovations of TN.

weekly drone myth – i’m covered!

“I’m older and have more insurance.” such a great line from the movie fried green tomatoes. it brings to light the fact that some of us have so much insurance, we must be covered for lots of things, right? but are you covered for your drone? for damage your drone may cause? or lawsuits that prove you were flying recklessly and harmed someone? unless you specifically have drone or UAV insurance, you more than likely are not covered.

myth – general liability or umbrella insurance policies cover my drone

insurance companies are starting to get smart. they have been watching as the use of drones in commercial applications increase and they are following the regulations that the FAA is enforcing. on our last policy we applied for, Aerial Innovations had to supply our remote pilot licences and also answer a few interesting questions like are we allowed to fly over 400′. there is not a lot of actuarial data out there yet so early on, the coverage we received seemed pretty general and basic. as more and more claims are made, they will start making policies very specific and very tough to defend if you are not operating legally.

for operators – if you haven’t looked into specific drone coverage yet, you may want to contact a broker that has experience with handling UAV insurance like Raleigh Harwell at WC Dillon Company. he is helping companies and operators make sure they have exactly what they need.

in addition, it may be tempting to cut corners and go with insurance on demand (yes, there is such a thing) but there are some drawbacks to this as Raleigh points out, “it’s only for liability so no physical damage coverage, they have a maximum limit of $5 million and you have flight time restrictions.” an annual policy is always best.

so before you run your drone into someones car in the parking lot, think….am i covered?

Twilight aerial photography by Aerial Innovations of TN.


weekly drone myth – airspace? what airspace?

ever wonder what airspace your project is located in? would you know how to find that information? once you know the airspace classification, do you know where a waiver is required? for awhile, these questions were somewhat murky especially to those new to aviation. flight charts are notoriously confusing and if there is overlapping airspace, it may be very frustrating. here is your weekly bit of drone wisdom from your friends at Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc.

drone myth – airspace can be confusing

so this one was not a myth until now. recently, the faa has been rolling out a new gis mapping system to help clarify where drone operations are allowed based on proximity to airports. instead of class B, C, D interpretations, these new maps  simply give a maximum altitude allowed in certain 1 square mile blocks. from 0 feet to 400 feet, 0 meaning no flights without a waiver, then 100, 200 & 300 blocks that show maximum altitude allowed without a waiver. 400 ft max altitude is allowed remaining areas. these altitudes are crystal clear on the map in any area you are operating in. (some airports areas are still being updated so check back frequently)

for drone operators:

save a quick link to the faa maps and cross check your flight location before you do any quoting or operating. if your location is within a “0” square, know how to apply for a waiver (usually takes up to 90 days) and charge for your time, this is a service you are providing. if you are working under a limited altitude like 100-300 ft., maintain the proper altitude and watch out for air traffic. doesn’t it feel good to be in the know?

Drone photo of a beautiful sunset taken by Aerial Innovations of TN.



weekly drone myth – vertical rut

this past week peta pixel published the best drone photos of 2017. this was a entry contest with a panel of judges. There was a very strong theme running through all of the winners; the same vertical angle was used in all but one image. (vertical in land based photography describes a format or ratio while in aerial photography, it is an angle taken straight down.) and it’s a very good angle, we have galleries of stunning verticals including abstracts  but there are so many other ways to make a great aerial image.

it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and shoot the same style or subject without experimenting. we are able to create a multitude of angles mainly because we have a 2 person set up when doing drone projects; pilot and camera operator. the DJI inspire series also allows us free-camera movement so we can look out to the horizon, play with the angle of the sun, incorporate clouds and shadows and close-up abstracts. for our clients, we take a wide variety of angles. always the ones they request but often several more that are interesting to us or complete the story of the project.

for those choosing images (editors, jurors, marketers) mix it up. choose various angles, involve others in your selection process. stay out of the vertical rut….unless it’s a key shot.

Vertical aerial image taken by Aerial Innovations of TN.