Photographer Clay Folden, below, who also uses drones in his work, stands outside his family’s home in Harbor Bluffs on a recent visit from Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of WAYNE CATHEL
Photographer Wayne Cathel navigates a drone, which is capable of taking aerial photographs.
Sometimes the smallest gesture can lead to great things.
For Clay Folden, 26, of Harbor Bluffs it was the gift of a 35mm camera from his father when he was in middle school that led to a career in photography and a certain amount of fame in the emerging world of drone flying.
Folden, who graduated from Seminole High School and now lives in Los Angeles, said his foray into using drones in his photography work was borne out of necessity.
“Photography is a very competitive market,” he said. “Everybody these days has a $40,000 camera and I can’t compete with that. But my work in aerial photography got me a lot of attention.”
The drones, or aerial platforms as they are officially known, are roughly 18 inches in diameter and are remotely controlled. A camera is mounted on or in the drone and the photographer does the flying.
“They provide unique or novel shots that used to be impossible. They are usually in close quarters with tight maneuverings,” said Folden.
Folden said he found out about the drones from his uncle who noticed some aerial shots in an article he was reading. He did some research and discovered the drones. Folden said that was just over a year ago.
“Shortly after that a company came out with an affordable system, I got one and made my first video,” he said. “Right now I’m working with a production company but I am getting my own production company.”
Folden remembers that first video and said it would have been impossible to do with his budget.
“That first video I shot with the aerial platform involved aerial shots of the Capital Records building in Los Angeles,” he said. “Without the drone I would have needed a crane or a cherry picker. Another time I shot a Shelby Mustang racing through the back streets in Manhattan. Before the drone we would have had to shut down whole streets and run another car alongside. This was a lot easier and much more efficient.”
Echoing those sentiments is local photographer Wayne Cathel, 53, of Belleair Bluffs, who has been a photographer for the past 10 years. He said as soon as he heard about the aerial platforms he wanted to get one.
“I came across them in a forum I was attending,” he said. “I thought what a great way to get above the subject. I have always wanted to get over and above; I have always wanted to get the shot from a higher vantage point.”
Cathel said he started out with baby steps using a drone.
“I bought a $99 one in a hobby store. It was supposed to simulate a real one. I learned how to operate it the hard way, in my house. I knocked over lamps and crashed into walls, but it is better to do it that way than to get an expensive one and crash it into a tree.”
It wasn’t long before Cathel got himself a more expensive drone. First, one that cost $1,500, then later a $3,000 version. He said the more rotor blades on the drone the more stable they are.
He too remembers his first video.
“It was in Dunedin at the sight of that big sinkhole that opened up earlier this year,” he said. “I was able to fly a camera down into the hole and was able to help the authorities find where they had to move the dirt to stabilize the hole.”
Since then Cathel says he has worked with Realtors and builders to get aerial shots for their promotions or to help with their projects.
“Airplanes and helicopters are very expensive,” he said. “I can get the same shots at a lower altitude and I can actually fly into a house if I need to.”
“I think there should be regulations because you need to know how to use them,” he said. “I follow the guidelines; stay away from crowds, stay five miles from any airport and do a pre-flight check to make sure everything is secure. There is a safety factor.”
Ironically, up until now photographers like Cathel and Folden have not been able to charge money for any shots they get from the aerial platforms. The Federal Aviation Authority has denied them the ability to profit from their work with drones. That could be changing, however. Recently a federal court judge ruled that the FAA had no authority to enforce their rules. It is something Folden has been waiting for.
“We have been pushing them to change those regulations,” he said. “I am meeting a lot of people who want my work and in anticipation of the FAA changing the regulations I have been investing in new equipment.”
Folden, whose mom, Julie, is a Realtor with Coastal Properties Group in Indian Rocks Beach, and whose dad Gary is a charter boat captain out of the Clearwater Marina, has won awards for his work. He said it is a career that is just beginning.
“I know I have found my niche in this market,” he said. “It has gotten me a lot of attention. This will take my time for some time to come.”