Remote Control Aerial Photography and Printing

Aerial photography with a remote control helicopter
Media East's Droid hovering overhead and casting a shadow as it goes to its next aerial photo shoot.

One way to help maintain sanity in the crazy world of large format printing is to combine your hobby with your vocation. Jeff Sheffield, owner of Media East in Virginia Beach, Va., has done just that with remote control (RC) airplanes.

Aerial photography with a remote control airplane
The Droid shows its aerial photography capabilities in this shot near Virginia Beach, Va.

The connection between hobby and vocation is the way Sheffield is using his experience with RC planes in a unique product line that connects aerial photography, digital capture and digital inkjet printing. Sheffield has attached Canon cameras to a helium balloon and an RC plane called a Droid to take aerial photographs of the surrounding area.

This is a long play for us; we have it in place and are just now getting the word out.  We’ve shot several jobs in the last few months where people have hired us to shoot specific aerial shots for advertising purposes,” explains Sheffield. “We’ve also been shooting new developments around the Virginia Beach area. We print selected photos, frame them and send them to the economic development folks and developers to peak their interest. Then, we follow up with calls and emails.”

Remote control aerial photographySheffield prints the images on LexJet’s Sunset Photo eSatin Paper on either a Canon iPF8000S or Canon iPF9000S. We use eSatin for all of our long-term high quality photo printing. In addition to high-quality reproduction, eSatin has a nice weight so finishing doesn’t have to be quite as careful with it, which cuts down on re-prints,” says Sheffield.

The balloon is equipped with a Canon 5D Mark II and a video system where Sheffield can see what the camera sees for cropping purposes. The RC Droid carries a Canon T2i. Sheffield says he would prefer to use a 5D Mark II, but the extra weight of the higher-end camera cuts down on the battery life of the Droid, which is only 8-10 minutes as it is.

Photography from the air with a helium balloon“You’re usually flying the Droid between 50 and 100 feet, though it can go so high that you can’t really see it. The balloon can be legally flown up to 500 feet, except in close proximity to airports,” says Sheffield.

The Droid is actually more than a simple RC plane; it’s a more like a multi-rotor helicopter. Similar models are being used to capture shots on film that are almost impossible using other film techniques. Amazing footage is being shot utilizing similar methods to Sheffield’s, though they’re a bit more sophisticated.

Aerial photography with a helium balloon
Media East's helium balloon for its aerial photography.

“They’ve got their RC units set up with cameras and goggles. They’re shooting with a second camera that has a video feed to either goggles or a monitor for a first-person view. Eventually we hope to have that capability on the Droid,” says Sheffield.

To find out more about the technology and to see how it’s being used, go to and Here’s a demo video from FreeFly Cinema that shows the amazing things they’re doing with RC and digital video…

FreeFly Cinema Behind the Scenes from tabb firchau on Vimeo.