Visitors bureau's eye in the sky [The Record, Stockton, Calif. :: ]
(Record (Stockton, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 13--STOCKTON -- It's a striking vista.
Just after sunset, Stockton Ballpark glows brightly under the lights during a July 3 Ports game. Away from the lights, Stockton and its waterfront are painted in golds, blues and deep violets, as the still-glowing western sky reflects off the Deep Water Channel, stretching out toward Mount Diablo.
If you guessed it was shot from a piloted helicopter by a professional photographer, you'd be wrong.
It was actually taken by Wes Rhea, executive director of Visit Stockton, using a breadbox-size remote-controlled helicopter carrying a camera that links to and is controlled by his mobile phone.
The whole rig (not the phone) cost about $1,000 -- far less than what a photographer wanted to charge for aerial video of the Stockton Asparagus Festival, Rhea said. And in just six weeks of operation, it is already boosting the Convention & Visitors Bureau's mission to market and promote the community.
"We've already seen a very positive response on our photos," he said.
The visitors agency is drawing more likes, shares and comments on social media.
"Our engagement on our Facebook page and Instagram is definitely a higher level of engagement," Rhea said.
These days -- when nearly everyone has a cellphone camera in their pockets or is carrying a point-and-shoot camera or even a digital SLR -- it's hard to create compelling and unique photos. That's the edge the radio-controlled helicopter provides.
"The aerial photo just gives you such a unique perspective, particularly of a sports facility," Rhea said. He's especially happy with the July 3 Ports game photo.
"It really is beautiful," he said.
There is an ongoing issue of the commercial use of remote-controlled aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration has moved to bar such use while it develops regulations, but a court ruled the agency has no jurisdiction over the devices, which the judge compared to model or hobby aircraft.
Rhea said his lightweight quad- copter, whose built-in software and GPS capability automatically directs it to land at its launch point if it loses contract with the controller, is quite safe to operate, and he's careful to keep it from flying directly over large crowds or in other risky situations.
"We're always very cognizant of the safety side of it," he said.
The increasingly capable and easy-to-use remote-controlled or drone aircraft are generating interest for a wide range of applications, from surveying and security to agricultural applications and real estate marketing.
Dito Milian, a professional motor sports photographer and Vacaville resident who has been testing the potential of aerial photography with a small drone, said he'd like the legal barriers to commercial applications to be resolved.
"I would like the option to do it commercially," he said. "If it was (legal), I would easily spend a few thousand dollars to start up another kind of business."
The new machines are easy to use.
"They are easy to fly. They are open a box, charge up the batteries and fly," Milian said.
Rhea took Visit Stockton's machine -- a DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with a built-in video camera -- out last week at the Stockton Marina to provide supplemental footage for a promotional community video set to the hit "Happy" by Pharrell Williams.
Measuring just 17 by 121/2 inches, the quadcopter flew somewhat like a hummingbird -- moving up, down or sideways as directed, then just hovering in one spot or another as it shot photos or high-definition video. Its four rapidly spinning rotors gave out a steady buzz.
"It does sounds like a crowd of bees," Rhea said.
After capturing overhead and panning shots of a group of happy dancers on a motorboat as well as a few overall shots of the marina, he brought the drone back to himself.
"I used to land it, but now I kind of catch it," Rhea explained as he reached up to grab the lower landing strut, then shut off the motors."
Despite weighing less than 3 pounds, he said, "It does the trick."
Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ReedBiznews.
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