Like many a young boy, Rob Ganzeveld loved playing with model airplanes. Little did he know he’d someday be making a living flying state-of-the-art remote-controlled aircraft in the skies over Alberta.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a.k.a. drones, have arrived on the scene in a big way in recent years. Commercially, their applications seem almost endless, with Amazon recently testing UAVs in B.C. in hopes of using them to deliver packages, and for folks like Ganzeveld, who provides aerial photography services, they’ve changed the game.
“I have another company called FX Photo, a commercial photography company that I’ve run for 20 years … this is an offshoot of that,” says Ganzeveld of Outlaw UAV, which he launched in September 2014.
When he’s not doing ground-level photography through FX, he’s flying UAVs up to 300 feet in the air taking images of real estate, farms and construction sites.
“With drones, you’re [legally required] to stay lower than 300 feet, and so often you only want to be 100 feet in the air – it gives you a unique perspective,” he says.
Ganzeveld flies UAVs that are about three feet wide, lifted by four propellers and equipped with cameras, including GoPros, taking still and video images.
Far from the model aircraft of yesteryear, UAVs are considered serious business – as Ganzeveld notes, Transport Canada regulates their use by such businesses as Outlaw UAV.
The technology blows me away.
“You have to apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate when you fly commercially,” he says, adding that he took a licensing test and course through Nav Canada that allows him to communicate with control towers and nearby aircraft. “Recreationally, there really [aren’t] any regulations other than common sense, but in the commercial end, it’s controlled pretty heavily. You have to file a flight plan the same as a helicopter would … over grown-up areas and cities, it can take months to get permission.”
In addition, UAV operators also have to keep their aircraft within line of sight, adds Ganzeveld, who often has a two- or three-person crew with him, including spotters.
“There’s a video downlink from the drone to my controller – I have a five-inch monitor. They call it first-person view, so you can position it perfectly for aerial photos,” he says, adding that another video downlink lets clients see the same view and direct what they want photographed.
Ganzeveld has been all over B.C. and Alberta with his UAVs. “I might do aerial photos of a bridge under construction, buildings … farm aerials are quite big,” he says. “[Images for] land-mapping, mining; I do stuff for oil and gas.”
But he would also like to use his skills for helping people in need, and notes that UAVs have applications in search and rescue and accident reconstruction.
Ganzeveld, who has been based in Airdrie for the last year-and-a-half after spending 20 years in Grande Prairie, says that regardless of new bells and whistles, the same rules of taking a good picture apply to his work with UAVs. “It’s still composition, lighting…. But you can get so technically close to water if you’re flying over a creek, it really immerses you,” he says. “The technology blows me away. I shot traditional film and transitioned to digital in 1999, when it was still quite new.”
For Ganzeveld, between FX Photo and Outlaw UAV, the favourite part of his job is that it’s always changing.
“No two days are the same,” he says. “One day, I’m shooting headshots for a corporate client; the next day, someone’s building a bridge; the next day, I’m shooting a rodeo.
“I could never go back to the eight-hour day where I’m doing the same thing all the time,” he adds.