Capturing the world from a different perspective

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Father and son Todd (right) and Austin Berry started the Luana-based company Driftless Drones, which captures aerial photos and videos using drones. (Submitted photo)

The drones are fully-automated and computer-controlled. They are manned with controllers by two people, with one person flying the drone while the other operates the camera.

According to Austin, the perspective from the air is what sets drone imagery apart. (Photos courtesy of Driftless Drones)

As drone usage soars, local company gets in on the ground floor

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

“We’ve always got our heads in the clouds these days.”

Well, technically, 400 feet above the ground, at the most. But the sky is where the Berry family has set its sights lately, said Taylor, who’s part of Driftless Drones, a company created by her husband, Austin, and his father, Todd, to capture aerial photos and videos using drones. Todd’s wife, Dianna, also helps with the operation, which is based in Luana.

Sometimes referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones are aircrafts that operate without a human pilot aboard. Originally known for their military use, drones have become popular with the general public for both recreational and commercial purposes.

Growing up with an interest in aviation, drones first piqued Austin’s interest 1.5 years ago.

“I was looking at all the headlines about drones and how they were becoming popular, so I got a little one and toyed around,” he recalled. 

As he recognized the quality of images drones could capture, the hobby soon evolved.

“I thought we could turn it into a business,” he said. “Nobody around us does it.”

Todd, a licensed pilot for over 30 years, joined him in the venture.

Driftless Drones currently uses two drones—one that came with a built-in camera capable of taking 4K resolution video and 12 megapixel still images, while another larger drone nabs high-quality photos and videos with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera.

The drones are fully-automated and computer-controlled, Todd explained, noting “it’s not a drone until it has auto-pilot and can fly on its own.” They are manned with controllers by two people, with one person flying the drone while the other operates the camera.

“Basically,” stated Austin, “anything a professional photographer can do, we can do. We’re professional photographers and videographers in the air, not on the ground.”

According to Todd, each member of the Berry family plays his/her own role in the company: he largely focuses on the flying, while Austin is into the technical aspect. Taylor is like a director, Todd said, in that she helps discover the best camera angles. She also enjoys photo editing. Dianna brings new and interesting ideas to the table.

Driftless Drones has submitted a document to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for an exemption to fly commercially. That makes them one of over 3,000 companies across the country who use drones for commercial purposes, according to the FAA. 

Many more are used recreationally. As of mid-February, over 342,000 people across the country had registered drones with the FAA. However, that number is just the tip of the ice berg, with the Consumer Electronics Association estimating that over 700,000 were sold in the U.S. last year.

With that much participation, the FAA has established some guidelines for drone usage. Drones can fly no more than 400 feet high. Although both of Driftless Drones’ crafts have a three-mile range, said Austin, they must remain within sight of the operator. They cannot be within five miles of an airport without permission and cannot fly over crowds.

The measures aren’t too restrictive, Todd noted: “It’s such a new thing. The FAA is giving range without crippling [drone usage].”

Plus, said Austin, legality is of huge importance.

“We’re doing this seriously, so we want to do it right,” Todd added. “We always get permission and follow the rules to a ’T.’”

Todd said it’s also important to them that people, especially locally, do not fear drones. 

“They’re not evil,” he intoned. “We have no interest in invading someone’s privacy. We would never want that for ourselves. We want to use it only for good purposes.”

Those purposes are varied. In this area, particularly, said the Berrys, drones could be a useful tool for farmers, checking crops or locating lost cattle. They could photograph real estate property, giving views of a building or acreage that may not be easily accessible from the ground. Drones can relay images of a construction site back to developers or take large company photos, showcasing employees and the products they make. If you’re snowmobiling, four-wheeling or riding on a BMX course, a drone can follow the whole route from above. Tourism or promotional videos could be created, highlighting what the community offers. 

In addition, drones could be used for search and rescue missions or to capture images for journalists.

Todd and Dianna happened to be near Brownsville, Minn., in late-January, when a train derailed there. Since the family always has a drone with them while traveling, they were able to capture the scene from above and share the footage with a local news station.

“If you looked at some other news stations, their only video was on the road,” Austin said. “With this, you were able to see the whole derailment, see how much really occurred. You saw the train cars in the river.”

Eventually, said the Berrys, they’ll find a niche.

“Our niche depends on the demand,” Austin explained. “What does the community need?”

“Whatever people envision, we can help them,” Taylor added. “There are endless possibilities.”

According to Todd, it’s never been a better time to enter the drone arena: “There are going to be more and more [uses] every day. We got in on the ground floor. We jumped in at the perfect time.”

Since it’s so new, Todd said that also makes it difficult to figure out how best to monetize their services. One price won’t cover everything, he mentioned, so some services will be offered through a package rate, while others will be hourly. They’ll figure it out on a case-by-case basis.

Some may wonder how drone photography and videography differs from that taken from an airplane. Todd said, aside from the barriers of the window and wing, planes also have height limitations, and must remain 500 or even 1,000 feet above the ground. Planes also offer just fleeting shots, he noted.

With drones, Austin said, “You’re able to get closer and you can hover and get a shot. You’re able to fine-tune the shot and make sure you’re getting the right angle.”

Ultimately, he said, that angle—a new perspective—is what sets drone imagery apart.

Taylor agreed, recounting how drones can fill in the gaps, making what’s seen as common from the ground into a work of art from the air. 

“This is changing how you see things,” she stated. “We’re helping people accomplish tasks that before seemed impossible.”

For those at Driftless Drones, they believe, one day, people won’t think anything of using drones. They’ll be like computers or HD television—technology people take for granted and would be loathe to live without.

“I think drones will be a part of all our lives,” Todd foretold. “We might not know how it’s going to affect us, but it’s inevitable.”

“I see it becoming part of the normal, where seeing that perspective will be normal,” Austin said.

Everyone’s heads will be in the clouds, quipped Taylor: “We’ll see things from the air and say, ‘How did we ever see it from the ground?’”

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