Ben Abbott – Skyhigh Photography

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Ben tells us all there is to know about unmanned aerial vehicles, and how he captures stunning aerial video and photography for many famous bands and companies.

Hi Ben. It’s great to meet with you – could you tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Armidale, finished Year 12 at Armidale High in 1999 and moved to Sydney to study. Sixteen years and 9 cities later, I’m finally back home.

What exactly is it that you do?
There are a few arms to the work I do, ranging from digital marketing, video production, animation, and of course … Aerial Cinematography. This means a fairly wide range of clients, ranging from Salmon farms, bands, car manufacturers and real sstate. Recently I shot and directed the McClymonts’ music video Forever Begins Tonight at Saumarez Homestead, which was a lot of fun.

How did you get into this field?
The aerial work started as a hobby, really. Flying RC planes for fun and as the technology improved with stabilised camera gimbals and multirotor helicopters, I decided to incorporate aerial footage into the commercials and projects I was working on.

Do you need licence to fly, or can anyone do it?
Anyone can fly them for fun; I believe Armidale has a great RC club for anyone who is interested, but to undertake any commercial work you need approval from CASA (The Civil Aviation Safety Authority). This involves a huge number of tasks, including the creation of Operation Manuals, Safety Manuals, Flight Tests and of course … licensing fees. It can be a long process, but it’s worth it to be able to get shots that would otherwise be impossible, or would require the expense of a full size helicopter.

So you get a “bird’s eye view” … what’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen from up there?
Legally we’re allowed to fly up to 400 feet – which may not sound like much, but the view is pretty incredible. Although, I think the most interesting thing I’ve seen is the claws of an eagle as it attacked my quadcopter and knocked it out of the sky. Happens quite a lot, which can end up being an expensive hazard of the job.
We’ve all experienced technical “issues” before … Have you ever had any other disasters? Flying over the Derwent River in Hobart, Tasmania, as one of the largest ocean liners in the world was leaving the dock, I was getting some great footage and was about to bring the quad copter home, when I thought I’d get up nice and high for one last shot. Out of the blue I lost a propeller and had to just watch helplessly as it plummeted, complete with camera, into the middle of the Derwent. The collective sound of 1,000 onlookers letting out a sympathetic “oooohhhh” as it hit the water was a sound I won’t soon forget.

What and where are some of most amazing things and places this job has taken you?
Last year we travelled to Fiji to shoot a range of resorts. Seven days in an all expenses paid 5 star resort was a tough gig. More recently we spent some time in the North West of Tasmania shooting for a dairy farm – incredibly beautiful part of the world and easy to shoot from the sky. No matter which way you pointed the lens, it looked like something from a postcard.

Would we have seen any of your work before?
Quite possibly. Of course, the McClymonts’ music video gained some “buzz” around town, as it was shot locally. Some of our commercial work has been used in a range of TV commercials which have aired nationally, including a Salmon commercial that involved strapping a huge smelly fish to the back of a cyclist as we chased him up a mountain. Salmon being a “natural performance enhancer”, it was a tribute to Lance Armstrong. Raised some eyebrows, as it aired during the last Tour de France.

What plans do you have for the future?
Aerial cinematography is really still in its infancy, in terms of where it’s being used. Real estate has certainly jumped on board with the technology. Our office in Brisbane is booked most days with a real estate project, and locally we’re starting to work with agencies to showcase properties from a bird’s eye view. Our larger UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) carry cameras capable of Ultra HD footage (4K resolution – for the nerds) which can be used in feature films and national commercials. We’re excited about where this area is heading, as it was always just a hobby that took off … yes, pun intended. I apologise.

Thanks Ben. To get a taste of what’s possible with Bens UAVs, visit skyhighphotography.com.au

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