Life as an aerial photographer and videographer, has changed rapidly over the last few years.   Ryan Thomas, the Chief Drone Pilot and one of the founders of AerialShots tells us his story of life up in the air.

Chapter One: The Elitist High-Flyer
In the old days, if someone wanted an aerial shot, I had two choices: pay R50 000 and hour for a Cineflex mount camera that was attached to a helicopter or rig my own camera to the helicopter.  The first was on a scale of movie-style shots, and the second meant I would spend hours in post-production making the shots smooth.  Both options were expensive and difficult to do.

Because the technology wasn’t there, neither was the demand. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Chapter Two: Being Grounded
So I spent my days honing my skills as a ground photographer and videographer and life, up in the air only took place on the rare occasion.

Chapter 3: The Rebel Who Hovered
Like many humans, I wanted to rebel against gravity and about 10 years ago, I decided to conduct an experiment.  I strapped my camera to my remote-controlled helicopter.  Let’s just say it got off the ground, but it wasn’t exactly the dramatically impactful aerial shot I was looking for.

Homemade drone: Ryan strapped his camera onto his remote-controlled helicopter

Chapter 4: Getting Off the Ground
Quadcopters were a little-known technology by then but still not freely available.  Although my remote-controlled helicopter experiment had failed, it only motivated me to do better.  So I built my own drone camera.  I called it Octocopter and that is how the idea for AerialShots was born.

I was still a ground videographer and photographer by trade, but now I could also offer a view from above.

Chapter 5: Up, Up and Away
Not too long afterwards, quadcopters or drones burst onto the market.  Well, in South Africa the burst was more like a trickle.  The point was that I could start my collection of expertly-built drones.  I didn’t retire Octocopter just yet.  It had more value to me than the built drones by the fact that it was uniquely mine.

And so, drone photography and videography became in high demand and my life, up in the air became a daily occurance.

Ryan with Octocopter, the drone he built.

Chapter 6: Having Roots and Wings
Don’t worry, this is not a story of how I left my grounded life behind me.  Rather, I took it along with me.  The skills I learnt on the ground only helped my life in the air.  And pairing this experience with the new equipment became a good service to offer to clients.

Chapter 7: Grounded Again
With the increased use of drones, there was a need for governments all over the world to control this activity of trade.  I’m sure you can empathise with my frustration at being grounded after already being in this line of business.  In the end, I had no choice but to comply to these new rules and regulations and I set out to get a licence for something I already knew how to do.

Chapter 8: Flying Under the Radar
I won’t bore you with the many rules listed under Drone Law but in short, I could still fly my drone even if it wasn’t as free and as fun as before.  However, the technological advances in cameras meant that when I couldn’t fly my drones, I could still go up in a helicopter and with a stabilizer, my shots came out just as smooth. The cost of the helicopter surely made it expensive, you ask? Not if you collect a few jobs together that can’t use drones and then go for a few hours’ flight.

Chapter 9: A Good View From Above
Being a drone photographer and videographer is the best of both worlds for me.  I get to go full geek over the technology of drones and cameras and I get to have a creative outlet in the beauty I produce in my images and videos.  So, I really can’t complain (that is, I shouldn’t) because life, up in the air, is good.

To utilise Ryan’s experience for your videography and photography needs – grounded or up in the air – contact AerialShots on or visit

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