New elective course on drone photography takes flight

Apr 13, 2015

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by Rich Kiley 

The seeds of a new elective course in aerial photography and videography at RIT were planted more than 50 years ago when Frank Cost began accompanying his father to fly model airplanes on a farm near Syracuse, N.Y.

“Both of my parents were flyers and were born in 1927, the year that (Charles) Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean,” said Cost, the James E. McGhee Professor of Visual Media in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences (SPAS). “They grew up during aviation history’s great romantic era.”

The professor’s romance with aerial photography continues to soar, resulting this semester in the school’s first-ever course in aerial and drone photography. The class first visited RIT Archive Collections to examine the history of aerial perspective drawing, painting and photography from varied platforms such as balloons, kites and orbital spacecraft.

Cost also is addressing the current—and rapidly evolving—legal and regulatory environment for aerial image making in the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration is considering new regulations that would require operators of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to complete a certification process—not unlike getting a learner’s permit at the DMV.

SPAS students are employing fixed-wing and rotary-wing remote-controlled platforms for projects throughout the semester and experiencing how they interact with today’s technology.

“Students are learning to pre-visualize images and video sequences using software tools such as Google Earth,” Cost said.

His students will use these platforms to acquire imagery that will be used in both still and video formats. “I’ll offer the course again in the fall when we are planning to publish a book at the end of the semester,” he noted.

Two of Cost’s students view the class as a way to ascend above others upon graduation.

“I believe that this process to capture images and videos from the air is a fast-growing field. Students going into the workforce will have a head start after completing this class,” said Nicholas Kundrat, a third-year visual media student from Pittsford, N.Y. “Companies are readily beginning to show off their products through the use of this new drone perspective.”

“Last summer I met someone who made his living off of kite photography,” said Baldwinsville, N.Y.-native Lizz Sawyer, a fourth-year visual media student. “His images were beautiful and extremely unique. I want to be successful at taking great photographs from above and to be knowledgeable about this field.”

Cost, likewise, has high hopes for his students and the course.

“I’d like them to get into panoramics and learn how to perfect image sets that can be stitched together,” Cost said. “Aerial panoramics are quite unique and something that we can use to further distinguish ourselves with the program here at RIT.”

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