The next time you go to a wedding, be sure your hair is done, your lipstick is on, and your Jockeys aren’t sticking out of your pants. You never know if a drone is lurking in the sky about to zoom in and take your picture.
No, not those heavily armed aircraft that the United States military uses to patrol the skies over Afghanistan and beyond. Couples having large outdoor weddings have been finding that small, unmanned aerial vehicles, or U.A.V.s, controlled remotely by operators on the ground, can be a useful if sometimes problematic tool for snapping aerial images that capture the entire scene and its participants.
As a small drone noisily swooped over the crowd at the June 21 marriage of Randy Florke and Sean Patrick Maloney in Cold Spring, N.Y., which was featured in the New York Times Vows column last month, Huma Abedin, an aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, was heard to say, “That thing is going to kill somebody.”
No one was endangered at the wedding, other than perhaps the pride of Mr. Maloney, a Democratic representative whose district spans parts of Westchester and Orange Counties and who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee. Because that subcommittee oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, he was taken to task for possibly violating the agency’s guidelines by Nan Hayworth, his Republican challenger in the coming November election.
In a statement given to The Times last week, Mr. Maloney said, “Like most people who are about to get married, I wasn’t up-to-date on the lack of regulations around the emerging technology of a wedding photographer mounting a camera on a remote control helicopter, and now a month after our wedding, even more judges have confirmed the absence of laws and regulations.” The statement, issued through his chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, continued, “Every day another group of photographers, filmmakers, farmers, search and rescue teams, or researchers are expressing their frustration with the total lack of clarity on a technology that could save lives or simply take a few wedding photos.”
It is true that these small, unmanned aircraft are increasingly being used to locate people in wilderness areas, to inexpensively monitor the health of agricultural fields, and to photograph homes for sale. Wedding photography represents but a small, developing use for them.
“I didn’t know they would be there during the ceremony,” Vedet Nommaz said of the drones at his marriage in May to Ellen Matusov in a big wedding in Turkey. “I almost had a heart attack when I saw one approaching the huppah.” But once he had been reassured it was a camera from the wedding photographer, he said, “I was very happy with the results because they flew high and captured the entire venue, and they could zoom in and get the ceremony, too.”
Emre Tanyolac, the marketing director for S&S Visual in Istanbul, the company that worked on the Matusov-Nommaz wedding, said it has been using drones for about a year. “It shoots ambience of the wedding more effectively than anything else,” he said.
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“Everyone is looking for that one great shot,” said Darcy Miller, the editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings. Although Ms. Miller has been to more weddings than most people, she admits that she has never seen a drone used at one — so far, anyway. “I’m sure everything changes every day with technology.”
Among photographers and videographers, however, drones and weddings are “a hot topic in the industry now,” said Denis Reggie, an Atlanta-based wedding photographer who decidedly has not bought into this technology. “We’ve seen so much information about drones, but they’re not sanctioned by the F.A.A. yet,” he said.
Brendan Schulman, a lawyer and special counsel at the law firm Kramer Levin in Manhattan, where he is a litigator with a specialty in unmanned aircraft systems, said: “This is the future of technology. It’s not like an airplane with passengers and fuel on board, and there are no safety issues.” Mr. Schulman, who has represented drone pilots in court when they have been challenged by the F.A.A., reports that Hollywood filmmakers had been using model airplanes for decades, and yet the agency had never issued guidelines.
That is until 1981, he said, when it did issue some, including recommending not flying higher than 400 feet or within three miles of an airport. And those were only voluntary, he noted. Then, in 2007, recognizing that businesses were going to be using the machines, the agency put out a “policy statement” about not using model aircraft for “commercial purposes.” But a policy statement is not a law, Mr. Schulman said.
Les Dorr, a spokesman for the F.A.A. disputes Mr. Schulman’s interpretation, saying: “The F.A.A. believes laws and regulations are the same thing. Under the 2012 F.A.A. law, you can fly a model aircraft for hobby or recreational purposes without authorization from the F.A.A. For any other reason, like commercial purposes, you need F.A.A. approval.”
This has sowed confusion among couples and their photographers about using drones at weddings. Nevertheless, the agency and many of the professional photographers who are choosing to add drones to their arsenal of photo gear, like Parker Gyokeres, are on the same page when it comes to safety concerns. Mr. Gyokeres, an active duty United States Air Force photojournalist who was hired as a subcontractor by the Maloney-Florke wedding’s photographer, said, “I always have an abort plan, and I never fly my drone out of my sight.” If he is within five miles of an airport, he contacts the tower and never flies higher than 400 feet.
Dale Stierman, the owner of Picture Perfect in Dubuque, Iowa, said, “I like to keep my drone over rocks so if it goes down it doesn’t hurt anyone,” adding that he, like some other photographers, uses a technology built into his machine that can recall it to its takeoff point.
Things can and do go wrong, however. David Orgill, of Pointe Digital Photography & Videography in Eagle Mountain, Utah, doesn’t use his radio-controlled unmanned quadcopter carrying a GoPro camera when people are around, but he does fly it for extra shots, like prewedding pictures of the setting. In August 2013, while shooting video images of a wedding couple joyously laughing and whirling through an open field in Wyoming, his drone flew into the groom’s head — a scene played over and over again by viewers on YouTube. Fortunately, except for an ugly gash on the side of the groom’s face, nothing serious happened. “There’s definitely risk involved,” Mr. Orgill said, “but the couple was good-natured about the incident and we finished the shoot.”
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Couples are starting to find an unfortunate downside. “The problem is the noise — drones are not quiet,” Mr. Gyokeres said. “It’s great for an overall shot, but not good during a ceremony.”
Mr. Reggie, whose clients have included members of the Kennedy clan, said, “I love the images, but it is inappropriate at a wedding.” Four motors whirring around, he said, is incompatible with the sanctity of the moment. “For me, the overriding concern at a wedding is not interrupting the quiet.” He added that because of the noise factor, “you get faces looking up at the sky.”
Jonathan Mishaan, who was married this spring in Bogotá, Colombia, didn’t mind the noise and thought the resulting overall shots his photographer got were worth the slight annoyance, which he said those who attended soon got used to, in part because so much other activity was going on.
“Drones are distracting,” Mr. Orgill admitted. “They make a lot of noise, and guests see them coming and think the government is spying on them.”
Privacy concerns? In an era when most wedding guests are equipped with cellphone cameras or iPads, and all too eager to use them? Mr. Schulman said there was no expectation of privacy anyway for guests. Cameras are now everywhere at a wedding. “It doesn’t matter what technology is used,” he said.