This week’s Questions with a Pro features, Nate Smith.
Nate is a Baltimore-based architectural photographer and drone pilot specializing in large commercial properties. He combines his traditional photography experience with drone photography to deliver each client’s specific vision. Here, Nate describes his transition from video to still photography, the process of becoming an FAA certified drone pilot and how he decided to incorporate drones into his work, as well as some of his strategies for marketing and staying inspired.
We asked: Please describe your transition from video to still photography. Do you still regularly incorporate video into your work?
Nate said: I was working for a small startup shooting marketing video for local businesses. We had a few clients come to us for their creative needs and eventually the company morphed into a branding agency. I found myself building brand strategies, marketing websites, shooting video and taking photos. I was using a Canon 7D at the time and I enjoyed the still photography use of the camera more and more. I had been shooting photos since high school, but decided to pursue it full-time after leaving the startup. I still incorporate video into my work when my clients request it. I am able to create short marketing pieces run-and-gun style in addition to my photo work.
We asked: Please describe the process of becoming an FAA certified drone pilot.
Nate said: It’s relatively straightforward, but time consuming. The FAA website outlines the requirements and there are several online resources explaining the process. You will need to fill out an application, then schedule an in-person exam at a local airfield. I spent about a month preparing, using study guides and practice exams. It definitely reminded me of being back in school; I would finish a day of work then stay up late studying. I found the study guide extremely helpful. It prepared me for the exam and showed me exactly how the test would be structured. Be prepared to read confusing government websites, fill out forms and wait for your license. It’s the only legal way to fly a drone for profit, so it was worth the effort. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the FAA and the training that airmen go through to operate safely.
We asked: How did you decide to incorporate drones into your work? How does it expand what you can offer to your clients?
Nate said: While shooting architectural photography, you always wish that you were a little bit taller. I’ve found the drone to be an invaluable tool to put the camera exactly where you want it. Without it, you would need to stand on a lift or shoot from a helicopter to achieve the best perspective. There are also always obstacles when shooting a property. The drone allows me to see around trees, power lines, and neighboring buildings that would otherwise get in the way of showcasing the project. I try to use the drone as an extension of my camera on the ground. I might only fly 15-20 feet off the ground so it gives the illusion of a straight forward architectural shot.
We asked: What strategies do you use to overcome creative block?
Nate said: I find the most inspiration when I am away from my computer and my phone. I think the worst trap that any creative can get into is only looking at other people’s work, especially in photography. My best ideas come from seeking inspiration from other disciplines—fine art, sculpture, music, design. If I really find myself in need of a creative boost, I spend time exploring the city, hiking, or visiting a museum or library. You never know where inspiration may come from.
We asked: What are your go-to avenues for marketing? Do you find yourself spending a lot of your time marketing?
Nate said: Word-of-mouth marketing is, hands down, the best way to find new clients. There are a lot of talented photographers out there and ultimately people want to work with someone they have a good relationship with. Having a strong portfolio and website is crucial as well. I overhauled my site to feature my areas of expertise and highlight the type of work I hope to continue to focus on. Social media is also a great avenue for promoting your brand. While I feel that my work doesn’t translate as well on small screens (most of my photographs feature massive buildings that really shine when showcased in large format), social media opens doors to brand new awareness and engagement.
Find more of Nate’s work on his website.