June 24th, 2015

Uber for Drones: Fly4Me Connects Pilots with Clients

A photo posted by fly4.me (@fly4.me) on

For all the popularity of drones, they’re far from a mass market product. Many users, even many photographers, may be leery of sending a flying robot into the air, lest it wind up on the White House lawn or on someone’s face.

That’s where Fly4Me comes in. It’s a new service that promises to link trained drone operators with paying clients–kind of like Uber for drones.

Drone owners use Fly4Me to create personalized profiles and bid on drone-related job offers, including aerial mapping, disaster surveillance but also photography and videography. Operators bring their own drone and get to keep 80 percent of any money earned. Any drone owner that wants to create a profile on Fly4Me has to undergo a safety certification process by the company first.

Fly4Me’s co-founder Adam Kersnoski told PDN that the company had obtained its 333 exemption from the FAA allowing commercial drone operations and that drone pilots using the service would be covered under that exemption.

The current exemption restricts the service to only using drone operators that fly a DJI Phantom 2, however Kersnoski told us the company’s lawyers were “already in the process of modifying [the FAA exemption] to exclude this restriction and add additional platforms.”


Fly4Me is based in Boston and is signing up drone operators throughout the country.

The company is planning to offer some interesting technology to customers who hire operators through the platform, including the ability to view flight results uploaded by the pilot, live-streaming from a drone’s camera, private communication between pilot and customer during flight and the ability for customers to select flight locations by pointing a pin on Google Maps.

(Lead image from left to right: Adam Kersnowski, co-founder; David Amatuni, designer; Dmitry Sharshunskiy, co-founder; Karina Dodor, attorney.)

May 29th, 2015

Up in the Air: Vincent Laforet Finds Common Ground From the Skies

Sponsored by G-Technology

Sometimes it takes a new perspective on life to see the ways in which we’re all connected. Photographer and filmmaker Vincent Laforet has been working at his craft for the past 25 years, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan post 9/11 and capturing the human spirit through acclaimed journalistic and commercial assignments. But it’s only recently that he’s had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of his: taking to the sky at night to capture the intricate manmade patterns resembling “brain synapses” and “computer chips” of some of the most dense metropolises in the world.


Los Angeles / © Vincent Laforet – AIR

His project, Laforet AIR—named as such because air is an element “that we all share,” he says—began in New York City. The aerial images spread like wildfire online. “I think these images struck a chord,” Laforet says, “because when you look up at buildings in a big city, you feel pretty insignificant, alone and somewhat powerless—but from the air you feel much more connected.”

G-Technology was the first company to see something special in his project, he says, jumping on board with his idea and helping him get it off the ground. Armed with what Laforet terms the “perfect storm of technology”—including some of the most “well-built, reliable, and fast” hard drives ever made—he was able to finally make his childhood dream a reality. He’s already photographed San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and he’s just completed a whirlwind trip through Europe, capturing nighttime aerial shots of London, Barcelona and Berlin, among others. Laforet couldn’t be more excited about the project, even though, he admits, he hasn’t slept much over the past year.

London / © Vincent Laforet – AIR

New York City / © Vincent Laforet – AIR

Making technically sound images from a helicopter at night was something that was not possible a couple of years ago, he says. But now with the improvement of digital camera sensors, and the ability to shoot clean and sharp images at a high ISO, he’s able to successfully shoot close to 10,000 high-resolution images of a city within a single day. Shooting from a helicopter is no easy task with all of the vibration and the added difficulty of shooting at night, he explains—let alone the sheer expense of air time—so it’s essential he uses the best and fastest technology to back up his work. With fast drives, photographers are less likely to skip out on making that second or third copy, and when so much is on the line, “you can’t afford to have mistakes,” he says. “You can’t afford to lose data.” Before he even leaves the helicopter, he explains, he already has three copies of his images: one on a G-DRIVE ev SSD (“the fastest and most stable hard drive you can get,” he says, “you can drop it and it’s fine—there’s no moving pieces”) mounted to a G-DOCK ev® with Thunderbolt; and two G-DRIVE® ev ATC with Thunderbolt copied to a G-RAID® with Thunderbolt 2, RAID 1.


Laforet photographing from a helicopter.


Laforet’s G-Technology storage in its case.

This “cutting-edge workflow” ensures that when he gets to his hotel room to do his first round of edits (selecting approximately 500 images from the shoot), he isn’t ever concerned with loss of data, because of the redundancy in his image storage. Waiting for data to copy over is one thing the photographer doesn’t have patience for, but he says the G-Technology drives make the process as painless as possible. Once he’s made his initial selection of shots in his hotel room, he then copies them to the Cloud and syncs them to two 64TB G-SPEED Studio Xls (one in Los Angeles and one in New York City) for safekeeping until he returns home. The process of protecting his data is allowing this high-stakes project to be possible, he says. “It’s pretty bulletproof at this point.”

This secure transfer of files is what also makes it possible for Laforet to translate his bird’s-eye view of cityscapes to the rest of the world. Lights not only ignite the landscape from above, but they serve to tie one culture to the next through distinct color patterns. Daylight-balanced LED lights, for example, (which, he says, are becoming more and more common) allow other surreal hues created by older sodium vapor and fluorescent lighting to be revealed. In Los Angeles, “you have one street that’s all green, followed by one street that’s all blue, and five streets that are all yellow,” he explains. “There are many more commonalities throughout the world and distances are much shorter than we assume. From up there, it’s clear there are a lot of stories to tell.”

Laforet plans to photograph as many iconic cities in as many countries as possible. His hope is to continue growing his audience through his website, laforetAIR.com, and also through social media meet-ups, lithographs and fine-art prints, a book of the images, and eventually, exhibitions.

“This is the most organic and pleasurable assignment I’ve ever done,” he says. “The act of photographing these cities and the joy that people seem to exude when they see their city is really special.”

May 1st, 2014

George Steinmetz Wonders: Was It Worth Getting Arrested for National Geographic Cover Story Photos?

Brookover Ranch Feed Yard near Garden City, Kansas, with adjacent crop circles of grain used to fatten cattle. © 2014 George Steinmetz/National Geographic

A picture worth being arrested for? Brookover Ranch Feed Yard near Garden City, Kansas, with adjacent crop circles of grain used to fatten cattle.                © 2014 George Steinmetz/National Geographic

This month’s cover story of National Geographic, about how to meet growing worldwide demand for food, is the story that got photographer George Steinmetz in trouble last June, and he’s still stinging from the experience.

Caught in the political crossfire between animal rights activists and agribusiness interests trying to make it illegal to photograph factory farm operations, he wound up in jail in Kansas while on assignment to shoot the story, called “The New Food Revolution.”

“It was quite a surprise to me,” says Steinmetz, who is renowned for the beautiful aerial landscapes he shoots all over the world, and who is used to encounters with authorities. “I’ve been detained in Iran and Yemen, and questioned about spying, but never arrested. And then I get thrown in jail in America.” (more…)

July 15th, 2013

Hearing Set in Arrest of Aerial Photographer George Steinmetz

© National Geographic/Photo by George Steinmetz. A recent cover story for National Geographic shot by George Steinmetz.

© National Geographic/Photo by George Steinmetz. A recent cover story for National Geographic shot by George Steinmetz.

George Steinmetz, the National Geographic contributor known for the landscapes he captures from a motorized paraglider, faces a court hearing in Kansas this Thursday following his arrest on June 28 for criminal trespass after he flew over a cattle feedlot in Finney County, Kansas.

The Hutchinson News of Hutchinson. Kansas, reported last week that paragliding instructor Wei Zhang, who was waiting for Steinmetz by a parked SUV, was also arrested. Steinmetz and Zhang were held in jail for about five hours. They were released after paying a $270 bond.

Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue told the newspaper Steinmetz and Zhang did not have permission to be on the cattle ranch. A feedlot employee had contacted the sheriff’s office after seeing Steinmetz taking photos of the ranch from the air. The employee also reported “an unknown vehicle” on the property.

Steinmetz and Zhang had moved by the time officers arrived, the paper reports, but “feedlot executives” wanted them arrested.

Although a Finney County attorney said in a statement that the charges are not about Steinmetz’s right to take pictures, Kansas and other states have criminalized unauthorized photography of farming operations. Under the Kansas law, it is illegal for a person to enter an animal facility that is not open to the public to take pictures or video.

Agri-business interests have lobbied for such laws to stop negative publicity about factory farming by PETA, a leading animal rights organization, and other groups.

Steinmetz was on assignment for National Geographic, shooting a story on food, at the time of his arrest. “National Geographic intends to provide counsel for George and his assistant in defense of the charges,” a National Geographic spokesperson says.

An attorney for the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA), a lobbying group for cattle ranchers, told the Hutchinson News that Steinmetz’s arrest was a reminder to his organization’s members to be alert to “unauthorized and suspicious activity.” “Everyone knows safe food starts with healthy animals,” the KLA attorney said. “We have to have those animals healthy in order to produce a safe food supply.”
–David Walker

Update July 18: At a scheduling hearing held today, a Finney County court judge set another hearing on August 29, 2013 for Steinmetz and Zhang. A local attorney hired by National Geographic to represent them appeared on their behalf at today’s hearing, a spokesperson for the publisher told PDN.

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