Brian Dentz, FAA licensed NYC drone pilot and videographer, joins me to talk about his journey to being a license drone videographer who travels worldwide. Brian is also a close friend who lives near me in Brooklyn. We help each other on home improvement projects and video projects.
Need a licensed drone videographer in NYC? Or to work in the Arctic?
I wasn't aware the amount of work and test you have to go through to be able to shoot drone video work in NYC. Luckily, we have Brian tell us what is all involved with this. He has a beautiful drone video portfolio on his website showing some of the work he has done.
Eric: Hey, welcome to GardenFork radio. Thanks for downloading the show. My name is Eric. I'm your host. I have a YouTube channel and this podcast where me and my friends talk about kind of eclectic DIY maker, how to stuff today. I have one of my best friends, Brian here, and we're going to talk about flying drones as a backyard hobby all the way up to flying drones as a professional videographer, which my friend Brian is so welcome, sir.
Brian: Hello. How's it going? Thanks for having me
Eric: So full disclosure on Brian and I have known each other almost as long as I've been married, I think. Yes. Does that mean that we're ma we're married, kinda. Okay. Brett and I both, we both started out working in video together and we worked for a very crazy production company, which we don't need to go into, but but we became fast friends and we've stuck together since then. We live within 20 blocks of each other in New York city. We help each other with video projects and we also work together on home improvement projects. I'm indebted to Brian for helping me finish when we bought our building, helping to finish it because I was in a meltdown and Brian stepped in and saved me. I
Brian: Don't even remember that you were in a meltdown.
Eric: We were getting the, the top, the rental apartment upstairs. Ready. And I remember that I melted into the floor and you stepped in.
Brian: Okay. That's important to have friends for sure.
Eric: Yeah. So you know, your friends may drive you up the wallet or once in a while, which is my job. But they are handy when you really need help. So, and you've, you've never been on the podcast. We talk all the time. You've never been on the show.
Eric: I think I'm telling you I've never been on the show. Yeah. Oh, okay.
Brian: I've never been on the podcast. Okay. But I've been in your YouTube videos and my dad's been in your YouTube videos. Maybe my daughter has been in your YouTube videos. It's yeah,
Eric: It's a big family. So I think people are probably listening because they want to learn about flying drones and that kind of thing. And I, I have a drone and you have a drone. And how, how did you start getting into it?
Brian: So I worked professionally for for television for corporate video this type of thing. And I work very often for a public TV station out of Germany. One of the biggest news organizations in Europe for TV, I worked for their New York office in their DC office and the Bureau chief three years, four years ago now asked me he said that he was planning a trip to Canada to a really cold part of Canada called ferment Canada. And wanted to take me as the, as the camera person, but we needed to do drone work, what I learned, how to fly drones. And I said, sure, why not? Because I'm always up for a challenge. And and it's great to learn new things. And it was something that I honestly was a little intimidated to learn to do.
Brian: So we bought a drone and I took it out and there's a few places in, in, in Brooklyn where you can fly legally and and took it out and was very hesitant thinking it was going to crash immediately. But there, there really. Yeah, no, I mean like really, like I'm still a little nervous sometimes it's, it's, it's, it's, it's kind of a bit of magic how they work. But you know, w what I learned is they're incredible and they're really basic operation of a drone, but the ones that are using GPS, which are all the sort of prosumer ones and up are they, they can, you know, they don't fly themselves, but once you get the basic controls, which probably teenagers that play video games are probably even better at it, it's fairly easy because it's, it's, they're using GPS in order to constantly adjust against wind and other elements that might move it around.
Eric: Remember you and I, we both had gotten drones. And at that point, a simple drone was over a thousand dollars, and now it's quite, it's quite a bit less, but we were figuring out where was legal in New York city. And we'll touch on the legalities a little later in the show, but New York city is basically locked down as far as drones, you know, after nine 11, of course. And we went to a city park in Staten Island that was downed as deserted dirt road. And it ended up, it was a field, a runway field for a radio controlled airplane club in this beat up city park. But it was one of the few legal places that we could practice flying the drones. And that's where I had the aha moment where I put my father-in-law had given me a drone as a present, and I put it up in the air and we could see the video. And I was like, Holy cow. And you were a little more advanced at that point, but I, it was just kind of a aha moment there. Did you have that?
Brian: They're amazing because you get, you know, this perspective that, that is that you hadn't, you couldn't get any other way. I mean, in the past before drones having a a a view from above, like that would cost hundreds of dollars per hour, if not, if not more to hire a pilot or an, or a helicopter it's, it's amazing what you can do for the price that's that you can pay. Yeah, I mean, there's also, there's also a place in Brooklyn that, that I go to fly drones, which is basically a radar con it's, it's grandfathered in, it's an old place for radar control airplanes. That's illegal. And, and it's actually not that far from JFK airport, but it's, I guess, far enough. That's legal.
Eric: So do you remember the name of the park where you're going now? Cause I haven't been to that one.
Brian: Yeah. well, it's, it's maybe a 20 minute drive from me. It's called Colbert Vox park. And it has basically a grandfathered place where people would go there for their for their radar control airplanes. So because of that, it's illegal to flight to fly in that immediate area. So it's a great it's right on the water. It's visual. It's beautiful. It's it's, you can see the rides from Coney Island from there. And a lot of people go there to, to fly. It's a great for me, it's like a great home-based testing area. But I've also found areas in, in Brooklyn that are industrial and low key and outside of air airspace. That is, that is controlled airspace from the local airports that I can also fly in. And that's when you get into sort of this gray area of what's legal and what's illegal in New York city.
Eric: Hey, a quick aside here, please shop as local as you can, as much as you can. If you're going to shop online and going to use Amazon, would you consider using our Amazon store as your starting point for all your shopping? If you do, we get a little finder's fee and that all adds up and help us pay the bills here. It's amazon.com/shop/GardenFork. That's amazon.com/shop/GardenFork. The link will be in the show notes as well. Thank you. So I'm curious about your first trip with the drone. So, you know, you're, you're this known videographer director of photography in New York city. One of your big clients calls you and says, we want to go to the architech will you learn how to fly a drone to do a high definition video? And you said, yes. So what's it like lugging all that gear and then trying to have that gear function in Arctic temperatures.
Brian: Okay. So the first trip that I went, it wasn't the Arctic, but it was a place that was, we went in, in the winter to a place called Fairmont Canada, which is incredibly cold. Yeah, it's incredibly cold. It's it's a mining village built for iron ore extraction. And th and it's, it's an incredible place that most people spend most of the time inside, but we went through to makeup to make a documentary for German TV about this, this town. And I didn't quite know how this drone would function in this extreme cold, but I was willing to try. And it turns out, of course there's no rain, cause the only thing that comes down is it snow and the drone functioned fine in, in very thin snow. I must say the very first flight that I did. I didn't have the wisdom to have a landing pad cause you don't want a drone to land on the ground because pebbles and, and, and, and grass or dirt could kick up and scratch the camera or damage it the blade. So you really want to landing that. So I tried to land and take off from, from a Pelican box. So of course on the very first time I was first flight, I broke a propeller because that's a really silly idea.
Eric: Is everyone, a Silicon box is one of those heavy duty black waterproof camera boxes.
Brian: Right. And, and so my, my, my boss immediately thought I broke the drone on the very first flight. Thank goodness. It wasn't. I was able to I had extra propellers. And then I, and then basically I started doing all kinds of flights that were really safe. So the, the safest kind of thing you can do in terms of photography with the drone video, is that the reveal. So you make sure you have something in front of you. And then, and I remember one of the first shots was this, this huge dam that generates electricity, hydroelectric dam. And there were trees between us and the dam. The drone would take off looking at the trees and then as it got higher, it revealed this massive dam. And so I saw that, thank you. It's really easy to do because you can, because the drone doesn't have to go anywhere but up.
Brian: And then when you take it right back down, so it's, it's safe, that's all I wanted to do with shots like that, to stay really safe. And they work really well. But of course, you know, eventually you get, you have to get pushed into being a little bit more daring and, and this drone was able to function in, in really like, you know, subfreezing temperatures with a little bit of snow. It's still functioned beautifully. Once I realized not to take off from the top of a plastic box and try to, and try to land there.
Eric: Actually it was broke. I think I broke up a propeller on my first try and the propellers are relatively inexpensive. I mean, I have, I'm sure you have spares in your bag as well, but I have a couple spare.
Brian: Yeah, yeah. Especially if you're going to go to some remote area that you need to carry quite a few spares, just so you can sleep at night. The, really the hardest thing for me for these kinds of cold climates, and I've been to, I don't know, maybe four or five, very cold climates for this, for this work. The hardest thing is, is operating with my fingers because I can't use mittens while I operate very effectively. I need to often be able to press a button, the buttons on my iPad, which is what I use for the control panel. And it's this constant battle of, of how long I can, you know, some kind of configuration. So my fingers don't freeze while the, while I'm able to operate the drone. And that that's, that was a huge challenge. For some of these jobs, I mean, in terms of just actually operating it,
Eric: I just, the shots you got were phenomenal of just kind of this, they looked like cinematic, like something out of star Wars out of this other worldly, open pit mine thing, you know, like you were on some planet in the Nebula and then, you know, the bad guys were in the, in the, in the iron ore, mine or something, but it was, it looked amazing. I mean, I could having grown up in Wisconsin, which isn't the Arctic, but I know how cold it can get. And it's really cold there right now, according to will our cohost. But I, it was just, that was kind of amazing. Did the, did the batteries ever freeze up? I mean, did they, did they not work as well? Cause it was cold.
Brian: They, they didn't have a problem. I, I try to keep the batteries. Well, I kept the batteries in the car that was running and heated. So I'd only pull them out, put them on the drone when I needed them, but they didn't go down really quick. The way some batteries will I'm in the cold climate. They actually lasted quite a bit. But I mean, I have to say it wasn't that I was running the drone hours at a time. I mean, it would usually be 10 or maybe 15 minutes, which should be about the length of one battery. And this, at this time, this was a few years ago. I was using the DJI Mavic pro which is, which is a great tool for sort of travel documentary work because it collapses into a little box. It's not that much gear to schlep around.
Eric: Do you lie awake at night? Wondering what is Eric up to now? You do don't you, I have the solution for this. You can get those answers for $5 a month. That's what we're asking. If you'd like to become a contributing regular supporter of GardenFork through our Patrion program. Is it called? I don't know. We use this site called Patrion. It makes it really easy for you and really easy for me. I wouldn't say every day, but a lot during the week I post pictures and just thoughts and audio musings and stuff. The last kind of audio talk was I thought too much information. But I shared it anyway. And so that's what you get. If you want to wonder what does it, I'm just rambling on anyway, just asking you, if you want to support the show I'm asking for $5 a month, you get the episodes, you also get photos that I don't really like.
Eric: I'm not really big on sharing everything with Facebook and Instagram, but the core group of supporters who know that, who they are, they're almost all podcast listeners actually. Anyway, so I share that with you, when you become a patron, it's really simple to sign up. Patrion has an app that you can put on your phone or your iPad. And every time I post something, you will get an email notification. And also if you have notifications turned on for the Patriot up, you get a little Bing and Oh, Eric has posted a photo or Eric has posted an audio clip and you also get the after show of GardenFork, right? So that's me and my friends after we're done doing the half-hour of, for everyone. If we do like five or 10 minutes of I just call it the after chefs, it's sometimes it's something we forgot to bring up in the show. And I think it's interesting. The patrons that have told me said that they like it too. So think about that. If you want to sign up the information is in the show notes here, you can also go to patrion.com/GardenFork. That's patrion.com/GardenFork or links in the show notes here, all right. Back to the show.
Eric: So you, you come back from the Arctic, you start getting other people wanting to hire you for drone cinematography. And then you, you are already aware, we were both aware that you just can't put a drone up in New York city. So you just, you tried to get me to sign on with you to take the federal FAA, drone pilot license. So what was that?
Brian: Well I decided that I needed to become a pilot and, and take the part one Oh seven FAA tasks. So I studied through with an online course and then a lot of other stuff as well. And and then actually passed my tests. The hardest part for me is, is this ciphering these things called sectional charts, which are these maps, which are kind of like nautical maps, but they're meant for for airspace and for, for, for for air navigation. And they tell you things you'll see on the ground from an airplane, airports, airspace mountains obstacles, and, and they're there. They were designed, I guess pre-digital, I'm, I'm pretty sure pre-digital, and they're very hot and they're incredibly dense with information. And I still find them very hard to decipher all the information which, which they have in them.
Brian: I think most pilots today use all kinds of electronic navigation devices to, to, to, to configure where they are. And, and, and it is, it is, it is a major requirement on, on the FAA part when those seven tests. And I had to recently after two years after passing the test, you've got to take another test to basically keep your license in, in in good standing. And I did that again, and it was in, and it was, it continues to be difficult for me these sectional charts, but I mean, at the same time, you know, it's a good challenge.
Eric: Showed me the sectional charts of New York city. And it looked like you took a highway map, a Topo map, and then some sort of aircraft map with a whole bunch of other stuff on it with numbers and circles and straight lines. And I love maps and I had a hard time to ciphering it, but basically it's showing you air space and what you can do in that particular airspace related to air other airplanes and what kind of airplanes can fly in, what parts of that airspace?
Brian: It, it, I mean, in many ways it's a three-dimensional map map is a flat piece of paper, but it needs to show the, the realities of all the elevation, both mountains obstacles, buildings, and, and, and, and other kinds of things on the ground that, that rise up as, as, as well as airspace. And it and what airspace you're allowed to fly in depending on what class of airport there is, which which, and then airports have the, they call it an upside down wedding cake in terms of the bottom. The bottom is whether the plane lands and then it gets wider and wider as you go farther out because planes of course have to fly into land. And so you have to understand this and be able to decipher essentially as, as a drone pilot, where you can legally fly and then where you need to ask permission from, from who to get permission to fly.
Brian: And there's ways of asking permission immediately on the spot. And then, and then in some airspaces, you have to ask online through an FAA portal and you know, in the, in New York city, there's another law, which dates back to 1948, which is called section 10 28 aggregation. And and it, and it was, it's a, it's a law that was made obviously pre drone. And it basically forbids pilots from taking off or landing in New York city with the exception of airports heliports and such. So that exists that law exists and in, in theory covers the whole city of New York. But when you look at, at sectional charts, or like most people do look at different apps that will show you where you can fly in New York city. You'll see that there are large sections of the city that you can fly in, but then you have this law to sort of consider as well. And then of course there's laws that you can't really fly over people. And, and anyway, so, so it's quite kind of a gray area in New York city. And I, I do fly in New York city and I do even fly in Manhattan in very controlled, limited circumstances.
Eric: Right. But your, what you've done I think is amazing. So, I mean, it's not only for a television news program or for like a TV or movie thing. You're also doing it for real estate and didn't, you have to like some structural engineering company hired you to survey a building.
Brian: Yeah, I, yeah, so I had a couple interesting jobs recently that had a lot of fun with one of them is a architectural rendering company out of, out of London called, should I mention the names or, or doesn't matter,
Eric: It doesn't matter. It's just, it's a neat story, more than anything.
Brian: Sure. It's an architectural rendering company called [inaudible]. and they needed three 60 photographs of different elevations off of the top of a building. And they also need perspectives from across the street, but from high op sort of were looking at the building from across the street, but unfortunately the perspective you would need is actually where the building was. So I could give them a reference pictures, but not exactly what they need. but I, then I learned how to use an app. what does that app
Eric: I use it
Brian: Right. Thank you.
Eric: It's in the show notes, but it's a pretty amazing it's a third party app to control your DJI drone.
Brian: Yeah. And, and I, I hadn't used it basically, cause I didn't need to use it before, but it turned out to be really, really effective in, in in three 60 photographs. And, and I did like experiment after experiment using the, the thing is the inspire two, which is a larger drone that I own. You're not, it doesn't have three 60 capability within the DJI app. So I'm Lici is what it's called. Yeah. So I use the Lici app, which, which will operate with, with the inspire to, to get through 60 pictures and then, and then use it and then working with a photographer friend of mine who does architectural photography. He did all the backend stitching and we did test after test of a test, figuring out what would work the best, which lens to work, to work with.
Brian: And basically for the top of a building, they needed two different elevations. Cause that's where they're going to build on top of this building. And they want it to be able to make rent renderings of what the views out the windows will be when it, once it's built at different times of day, depending on the light. So it was a lot to learn for me. And they turned out to be happy with the result and I saw some, I've seen some of the renderings and they look pretty neat. And that was, you know, in, in, in downtown Manhattan, in Tribeca. And so, because I can fly someone's roof because it was outside of outside of any controlled airspace in, in Midtown Manhattan while Trump was president, you couldn't fly within quite a few miles of Trump tower or because, because for security purposes, and that was just something that you simply have no flight no flight zone.
Brian: Yeah. And but now that's no longer in effect. But anyway, so that was a really fun challenge to take on. And then a few weeks ago I was hired by another company, which is like a national, they do all kinds of drone related work, and they hired me to do a construction survey, which basically means there's a big construction site in New Jersey, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. And I flew the drone over, took a series of photographs of the state of a construction site, and then this sort of three 60 video of the site as well. And I think every three months they're going to want an update. And this is for the architects and the developers to look at this material, to see what what the status is and that everything is, is, as it should be in terms of the development of their, of their project.
Eric: I, you showed me that rendering that you did of that building and Tribeca on that. It looked amazing. I mean, it basically looked like across the street from this building there wasn't another building and you just kind of stood on a ladder and took a photo.
Brian: I know, but th but this is like the, the amazing work that people can do with Photoshop. And, and that, that the, the renderers at, at V1, we're able to do basically there are these lenses that, that are, are that for architecture, that, that changed the perspective that can make, you know, instead of lines being like in, like in a perspective curve, it can straighten them out. And they were able to do that with pictures that I was able to take. I mean, it's hard for me to look at the pictures that I gave them in to see what they've were able to create and to, and to sort of make sense of that. But I'm not a Photoshop person. I wish I, I wish I was, but that's a hard program. Well, it's just deep, you know, it depends how deep you need to go in into it,
Eric: Everyone for the after show for the garden for patrons, Brian and I are going to reveal our deep, deepest thoughts about each other. So if you're patrons stick around for that, okay, I'm scared. So before we end the show, if I get these they're kind of spammy emails all the time, and I see this stuff on Amazon or online of, I have a DJI drone, but there are these third party brand drones that look very enticing and are so much less expensive. Is, do you know anything about those? Is that worth a couple of bucks? Or should they stick with a name brand if someone wants to buy one?
Brian: Yeah. I mean, I, I've also gotten some of these emails and, you know, for a hundred dollars, you can, you can buy a version of a Maverick DGI basically. Yeah. And I, I wouldn't want to try to do it professionally. And certainly the, anything goes wrong with the drone. It's not a huge financial loss, but do you have to consider also, like these are, these are flying. These are flying lawnmowers and, and, you know, I, if you've ever seen what a, what, like a finger that gets into one of these propellers, you know, what it can do, it's not something you want to see. So, so, you know, I would be hesitant to mess with something that isn't tried and true that doesn't have any kind of, any kind of I mean, you'd have to do a lot of testing.
Brian: I certainly wouldn't fly something like that in the city, but I mean, I have to say there are other companies that are making amazing drones that I haven't had the pleasure to test. I mean, outside of DJI, other other, there's a company called Autel robotic, which is making some pretty cool drones that I've read about. And I'm really interested in, in getting into thermal video as well. We'll talk about that. Oh yeah. It's really thermal and mapping and, and this is not something I've done, but I've been reading up on it and, and investigating it. Unfortunately, all the ones I have are really specific for photography, but I'd have to buy all like all different drones as far as I can tell. But it's, it's really interesting because emerging, like emergency services are using drones for like like in locations with fires to be able to see if there are people in the fire in buildings when there's a fire, or to see where the fire is coming from also for search and rescue, and this is using thermal thermal thermal video, as well as for inspection purposes, like to see, to see if if a building is tight in terms of, in terms of installation.
Brian: So there's, there's all kinds of interesting things that are being used as well as solar inspection, thermal thermal video, thermal video equipped drones are being used for, which is something I'm really interested in as well to get into. But you
Eric: Know, solar panels on my roof,
Brian: I know I can take yours, but I think they're primarily good for massive fields of, of solar panels. And they basically fly these drones over them. And, and they're able to tell like what panels have, what issues. And usually these, these cameras on these drones have a thermal camera and a regular video camera that are both wearing at the same time. So you have a reference, and I'm certainly not the professional that can explain that much about this, but it's a really interesting field. And certainly has,
Eric: I am kind of a, been doing a deep dive with a friend of mine. Who's an engineer. So he has that kind of brain into LIDAR mapping. And that's really neat stuff. And I probably don't know if you've told me this, but there, there are old wagon wheel trails around my house, upstate that we found with the LIDAR mapping. Did I show you those?
Brian: You, you mentioned it, but how did you get a LIDAR image from the ground
Eric: They do with well, but my question, they do it from airplanes and the, the, the state of Connecticut, Matt, I don't know if it's the federal or state agency did publish as a LIDAR map that you can look at online has the whole viewer, but I'm wondering if, what the drone, you could do, small scale, you know, a hun you know, a hundred acres or 10 acres LIDAR map that would be like super duper high resolution, you know, to the point that you could find, well, you can see stonewalls in the S the state line road map, but, you know, if you were looking for a particular outcropping, I just was curious if you had had any experience with that.
Brian: Yeah, I I'm, I'm pretty sure it, you know, there's some drones that you can put different cameras on, and there are definitely, they're definitely cameras that are LIDAR equipped that you can attach to these drones. I don't know that much about that. I, I have, I have, I had the, the experience of being in a German military airplane over over in the Arctic that was doing a LIDAR mapping mission of the permafrost. And, and basically it was shooting a scene for this documentary. And and it was really interesting watching. And then, and then I actually did an interview asking them in English and they would respond to me in German, which I don't understand. But they, they were able to fly from pretty high up and using their, their LIDAR penetrate in the permafrost. And they were, and they were creating a map, which they were then they could, they could somehow tell the state of the permafrost and then doing this over and over, they'd be able to see the changes of the permafrost, because there's huge concerns that permafrost that has remained frozen for hundreds of thousands of years is, is melting significantly. And this is one way to study this
Eric: For the climate crisis.
Brian: It was really neat.
Eric: It's a fascinating, but it's, it's, it's basically because we keep putting warm stuff in the air. No, but that is neat. I I, you know, if anyone else has experienced with LIDAR, I'd love to hear from you it's firstname.lastname@example.org, just it's very cool. So, all right, so we should wrap up here. I've got Brian and I are going to stick around for a little after show chat about our personal feelings. And but if you want to find Brian, I'll put his contact info in the show notes here. Your website is fig PI media, correct? Yes. So like figs, like the fruit fig pie and pie like you eat, and then media fig PI media.com. You can find Brian there, some great videos and photos of the work he's done there. It's pretty cool. So, all right. Go out. Make, do I just ma I just screwed up the end of the show. Anyway. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week. Thank you. GardenFork radio is produced by GardenFork media, LLC in Brooklyn, New York. Our producer is Sean O'Neil. He is an amazing podcast producer. Our executive producer is Jimmy Goots. For more information on Jimmy and the custom hollow books he makes visit hollowbooks.com. The music in the show is licensed from audio blocks.com and unique tracks.com.