The Rise of the Wedding Drone

Drones can take photos, even stand in as the ring bearer. But are they legal?
Thousands of couples take part in a mass wedding ceremony in Seoul, 2002. (Reuters)

When most people hear the word “drone,” they probably think of killing machines that patrol war zones.

Now a new kind of commercial drone phenomenon has taken off in the United States. People now use small quad copter drones to even shoot photos and videos for their weddings.

What seems like a stranger than fiction phenomenon is actually a new craze across the country. A congressman last month used a drone to record his own wedding and now is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the government agency that regulates the nation’s airspace, because the agency still has an explicit ban on drone flights for commercial purposes. New York representative Sean Patrick Maloney reportedly hired a local videography company to operate the drone to get aerial shots of his big day in New York’s picturesque Hudson Valley. Ironically, Maloney sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, which oversees the FAA.

After a flood of complaints in recent months from groups in favor of using drones for commercial purposes, the FAA this month reiterated its position that operating drones to film property or an event is illegal if the purpose is commercial. In Maloney’s case, and likely in those of many other wedding drone videographers, the purpose was commercial because the videographer was paid for the wedding video. Maloney could be charged with breaking the law, though that is unlikely given that the FAA has little power to enforce the policy.

An Iowa wedding photography company, Picture Perfect Portrait and Design, last week added aerial drone photography to its services to brides and grooms. It charges $400 for a 30-minute drone shoot.

“There are endless possibilities for camera angles that no other photographer can get,” owner Dale Stierman told the Huffington Post.

The FAA is set to re-evaluate its rules on commercial drone flights in September 2015, although reports last month suggested that the agency would miss this deadline. In any case, it appears the market for wedding drone videos is here to stay.

But that has not stopped others from exploiting the FAA’s legal gray area and doing the same thing. Shooting wedding photos and video using a drone has to date been very expensive, but new companies are jumping in to try to broaden the market.

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Daniel A. Medina is a general assignment reporter at Quartz.

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