Sneaky fun with the most control you’ll ever know on a golf course
Photographer Jamie Thom’s high-flying camera.
‘The multicopter allows me to get a TV tower perspective of golf courses.’
When Johannesburg photographer Jamie Thom leaves home to do a golf course shoot for Golf Digest, he takes with him a new “toy” he has acquired to make his job that much more fun and easier. It’s a metrewide, six-blade multicopter, which he sends up in the air at the touch of a control button, to take the aerial images you see in this magazine. Turn to page 58 for Thom’s images of the new Steyn City course in Gauteng.
“Ever since I began shooting courses for Golf Digest in 2005 I have been searching for something to give me the height to reveal all the features of a particular hole or course,” says Thom.
“The view you see on television from high towers and blimps is what I wanted to capture! An actual helicopter is a wonderful ‘tool’ but renting one comes with a hefty price tag and practical limitations like noise, minimum heights and advance bookings. That’s tricky when sitting around waiting for perfect weather conditions.
“I started using scaffolding and those three or four metres of extra elevation really helped. But it involved driving a bakkie around a course to transport the load. Four levels of scaffolding required a 30-minute assembly and dismantle period – way too long to make effective use of the good light during the golden hours.
“I then bought an aluminium ladder, with two legs or poles that extended outwards. It essentially became a tall tripod. I clamped a tripod head to the top. It was at least transportable on a golf cart, but only gave about 2.5 metres of elevation.”
Two years ago Thom heard about drones and the new military technology that was reaching the domestic market. He monitored the advances in technology and prices of products, “and as soon as they became affordable I invested in one. Quite a lot of money. The flying parts cost R25 000; the transmitter, batteries, other bits and pieces R15 000; and the camera R30 000. What I bought was not strictly a drone, but a remote-controlled multicopter, which is different to the ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ common in military use. The electronics are from DJI ( Wookong M), the frame by Vulcan, and the motors from Tiger.
“Most military applications use computer-controlled small winged aircraft to fly and perform tasks. Multicopters are more like helicopters in their flight but have three or more motors to propel them and are capable of carrying heavier loads because all the thrust is directed upwards. Depending on the type of electronic flight controller used, they do have the capability to be pro-
grammed and fly autonomously using GPS points, which is where the term drone gets confused.
“Multicopters have become popular among videographers and photographers as an affordable means of getting aerial views and videos. (They are also being used for technical applications like mapping and photogrammetry.) They are easier to fly than remote-controlled helicopters. Thanks to cutting edge technology in the form of accelerometers, gyros and other sensors, which monitor its state, they remain stable and level or respond to input from the pilot. They are fascinating to look at, and always draw attention. My craft has three arms with two counter-rotating, opposing motors on each, so there are 6 motors/blades. It’s called a Y6 setup.
“The whole rig can fly for around eight minutes before a voltage warning light begins to flash. After a second voltage warning it lands itself slowly. This is to protect the batteries, and for safety reasons. I set the camera to shoot every two seconds. I know the camera is working before take-off and that allows me to concentrate on flying.
“To achieve my desired quality of imagery, I needed a multicopter capable of carrying a heavy camera (at least a kilogram), which could handle gusts of wind and unpredictable conditions without exceeding its electronic and physical limits, and crashing. I use a six-motor machine with professional and reliable components which allows me to achieve my dream – of getting that ‘TV tower’ perspective to reveal all the beautiful shapes and designs of golf courses.”