Sneaky fun with the most con­trol you’ll ever know on a golf course

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 12/ 14 -

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.”

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