When the nearly 200 attendees at the Du Quoin Farm To Table Dinner gathered to enjoy the freshly-prepared food served in a cordoned-off downtown area of the Perry County community, Les Brower was getting a unique perspective of the event.
Watching from a 9-inch screen, Brower could see everything clearly from nearly 400 feet overhead. Brower, the owner of Herrin-based SI Drones was capturing the event in aerial photographs and high-resolution video. His images and footage are as one-of-a-kind as the annual event.
“I did several takeoffs and landings as well as flyovers, high enough and far away not be annoy people. It really turned out great,” Brower, 65, said.
For Brower, the foray into drone photography grew out of a hobby he took up after retiring from manufacturing.
“I was interested in drones just to fly them at first,” Brower said, “and then I discovered the photography aspect of it. It gives you a perspective that otherwise you could only get from a helicopter.”
Brower took several courses at Rend Lake College to learn about drones and how to fly them safely, becoming an FAA-certified drone pilot. He was a “hobbyist” drone pilot for nearly five years before launching SI Drones.
“I love the feeling of flying a drone,” he said. “Looking in the monitor which I have on my controller and being 400 feet up in the air flying over a nice landscape and look at it from that perspective, well, there’s nothing like it.”
Since purchasing his latest drone, a DJI Phantom 3, Brower has photographed a number of landscapes and special events including the Du Quoin dinner and a recent color run in Marion. He says drone photography can give a very special perspective on functions ranging from sporting events to birthday parties and family reunions to weddings.
“For just a couple hundred bucks, a couple can get view of a wedding reception or venue that you’d never get any other way,” he said, adding that he is careful not to allow the noise of his drone interfere with the wedding ceremony.
Additionally, he says that FAA regulations prevent him from flying a drone directly above guests.
The drone features a GPS system which allows for steady photography and is paired with a super high-resolution 4K camera.
“It’s amazing how clear this video is,” Brower said. "When you get up to 300 or 400 feet and turn the camera on, it’s amazing.”
He says that safety is a primary concern, so he keeps an eye on weather — especially winds — and always flies with a spotter.
“Sometimes it is hard to see certain things, so it’s good to have two sets of eyes to look out for telephone wires, cell phone towers and different things,” he says.
For Brower, becoming a drone pilot and drone photographer has been involved learning a variety of technologies.
“I’d say that’s been the most challenging thing: the technological learning, the software and all of that which drones entail,” he said. “There’s a lot of technology involved in flying a drone and the photography adds more.”
He says he’s spent time when not flying learning various photo and video editing programs as well as exploring ways to download and share the large video files he produces.
“Every time I learn something new, I feel good about it,” he said.
Brower says his goal with the business is not necessarily to make a large amount of money.
“Sure, it’s a business, but it’s my hobby, too,” he said. “I love to do it and I just want to make enough money to cover expenses or have a little passive income. Mostly, I just love the fun of doing it.”
For more on SI Drones, call 618-694-3473 or visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SIDrones618.