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Jeffrey Byrnes Photographer Fashion + Portraits + Travel

Drones: No Fly Zones

This past Friday I was held hostage by two federal employees while I awaited the police to arrive for legally flying a drone to photograph the property I was hired to capture. This was my first real issue while flying and making photographs for a client. In the past year I have never had a single negative interaction while flying. Often times people think its cool and are fascinated. I am usually flooded with questions. Cops, cops love seeing it fly and always have something comical to say about them or just want to observe it in action. Unfortunately there are people who make it increasingly harder to fly without negative reactions. 

My client hired me to photograph the exterior of nearly a dozen properties they own spread out through parts of the Boston area. Part of the job required several properties in the Portrland area of Maine. While some of the properties could benefit from aerial photographs, not all of them would. On Friday I arrived at the 3rd property around 1:30 and discovered that the building was atop a small incline. Not quite a hill, a far cry from a mountain, but an incline of a couple feet from the road. Perfect. I could put the drone up for a few seconds and capture a few shots at the same level or a few feet from above. 

I parked my car off the property next to a vacant building just blow the sloped driveway. I powered up, took flight and flew for no more than 5 minutes. I placed the drone back in the car. Moments later a white trucked pulled up and I was greeted with, "what are you doing?" Instead of walking down the man was driven down to speak with me. His tone was of annoyance and general attitude. I turned and responded with, "Photographing the exterior of the building on behalf of my client who owns it." He asked for a business card. "Right here I said," as I pointed down to the driver side passenger door. I have a set of black magnets that match my black car on the side. My business name and phone number as well as website are written in vinyl. After another half dozen questions of who, why, where are they from, they drove back up the bunny hill of a driveway and parked the truck. I followed and parked my car off to the side.

I grabbed my camera, exited, and walked the length of the building and made a few photographs. I turned and began walking back to my car. The same gent who initially questioned me was now with a portly, shorter gent who did not look happy. He turned and walked right up to me with an abrasive demand, "I want to see some business id or you are not leaving here." I said "no." I kept walking towards my car. By this point I became uncomfortable. An agitate federal employee and his underling were surrounding me with questions. I had explained more than once who the client was, who hired me, where they were from. Mr. Portly demanded to see the emails. Again I said, " no, those are confidential." He was not happy. Between his demands and his agitation he threatened to take my personal possessions. "We will confiscate your stuff." "No you will not, I replied firmly. Now I was pissed. 

It was one thing to question me, it was another thing to threaten to steal my equipment. Throughly upset I was now in a position to be more defensive. Mr. Portly was not thinking clearly. I had explained by this point, and to his underling, who had hired me and where they were from. It took me a few minutes to find a phone number in the emails. I happily provided them with the number. Had Mr. Portly bothered to call the immediate property manager, the situation would not have gotten worse, and did it get worse. Mr. Portly grew more agitated that he couldn't into my emails, was told no to ceasing my equipment, and was upset that he was not informed that this was supposed to happen. I explained that I was hired to be there and everyone was to be notified. I tried to explain that it was out of my control if he was not notified and that was not something I was supposed to do. Mr. Portly then proceeded to boss his underling around, "take a picture of his car, take his license plate number, don't let him leave." Mr. Portly was getting nowhere with his demands and frustrations. "I WILL call the cops, you are trespassing." "Go ahead, call the cops, I already told you I was hired to be here." Mr. Portly's underling stood close by and watched as I stood against my car. 

It must have been the 4th time he asked me, "well who hired you?" "I already told you, you can call them too." Within a few minutes my client called me back and asked, "are you being held hostage?" "Why yes I am," I said. They told me they were going to call Mr. Portly and get it taken care of. We hung up. Two minutes later a police officer arrived. I explained to him why I was there, willfully offered to show the emails and the list of properties I had in town as well as around the area. Satisfied with what I showed him he strode up to Mr. Portly and told him what he had seen. Sarcastically I overheard Mr. Portly say, "I asked him to see those." 

After a few moments of speaking, the officer came back up to me and told me, "they do not own the property and are renters. Since they are renters and can control who comes on the property, they do not want you here." "That is fine. I was asked to be here and I understand they do not want me here and I will leave." "Alright, you are free to go." I turned around, swung open the door, got in, and backed out. The officer followed me out on to the main road and watched me disappear. 

My client called me back and asked if I was still being held hostage. I had been let go by the police and explained how the rest of the situation had gone down. On their end they received a bit of backlash. While Mr. Portly was operating within his rights to inquire why someone was on the premise and their motives, he took a simple thing and erupted it into a much unneeded situation. My client was very apologetic. Mr. Portly and his underling are federal employees and did a great job of upsetting people over a very small and well explained matter. As I keep saying and keep thinking, if he had called the immediate property manager, they would have clearly explained why I was there. Had that happened, two federal employees would not have held me hostage and threatened to steal my property. 

When you are out in the field, keep phone the contact information of the people who hired you on hand. If you have some form of contract, keep they available as well. It is very crucial that you know where to fly and where not to fly. Always exercise common sense when flying and do so safely. I regard myself as a professional and hold myself to a very high standard. I am a people person and can navigate my way through a myriad of social  situations with ease, however there are times when people's behavior can throw you off. Mr. Portly is an example of hostility that did that was unneeded and was better diffused with the assistance of an authority figure. I will not name the location or the federal agency that Mr. Portly works for, but what I will say is this, do your job to the best of your abilities without reservations, exercising the right amount of caution, and treat people with respect, you will be rewarded for your honesty.