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From Snowboarding Photographer to Commercial Drone Pilot

05Dec2023

An interview with Andrew Crozier

Andrew Crozier, a customer of Drone Pilot Academy, is a photographer and drone pilot. He has been operating his very successful business Insight Photography in the UK for the last 15 years and has been a full-time photographer for 22 years.

Prior to photography and drones, Andrew had a varied career. After finishing his degree in business studies, he moved to Orlando, Florida to work at EPCOT Walt Disney World. Whilst there, he met a Canadian girl and ‘the rest is history’ as they say! Andrew moved up to Canada to begin a new life. At first, he ran hotels and restaurants before retraining to become a High School Teacher. 

In this interview, we talk to Andrew about his path to becoming a photographer, and how the introduction of drones has benefitted his business. 

How did you become a photographer? 

I’d become interested in photography during my time down in the States as I had always dreamed about turning my passion into a career. It was only when a divorce took me across the country to Whistler, British Columbia that I was able to make that dream a reality. I secured a job as a photographer working within the ski resort of Whistler Blackcomb, chasing Japanese tourists around the mountain with a camera while snowboarding. What’s not to like about that!

After two seasons of mountain life, I moved to Montreal, Quebec where I continued my photographic career, this time as a wedding photographer during the industry’s transition from film to digital.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself back in the UK, starting Insight Photography from scratch.

Why did you start using drones?

Drones came into my business about seven years ago – pretty much by accident. As a wedding photographer, I had noticed that videographers who had drones on their tables at wedding exhibitions were having way more conversations with men than I was.

Typically, men are not particularly bothered about going to wedding fayres so the interest that drones were drumming up made me think! 

After mulling it over, I bought a second-hand DJI Phantom 3 Pro and proved my theory correct – I started to have way more chats with potential grooms, so I thought ‘I better learn how to fly the thing’!

After researching the training academies available to get the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) qualification, I came across Drone Pilot Academy and I was sold on the residential nature, the inclusion of practical flying tuition and the assistance with the Ops Manual – exactly what I needed.

How have drones benefitted your business?

Gaining the PfCO opened a load of new opportunities for me and it wasn’t long before the drone was being used in commercial work – particularly in civils and construction.

The rabbit hole that opened up allowed me to push my business in a bunch of different directions and diversification became a key strategy for growth but also for security when the dreaded pandemic hit.

COVID Pivot

When the global pandemic hit in 2020, my business was operating across four areas – weddings, commercial, portraits and events. As soon as the government locked the country down, we immediately lost the ability to operate in three out of those four areas and my only opportunity was to try and develop the commercial side of the business.

I was already about nine months into a new five year business plan with the end goal being to flip weddings and commercial around from a 70/30 split and turn that on its head. Having been involved in the wedding market for fifteen years, I was starting to tire of working every weekend but didn’t think an event like COVID-19 would be the catalyst for widespread change in my business!

Staff were put on furlough, and we locked up the studio – we didn’t know what would happen – would I lose the business?

As we had commercial premises, we were fortunate enough to be given a government grant pretty much straight away, so I immediately invested that money into new equipment including a new drone (Mavic 2), a 360 VR setup and a set of time-lapse cameras.

I knew that the construction industry would be the last to close and the first to re-open so I developed a short-term business plan around selling virtual tours which I was able to deploy in about three weeks.

It wasn’t long before I was back out on the road when most of my colleagues and peers could not work and the integration of 360 VR tours with the drone offering became totally central to my survival and ultimately thriving through a very difficult time.

Continued Growth post-pandemic.

The momentum we were able to gather during the pandemic did not stop when the world reopened. I brought the staff back to work, reopened the portrait studio and jumped straight back into a full wedding photography diary. The growth we had achieved in the commercial side of the business meant that we were working doubly hard to pre-pandemic days and this proved challenging at times – outsourcing and bringing in freelancers helped us through that period but it was pretty dicey with plenty of 18-hour days needed to be put in to get through the backlog that seemed to be eternally there.

Drones were becoming increasingly important for commercial work – I took DPA’s surveying course and collaborated with Jim’s team to facilitate some lucrative surveys local to me. I added drones to the fleet as I grew and as market opportunities presented themselves.

I started doing quite a bit of work in the office fit-out and interiors world, and that led me to buy the DJI Avata to focus on indoor flight – a great tool to add to my stable.

My wedding work was impacted by drone use too. Historically, you would find me hanging out of windows or perching on ladders to get a group shot of the whole wedding party. By the time the 2020s rocked around – venues did not want us doing these dangerous approaches so being able to send up a DJI Mini 4 pro to get those shots quickly and easily has been a game changer for us.

Working with Drone Pilot Academy

Right from the start, working with Jim and DPA has been great. Not only have DPA kept me legal every year (we use their Ops manual update service) but there have been so many other benefits!

During our early years of operating, I had lots of questions about procedures and seemed to be constantly anxious about the missions that came my way – Jim and his team helped me through all of these times with enthusiasm.

As my drone business grew, so did DPA’s and along with that – I joined Jim’s list of preferred pilots. Jim sent some cracking opportunities my way and my experience grew quickly as I broadened my horizons and the types of jobs I was doing.

As a photographer at heart, videography then became a new pursuit and over time – Jim introduced me to several of his clients to help them with their image-making and cinematography – including post-production.

All in all – my relationship with DPA has been great and I have been able to recommend them on several occasions.

The Future…

We continue to develop our service offerings here at Insight Photography and drones are central to the mixed bag of content we capture.

We love intertwining photography, videography, time-lapse VR and drones to give us the edge, and can’t wait to see how we might keep pushing that forward.

We’re excited to see what might happen in the industry over the next 5 years. The drones are so good now – it’s difficult to understand where the innovations and improvements may lead us. I for one would appreciate longer-lasting batteries – especially for FPV drones!

In conclusion, drones have become like all the other tools we have in our content toolbox – essential items that we would probably find difficult to replace now we have become reliant upon them.

After 7 years – we still get an enormous thrill out of flying and I am definitely excited about what the future holds.

A Word From Jim and DPA

We’re proud to have worked with Andy from the early days of his drone business. He’s a shining example of how to adapt and grow a business when faced with unprecedented challenges and evolve with technology to stay ahead of the competition. 

Andy is also acutely aware of the power of social media for promotion and has built an outstanding personal brand – we look forward to featuring him as a speaker at our next industry day!

Would you like to introduce drones into your business?

For information on how to introduce drones into your business please contact DPA to speak with a member of the team.

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