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Eye In The Sky


Chang She-Yun

EVER since the debut of Google Earth – the free satellite photo software that has taken the world by storm – more and more home and business owners everywhere want to see their properties from a bird’s-eye view.

But because they are no longer satisfied in seeing what their roof looks like from outer space – as can be seen by the “straight-down shot” which is invariably the shortfall of Google Earth – discerning property owners around the world are now looking for ways to see (and photograph) their private or commercial properties from the sky.

Last year, Erik Fearn, a professional photographer in Malaysia, designed an aerial rig that allowed him to do just this kind of aerial photography as he was frustrated with being firmly based on the ground. For example, a few years back, a major property developer needed some progress shots of his project, but Erik simply couldn’t get a vantage point that would cover the whole project.

Now the obvious question that arises is, what was the need for a new method? Aerial photography has been around in Malaysia for years. But, it meant chartering a helicopter, sometimes months in advance and at a prohibitive cost. Then one had to get permission from the Mapping Department. Plus, the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) would not let helicopters fly very low over urban areas. Lastly, one still needed to hire a photographer. It used to and still is very, very expensive.

Erik Fearn, therefore, thought of making aerial photography accessible to the masses, through his company Skypix. He combined his engineering background with his experience in photography, and after a lot of trial and error, designed an aerial photography rig. So, how does the rig work? The rig is essentially a high resolution, high megapixel camera that is suspended from a helium balloon.


Erik and his assistant raise, lower and move the balloon into place via fine nylon cables attached to the ground. The wireless video transmitter on the rig allows them to see what the camera up in the sky is seeing, owing to a portable TV monitor stationed on the ground.

Erik further adds by saying “When I’m happy with the height and angle of the shot, I remotely trigger the camera. We commonly shoot from a height of, say, a 60-storey building. We are not confined by the same DCA ban on low-flying motorised aircraft the way helicopters are because we are not motorised. I’m both the operator and photographer, so clients save money there. I don’t use fuel and I don’t have to pay the Mapping Department anything, so again, I pass those savings onto my clients.”

In Malaysia, expensive aerial photography has been around forever. And if clients have a budget of RM6,000 to RM10,000 and need photos from a mile up, then chartering a helicopter and photographer is always an option. But getting high-quality aerial photos from a lower, more interesting, more intimate angle for just RM1,900 that’s new to Malaysia. Skypix has attracted clients ranging from property developers, resorts, and golf courses, to factories and upmarket home-owners essentially, anyone who wants a beautiful aerial view that includes everything on the property in one shot. Some use this service for annual reports, selling property, highlighting signature holes on golf courses, progress reports for developers, or as a sort of “the lay of the land” type overview for resort brochures, posters and websites. Skypix, has therefore been successful in establishing low cost aerial photography in Malaysia.