ENFIELD — Steady hands, educated risks and hard work were a few of the characteristics Brittany Schones brought to her time with the Lebanon High field hockey and ice hockey teams. Her Raiders produced a perfect regular season in the former sport and twice reached the NHIAA title game in the latter.
These days, however, instead of guiding a ball or puck at ground level, the 2012 graduate instead controls expensive machinery in the air. Schones started her own drone photography business 18 months ago, shooting landscapes, homes, events and games.
“I had a decent job, but it took a leap of faith to start a business,” Schones said. “It seems about every waking moment is thinking about my business. I don’t work out anymore because when I was, I was always thinking that I could be flying or sending out inquiries.”
Schones, 26, grew up in Grantham with sports as her passion and earned All-New England field hockey honors as a high school junior. She said that she and her parents, however, didn’t understand that in northern New England, the onus is on the player and their family to seek out college recruitment.
Schones, the 2011 field hockey co-player of the year in NHIAA Division II as a senior, took a postgraduate year at Northfield Mount Hermon in northwest Massachusetts, but no college offers were forthcoming. She then caught mononucleosis the summer before entering the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, which prevented her from attempting to walk on to the Nor’Easters.
Back home after a semester, Schones entered an apprenticeship with a kitchen and bath designer.
“I felt I was wasting time and money at college,” she. “I didn’t know myself all that well, so I did some soul searching and decided my path was on something more creative.
“I’ve always been fascinated by photography and people who have an eye for a beautiful shot. How you view things, that’s always been the back of my mind.”
To handle different tasks, Schones bought three photo drones, which come in different sizes and with different features. The larger ones are more stable in flight, negating worries about being blown off-course by wind. Smaller ones are more portable and tend to make less noise. A recreational drone can start around $200, and they progress to as high as $10,000 models that may feature night vision or thermal imaging cameras.
Schones’ main drone cost about $1,200, and she spent a combined $1,300 on the other two. She learned by trial and error and saved money so she could support herself for three months while giving aerial photography her full attention.
“Leaving a steady paycheck was hard, but it became apparent and reassuring that, yes, this was something I wanted to do,” Schones said. “Not everybody has a drone, but even those who do might not be able to shoot smooth video and produce the (still) photos that I can take.”
Recreational drone users must register their craft with the Federal Aviation Administration if it weighs more than 0.55 pounds. Such operators must keep their drones five miles from any airports, not fly above 400 feet and have the device in sight at all times.
Commercial drone flyers need to have their craft certified as airworthy, obtain a remote pilot certificate and follow all federal, state and local laws involving recording capabilities and distances from schools, banks, federal buildings and other edifices. Prep courses for certification tend to cost somewhere around $150. Schones took one at the Manchester airport and passed her exam there.
“The likelihood of failing the test without preparing for it is about 80 percent, so it was totally worth it,” she said.
Schones recently shot the Enfield Village Association’s Shaker 7 Road Race in the Mascoma Lake area. She’s worked with land inspection companies and offers Realtors a package deal, at a cost of roughly $200, that includes a one-minute video and 10-15 edited prints. She uses a specialized software program to edit footage and produce the final video product.
Eric Johnston, of Four Seasons Southeby’s International Realty in Hanover, is impressed with Schones’ early efforts and said that booking her is now automatic on any property with an attractive exterior.
He recalled how Schones flew a drone in one end of a barn and out the other at a Rochester, Vt., farm, and how she later delivered eye-catching shots after flying over the adjacent White River.
“Drone work enables the client to enjoy a bigger perspective than with stills alone,” Johnston said, noting that Schones has several times reshot footage to improve its look. “People can quickly see all the aspects of a property, even if it’s up on a knoll, where you’d otherwise have a tough time getting a straight-on photograph. It’s a wonderful tool, and Brittany’s talented with her flying.”
Continuing to build a client base and determining future price points for her services are future challenges for Schones. She networks with local business groups and associations such as the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, the Upper Valley Young Professionals and Lady Boss. She’s also an affiliate member of the Upper Valley’s Board of Realtors.
“I think I have a special skill, but what can I charge for it?” Schones said. “Figuring that out is still ongoing. It takes confidence to walk up to a stranger and start talking to them about yourself, but I developed a lot of that from sports and playing with so many different people.”