What initially started as a hobby has enhanced and improved the way I do business in the landscape and watershape industry tenfold with a technological advance called a drone aka UAV. The general non-educated consensus of drones is that they are an expensive adult toy and some even see them as a nuisance for their uneducated reasons but the reality is the use of drones on a design-build construction project is virtually endless.

I have always been a huge fan of the camera and how it can be used in the work environment going back to pre-social media and or smart phones. When I started my landscape design company in 2001, I had a portfolio of non-digital project pictures which I heavily relied on to help close deals. Soon the photographic capabilities advanced to digital photos. The result was the larger the portfolio grew the easier the sales got. There was no mystery behind it, people simply like to see what you have built from as many angles as possible before committing to a contractual agreement. Fast forward to 2015 when my first of several drones came into my life. In the last two years of becoming a drone enthusiast I have implemented a sequence of aerial photography and videography uses starting with site surveying:


One of the single most challenging task an architect or designer has in the inception of a design is to do a thorough site survey. Topographical conditions, existing infrastructure, utilities, storm water management amongst many other existing property challenges all have huge impacts on a projects design intent.

My typical aerial site survey starts off with canvasing the property from a lower altitude to gather details of the immediate terrain. As I make several grid structured passes over the property I gain altitude until I eventually end up with a top down view taking an average of one hundred photos plus. My experience is you can never take enough aerial photos from all angles. The initial site survey is what I use to develop a design-build proposal.

I have found that all and I repeat all potential clients are intrigued with the use of a drone in this stage as it clearly shows you’re on the cutting edge of your profession which helps in the sale.


In addition to having the fundamental information such as structural quantities, material quantities, area quantities, volume, etc., a large percentage of factoring project cost comes from information that is not always clear such as access, terrain hindrances and workflow obstructions. Aerial images offer a detailed overview of a property which significantly help analyze and cost evaluate for these factors. The result of this aerial information results in developing a much more accurate proposal which significantly decreases the odds of underestimating along with mitigating loss of profit.

A large number of our renovation projects we build have heavy demolition involved which can become extremely complex to estimate. Since implementing drone technology into my estimating system I have alleviated the issue of lack of information. For those of you that choose to subcontract verse perform the demo phase of work in-house, emailing aerial photos to your subcontractors helps streamline their ability to turnaround accurate estimates in a timely manner.



The single most game changing technology I have implemented in my design-build process beyond drones is the use of 3D software. Most high-end architects and designers use some version of a CAD based 3D rendering software to bring a 2D vision to life along with enhancing our client’s investment experience.

Clearly this is a very important factor in our line of work. What I understood very quickly using Structure Studios VIP3D was the more accurate you could input a structure and its surroundings the easier the project was to present, close and build. Not only was it easier to present, close and build, it was easier to sell your next project because all the design details that people gravitate toward were in place. I have sold numerous projects by simply showing previous designs and how detailed the 3D renderings were.

Utilizing an aerial photography for a house structure survey allows you to get close to the second story to pick up how roof structures come together, chimney locations, second story balcony structures tie-in, etc. Why is this important? I can’t tell you how many times I see other designer’s 3D renderings along with a photo of the actual house and the structure is completely off and misrepresents an accurate or scaled model of the house. This is not how you set yourself apart nor stay in a high-end market.


Part of my design process is performing a cognitive analysis at the site and allowing my architectural mind to flow with different ideas. With that said, there is only so much time in the work day to stay onsite in order for the visual brainstorming to take place. With the use of aerial photos, I am able to achieve this design method while being remote or in my office. I embrace the use of two computer monitors when I am analyzing and designing projects, one has Structure Studios VIP3D running and the other is loaded with aerial and ground photos of the project site. This allows for a systematic back and forth work flow.

The use of aerial photos in the design process truly makes for a much more detailed and precise rendering along with and much more efficient workflow.


Inclusive in any landscape/watershape project is a network of electrical conduit, drainage, pool plumbing, gas lines, irrigation mainlines and audio/video conduits. The industry standard as far as I am concerned and the proverbial old-school way of keeping track of these underground utilities is to physically or digitally redline a hardcopy or dwg file as an as-built.

As I got more comfortable with piloting a drone in tight situations I realized taking video of these utilities was a much more detailed and efficient way of tracking the underground systems. I have made it project protocol to record aerial footage of all critical underground installations on weekly basis. This footage is filed and forwarded to all pertaining subcontractors and clients for their files as well.

You will find that when there is an unfortunate circumstance such as a leak, compaction failure or any other workmanship related issues, looking back at your as-built aerial footage will help isolate the possibilities what has caused the problem thus mitigating your efforts to resolve and fix the problem.




I am sure you have noticed just about every commercial, movie, documentary, sports events, etc. that you see on media outlets all have aerial footage. This is because aerial photography and videography sells and offers an awesome perspective. The same is true in the landscape and watershape industry. In general, people love to see an aerial perspective no matter what it consists of.

Architects, designer and contractors all live off project portfolios that are driven off the art of taking the right photo at the right angle in the right light with the right color grading. Since incorporating aerial photography and videography into my marketing strategies, I have seen our sale increase by 30-40% while closing larger more profitable projects.

I am a huge fan of using social media avenues such as Instagram to promote and market our design and construction work almost daily. One of the most useful options Instagram, Facebook or other social medial platforms offer their users is the ability to track what followers like or engage in aka insights. Guess what our followers like the most? That would be the aerial photos and aerial videography. I have been tracking this for two years and there is no question that this is the case.

In the spirit of advancing your company’s social media presence and marketing value I highly recommend incorporating the use of aerial photography and videography into your marketing strategies.




Just as any other electronic technology, there a vast number of drones and drone cameras on the market. Through my personal experience and research, the most well rounded and user friendly drones available are produced by DJI. DJI has developed drones from entry level up to a very high end professional level drone/camera set up.

DJI has incorporated a series of obstacle avoidance technology which makes piloting significantly less complicated. This is very important simply because not everyone is able to walk (fly) and chew gum (take a picture) at the same time. The technology DJI has incorporated has really made drones less complicated and has expanded the user base.

Without getting into too many of the techy details, the following are some suggested uses:john-kay-land-engeneering-inc-tributary-revelation-18
Great entry level drone with a price point of $800 plus accessories.
– Shoots 12.4 mega pixel stills
– Shoots 4k@30fps video
– 23 minute flight time
– 20mm lense
Best all-around bang for your buck with a price point of $1,500 plus accessories.
– Shoots 20 mega pixel stills
– Shoots 4k@60fps video
– 23 minute flight time
– 20mm lense
For all of you frequent travelers that want tons of tech in a compacted version with a price point of $1000 plus accessories.
– Shoots 12 mega pixel stills
This beast is strictly for professional level use with a price point of $7,000 plus, more like $10-
11,000 with the necessary options.
– Shoots 20.8 mega pixel stills w/ 4/3 micro sensor
– Shoots 5.2k@30fps videojohn-kay-land-engeneering-inc-tributary-revelation-21
– Shoots 4k@60fps video
– Coding options RAW Cinema DNG, Apple Prores, H.264, H.265
– 20mm lense

The reality is you don’t have to spend thousands on a drone/camera setup to really reap the benefits of their uses in the design and construction market. Start simple and expand from there!One final note, please visit the FAA’s link FAA.gov to educate yourself on the drone laws that are federal law. This is beyond important and helps maintain a safe environment for users and the public places that you will be flying over.

Feel free to email me at jkay@landengineercorp.com with any questionsjohn-kay-land-engeneering-inc-tributary-revelation-22
Thank You,
John Kay
Land Engeneering Inc.