Nicole Abbett is a Tampa based photographer, videographer, artist and drone operator. She is a graduate of the University of South Florida where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in photography. She honed her skills as an artist and photographer before starting her own commercial photography business. A few years ago, Nicole picked up a drone and launched a new career as a droneographer. After getting her Part 107 Certification, she quickly established herself as a leading aerial videographer in the Tampa Bay area, eventually landing high profile jobs and becoming the first woman to fly for the National Hockey League. She credits her success to hard work, refining her skills and nurturing strong relationships that have garnered her high profile jobs, referrals and repeat business. In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Nicole talks about her path from artist/photographer to droneographer. She talks about how building strong relationships has landed her some great opportunities and what she’s done to build a successful commercial drone based business.


In This Episode
  • Introduction. Nicole Abbett is a videographer, artist and drone operator from Tampa, Florida. She has run a photography business for six years and about four years ago she integrated drones into the mix.
  • Shooting for the NHL. In January 2018, Nicole was contracted by the National Hockey League through the Tampa Bay Lightning to take drone video for the 2018 All Star Game in Tampa. This successful engagement led to a second engagement with the NHL in March to acquire footage of the outdoor NHL hockey game in Annapolis, Maryland in March.
    • Time. For both shoots, Nicole only have 2-3 weeks to create the plan and obtain all waivers and permissions.
    • Stadium Approval. Owners of the arenas in Tamp and Annapolis provided approval for the flights.
    • Flying Over People. Nicole had to come up with a plan to ensure the drones would not fly over fans attending the games. She created “no pedestrian” zones atop of parking garages and the water. This allowed her to fly the drones safely.
    • Insurance. A New York based company provided insurance for the events, since they were scheduled at an arena.
    • Weather. In both cases, weather threatened the shots. In Tampa, the weather was dreary but didn’t affect the shot. That was not the case in Annapolis, where a Nor’easter was barreling down. For a while, it looked as if there would be no shoot.
    • The Shoot. The Tampa shoot went very smoothly.  In Annapolis, on the morning of the game, the winds died down and the weather cleared. Nicole was able to obtain all of the planned shots, including documenting the pre-game area, the crowds, closer shots, sunset shots, fireworks shots and shots when the lights went out in the third period.
    • The Experience. For Nicole, the experience of flying a drone for the NHL was beyond her wildest dreams.
  • Ft. Myers Airport. Also in January, Nicole was contracted to do a shoot at the Ft. Myers Airport. The airport was constructing a new tower, and the owners wanted views of what it was going to look like from the cab level. She was to fly up to 223 feet and do a 360 degree pan video. The shot was pretty simple, but what made it complicated was getting all of the approvals. What made it special was Nicole was the first woman to fly an active airport (at least that we know).
  • The Business. Nicole’s business has grown every year. When a customer contacts her, she goes through the process of educating them as well as showing them her work. She tells them that whether they’re going to hire her or not, they need to make sure that the person is certified, insured and they will follow all of the F.A.A. rules. Nicole’s other work ranges from everything from construction for to shooting short clips and documentaries
  • Setting a Price and Value For Work. Nicole advises droneographers to never compromise quality or value. Droneographers should maintain their reputation and they have to accurately value what they deliver. It’s not just about the job.  it’s about forging relationships. The photography or videography part is only half of the equation. Customer service, editing, delivering the product on time and being nice are all factors that affect the value of the service.
  • Relationship Building. Nicole talks about forging relationships as one of her strongest traits. The work with the NHL, the Ft. Myers Airport, the City of Tampa all evolved out of relationships that were nurtured by Nicole.
  • Advice To Others. If you already know photography, you’re one step ahead of the game. If not, then learning photography is critical and practicing with a drone is essential. Even though the hockey industry is a male dominated industry, she never felt intimidated by anyone connected with the shoot. Her advice to other women are to follow your dreams. It’s a lot of hard work, late nights and early mornings, but if it’s something you want to do go for it don’t be intimidated if you’re in a male dominated industry like most industries.
  • Love of Hockey. Nicole is a huge hockey fan. She attends nearly all of the 41 hockey games held each year in Tampa. Hockey is a very demanding sport. It takes a lot – on and off the ice – and it’s fast game.
  • Closing. Ever since Nicole started flying drones, she’s continually wondering what the ground looks like from above. She’s obsessed with the bird’s eye view and the oblique view. She can’t believe that she’s being paid to fly drones. She reminds us that it’s not just about taking the pictures or creating the videos. It’s about running the business and learning how to run it better each year.
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