The Role of Aerial Photography in Music Education

The Role of Aerial Photography in Music Education

ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography

Jack Faris

Image Credit: APIS 2016, J.S. Aber


There are many uses for small format aerial photography (SFAP), from agriculture to zoology. Of these many uses, education has become a prominent function of SFAP, and as such, has been used in high schools and universities throughout the world. Originally, unmanned SFAP consisted of two methods: kitea aerial photography (KAP) and helium blimp aerialpPhotography (BAP). In recent years, however, the untethered drone has become a popular method of taking aerial photos.

Marching bands have been a popular part of football for a long time, and have since grown into a popular competition of their own, as well as evolving into drum corps, which dispenses with woodwind instruments, focusing only on powerful Brass and Percussion sounds. These competitions are challenging for those involved, and the smallest mistake can be the difference between a one rating, which is the highest, and a two or three, all the way to five if the mistakes are bad enough.

SFAP and the Marching Band

Enter SFAP, which may be used effectively in music education in the form of assisting a marching band create drill patterns on a field more efficiently. This particular idea is being developed in institutions across the country, including Emporia State University.

The above photo shows the intended position of the players in the Emporia State Marching Hornets marching band (LEFT) and an aerial photo of the actual result by Josua Finch depicting the end formation on the field (RIGHT) The chart on the left is easy to read from the field and helps fix mistakes, as each player is assigned a number, and that number has a dot that corresponds to a spot on the field. Unfortunately, the Pyware software system that is used to make these charts is not always accurate to the actual points on the ground. This is where SFAP comes in. The image on the right that was captured by Mr. Finch's DJI Phantom II shows how the image is actually applied to the field by the members of the band.

Mr. Finch was flying a DJI Phantom II drone with the standard Phantom camera setup to take these high-oblique photos. This system allows him to see what the drone sees, through an iPhone monitor on the remote, as well as keeping the legal line of sight. The drone in question never flew directly over anyone, as is the law, and conformed to all the FAA regulations for a hobby drone, which it was at the time, as the pilot was not getting paid, and the imagery taken was not actually ever used in the classroom setting. The drone also belonged to a neighbor, as Mr. Finch's drone did not have a camera on it. Mr. Finch is also being considered for an Apple Distinguished Educator award for technology in the classroom for this idea.

DJI Phantom II drone similar to the one Mr. Finch used to record the Marching Hornets. Mr. Finch intends to spread this idea further, and possibly get funding to expand the project in such a way that it can be used in an actual classroom setting. Image Credit: J.S. Aber

Other Examples of Drone Aerial Photography in the Marching Field

Other educators have also been working on this idea at the same time, in a high school marching band setting. One such example is that of a Mr. Ferguson in Alabama. His crowd-funded program teaches high school students how to construct and fly drones over the field in a similar manner to Mr. Finch's method, as well as an iPad display. That way the corrections can be made immediately on the field, rather than in a way that the students would have to all return to the classroom to watch the footage and then return to the field the next day, having possibly forgotten the changes to the drill that needed to be made.

Mr. Ferguson's Crowd Funding Site

An example of wherein SFAP would have been of use to a marching band to prevent large mistakes is that of the 2015 Kansas State halftime show during the football game against the University of Kansas. Shown are the side by side images of the original Pyware drill chart, wherein the USS Enterprise of Star Trek is clearly legible, and the actual end result, which many fans misconstrued as a large set of genitalia. The following articles contain the story as covered by two news outlets, including pictures of the original drill charts, which show the intended position of players on the field; and the actual outcome of where the players stood in the halftime show.

Original K State Marching Band Drill chart vs. Article and Video of the actual form on the field


Danner, Chas. "Kansas State University Marching Band Accidentally Performs Sex Scene." Daily Intelligencer. September 06, 2015. Accessed December 05, 2016.

"Drone Aerial photos of the Marching Hornets" Josua Finch, 2016.

"Emporia State Marching Hornets Veterans' Day Salute." William Woodworth IV ESMH Facebook

"K-State Marching Band Formation Causes Social Media Stir." KSN-TV. September 08, 2015. Accessed December 05, 2016.