Cascade County Courthouse

When I first moved back to Montana, I reconnected with an old friend from high school. He’s a photographer, and he was working on documenting the Cascade County Courthouse roof restoration project for fun. He invited me to shoot it with him. If you happened to drive by the courthouse when the roof was going up, and saw two dudes staring up at their drones, that was probably us.

Steve's 3DR Solo photographing the new courthouse roof
Steve’s 3DR Solo

My first drone was a DJI Phantom 3 Standard. It was relatively inexpensive, which is important for your first drone. I drove way out into the Coast Range in Oregon, dropped in the fully charged battery, and fired it up.

Updates were required.

Normally, these updates are no more than a minor inconvenience. They just delay your take off time by a few minutes. But out there on top of that mountain with 1 bar of AT&T service, it took forever to download the update. As soon as I was ready to go, I took off. And ran into a tree.

These days, I fly a Mavic Pro, and I make sure I do my updates before I even leave the house. And I stopped running into trees. And even though I have a few more years of experience than I did on top of that mountain in Oregon, I still get nervous flying near anything of value. A building on the National Register of Historic Places counts as something that makes me nervous.

I started out shooting the roof from a distance, mostly to get a feel for what kind of interference I was going to encounter in that part of town. It was actually pretty minimal, so as time went on, I got closer and closer. Meanwhile, Steve was shooting close up drone portraits of the workers on the scaffolding (he had been flying the courthouse for a while at that point.)

Starting out at a distance…

At one point, I noticed a fuzzy dot on all my photos and video footage. It ended up being a speck of dust on the damn sensor. After a little back and forth with DJI support, I sent the Mavic back for repairs. DJI sent back a new (?) aircraft and controller. The controller had a wonky antenna, so I sent it back. Eventually, I got a new controller, and all was (mostly) good.

Side note: I say “mostly” in the previous paragraph because the “new” aircraft/controller combo had some connection issues. That made flying around the courthouse a little more challenging, but who doesn’t like a little challenge now and then?

We even flew inside the courthouse. I’m not sure why–I’m a big fan of using the best tool for the job, but it seemed like a cool opportunity, so we went for it. At that point, Steve had picked up an Inspire 2, so it was pretty cool to see it flying around inside the building.

Steve and his Inspire 2 flying the interior of the courthouse.

When the project was finished, there was a little event to show off Steve’s photography (it was his project–I was just shooting around for kicks.) The show really made it sink in how cool it was to be able to document the process. The old copper roof had been built in the early 1900s, and the idea is that this new copper will last for at least another 100 years. And we got to photograph it being installed.

You can see all the photos in the project gallery.

We even threw together a quick video:

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