How to Be a Drone Videographer in the Hudson Valley

Photos by Dana Lewis Photography

Tyler Wilcha’s unexpected passion – and talent – for photography helps him craft immersive videos that capture experiences and showcase the beauty of the region.

Have you ever seen the Hudson Valley by drone?

Search #hudsonvalley or, better yet, #hvmag on Instagram, and you’ll come face-to-face with thousands of captivating scenes of the region. From snaps of the glorious Hudson River and cascading waterfalls to pics from the top of a Mohonk trail, the views to be seen in the Hudson Valley are nothing less than breathtaking. Yet when it comes to truly jaw-dropping panoramas, it’s hard to beat the captures from our local drone photographers.

Don’t believe us? Just watch one of Tyler Wilcha’s immersive drone videos. In them, Wilcha, otherwise known as @thatdroneguyty, pulls viewers into his world as he explores places as far as Belize and Thailand and as close to home as New York State. As he journeys from one setting to the next, he crafts a sense of place with his drone footage that at once helps to define a space and inspire others to experience those same wonders for themselves.

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So how did the born-and-raised Hudson Valleyite discover his passion? It’s a classic tale of heartbreak, self-discovery, and, above all, a passion that can only be channeled through skill, tech, and an unwavering curiosity to discover the world around him.

Step One: Take a preview

During his childhood in the Hudson Valley, Wilcha never thought much about videography. Yet he did dip his toes in the water while still in high school. After hopping from Poughkeepsie to Hyde Park for middle and high school, he remembers learning the basics of Photoshop, AutoCAD, and video-editing at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School. Although he didn’t wind up pursuing those skills during college at SUNY Oswego, he did use them to make home videos for his family.

“I remember making a video for my stepmom using home videos from when my brother was born, and another video to surprise my grandmother on a trip to Florida,” he recalls.

Step Two: Get a little jealous

Strange as it may sound, jealousy is what motivated him to try videography for the first time. Well, that and a desire to distract himself. The year was 2017, and a 25-year-old Wilcha had just gotten out of a six-year relationship. He knew he needed to take his mind off the situation, so he booked a spontaneous trip to Costa Rica to do some soul-searching. Yet he never expected his trip would bear the fruit it did.

Wilcha’ game-changing moment came when he met a local who recorded captivating surfing videos with a GoPro.

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“Jealous of his cool videos, I bought a GoPro the second I came back to the States,” he admits. “I wanted to make a travel video to show people who I am on Instagram (and maybe make my ex jealous of my newfound traveling lifestyle).”

With his GoPro and an abundance of determination in hand, he booked a trip to Belize to film the scenes for his very first video.

Step Three: Make your big-screen debut

OK, perhaps “big-screen” is pushing it. Even so, Wilcha’s first video brought him a wealth of praise from friends and family, who thought he found his calling. They loved his style, which focuses heavily on creative transitions and building a story with scenes that flow seamlessly into one another to keep viewers intrigued to the very end.

Their positive feedback was inspiring, and he knew he needed to keep his momentum going. He booked a trip to Mexico, and then to Thailand, and recorded jaw-dropping videos of both destinations.

“I became addicted to making content that everyone seemed to appreciate,” he says. “Friends and family suggested I quit my job. They said my talent is unmatched and that people would love to hire me.”

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He loved the support, but knew he still needed to continue working full-time in the Hudson Valley to help him fund his video equipment investments and travel. He planned out his next trip to the Galapagos, where he recorded a travel video that caught the eye of a couple who would change the trajectory of his hobby for good.

Step Four: Book that first gig

Wilcha never expected that Rosie and Trent, the amicable couple he met during his travels around Belize, would become his first clients. So when they reconnected to ask him if he would be willing to fly out to Texas to film their wedding, he was more than a little surprised. He hadn’t spoken to them in two years, but he was excited to hear that his Insta-portfolio had attracted their attention. 

Pushing his nerves aside for the moment, he said yes. After he said no first, that is. 

“I initially declined the Texas offer,” he reveals. “The travel videos I made for myself I was highly confident about because all I had to impress was, well, myself. The transition to making videos for others was nerve-wracking.”

He admitted as much to his friends, explaining that their wedding was too important to mess up and that he had no real experience. Rosie and Trent waved his concerns aside and told him that they just wanted him to document their wedding visually in his style. They had no expectations, but they wanted their friend to be there to record the significant moment in their lives. 

Wilcha was convinced, so he flew to Texas and crafted a video that he and the couple loved. When he finally gave it to them for review, he watched as they smiled, cried, laughed, and reflected. It was a beautiful moment for all, and one that he’ll never forget. 

“You just have to take the leap of faith and make the best of it,” he observes, adding that the Texas gig landed him another wedding job shortly thereafter. 

Step Five: Invest in the tech…then learn how to use it

Beyond conquering his fear of that first gig, Wilcha’s other hurdle came in the form of investing in the right tech. Due to the ever-improving nature of videography equipment, setting aside funds to purchase the latest devices can be quite the financial commitment.

“I don’t really have $2,000 for a real camera, $1,000 for a lens, $700 for a stabilizer, not to mention lighting, audio, a drone, real video-editing software, [and] a backpack to carry it all in,” he says. Even so, he knew he’d never be able to craft the videos he envisioned without at least some of those items.

Eventually, he bit the bullet and invested in the equipment that would help him record and edit quality videos for his expanding pool of clients. Nowadays, he relies upon a Sony A7r III, a GoPro Hero 8, a DJI Mavic 2 Pro, and Final Cut Pro with added extensions, just to name a few bits. Of course, just because he had the new devices didn’t mean he knew how to use them. As he learned at his next wedding, working with unfamiliar technology is no easy feat.

“Here I am at another wedding with equipment I bought three weeks prior and honestly had no clue how to work the camera,” he remembers. “I set everything to auto and captured footage on a $3,000 camera like I would a GoPro. Luckily, my skills with videography at the time were not on the frontend but on the backend, [where] I was a master editor.”

Using the skills he had, he supplemented his lack of experience with the camera with his ability to craft what he describes as “possibly my best work.” The proof is in the pudding, apparently, because that video landed four more wedding bookings, thereby establishing him as a real-deal wedding videographer in the Hudson Valley.

Step Six: Show off your skills

To put Wilcha’s side hustle in perspective, his journey from amateur to professional videographer took place over the span of three years. During that time, he’s maintained a full-time job that’s completely unrelated to his passion. While he’d love to one day pursue his love for videography as a career, he plans to continue to dedicate his weekends to event bookings for now.

And his weekends are certainly booked. After expressing his availability to friends, family, and social followers, he’s confirmed gigs for everything from weddings and music videos to a vigil and product filming. He took time to build out his website and cultivate his brand essence on social media, too.

Even with all that on his plate, he knew he needed something more to get his name out there. Tapping into his skills as a marketing major, he decided to craft what he envisioned would be his signature video to showcase his videography arsenal to the world. It would be dedicated to New York and the Hudson Valley, the region he’s called home for his whole life. In it, he planned to show the content he amassed during hiking, kayaking, and outdoor adventures in the region. He thought it would only take a month or two to create.

It took him one and a half years.

Along the way, he learned new techniques, captured incredible content, and pieced together his brand bit by bit. Just before posting, he created his YouTube channel and changed his Instagram to a business profile.

Then he hit “upload.”

Step Seven: Dream big for the future

To say that Wilcha’s “New York” video was a success would be an understatement. Over the course of one day, it garnered 10,000 views and 200 shares. One month later, it was up to 21,000 views. Thanks to that video, Wilcha is firmly on the map as a New York videographer and adventurer, someone who’s not afraid to explore under-the-radar destinations to get that one incredible shot.

Looking ahead, Wilcha is ready to continue his journey as a Hudson Valley videographer. Although he’s not sure how COVID-19 will impact his upcoming gigs, he currently has five weddings booked, along with an engagement video and two music videos with local artists. In his spare time, he also crafts QR code coasters with attached bottle openers that connect to WiFi. He calls them “the ultimate social coaster,” and uses his time creating them as a stress reliever during busy days.

While Wilcha is excited by the potential the future holds, he continues to remember his roots in the Hudson Valley. For Christmas this past year, he made a video of Greece for his mother before revealing that he booked a trip there for the two of them.

“I plan to make the most epic mom/son travel video for her to have for the rest of her life,” he says.

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