Steve Dunlap’s mastery of drone photography is taking his career to new heights

Drones changed Steve Dunlap's career, allowing him to photograph Birmingham's iconic structures from a different viewpoint

Steve Dunlap uses a drone to capture photographs of Birmingham locations, including Sloss Furnaces. Photo by Art Meripol.

Take a look at Steve Dunlap’s remarkable photos of Birmingham’s Elyton Hotel, and you’ll see something the photographer hopes is completely different — the view from above and around the top of the historic building that you haven’t seen before.

“I’m looking for things that people can’t see from the ground very well,” he says. “It’s all about a different perspective, seeing things that people can’t see from the ground. … One of the first things I shot was the Elyton Hotel, very high up, to show the detail of the architecture of the hotel around the top floor. Nobody had really seen that without a drone.”

Drones — the unmanned contraptions that can fly a camera to dizzying heights and amazing angles — have changed the way Dunlap and other photographers ply their trade. For Dunlap, it’s opened up a whole new source of revenue.

“I sell unique artistic photographs of Birmingham architecture and icons and skylines,” he says. “People will use them in their homes, or corporations will put them in their board rooms, or hotels will buy them and put them on display.”

Steve Dunlap uses a drone for a different look at landmarks such as the Electra statue. Photo by Steve Dunlap.


Dunlap began dabbling in drone photography around 2016, first with a Christmas gift from his son and then with a couple of borrowed drones.

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“In 2016, the drones really came into their own technology-wise and became viable for video and still production,” he says. “I just kind of fell in love with it. I got into it right at the right time.”

Initially, Dunlap used drones to enhance his videos, not for still photography.

“Since I came from video production, my first entrée into it was just shooting video from the drone,” he says. He got the required insurance and drone certification from the FAA, and he was up, up and away.

Dunlap began by shooting things he thought were interesting in Birmingham, including a video of the statue of Vulcan in the evening.

“I sent that to Alabama Power, and they wrote me right away and said they wanted to buy the rights to it,” he recalls. That led to him shooting Alabama Power’s statue of Electra and “ultimately, they had me shoot all of their power plants across the state.”

This view of the Elyton Hotel’s architectural details on its top floor aren’t seen from the ground. Photo by Steve Dunlap.


Dunlap’s work included banks, real estate, commercials, documentaries and some news, and in December 2022, he started doing still photography.

“In the wintertime, things slow down for drone work, and I wanted to take that opportunity to feature Birmingham architecture,” Dunlap says. “I posted some stuff on Facebook and got some great feedback. One thing led to another, and I started doing art shows. I’ve been happy and surprised with the response. It’s become very satisfying.”

Take a look at Dunlap’s website,, and you’ll see stunning shots of many Birmingham landmarks — Electra, Vulcan, the Rotary Trail entrance, Sloss Furnaces, the City Federal Building, 16th Street Baptist Church, City Walk Bham and Regions Field, to name just a few.

“There are a lot of excellent photographers that have shot pretty much everything I’ve shot, so I made the conscious decision to shoot with the drone because I didn’t want to duplicate what others have done,” Dunlap says. “I want to do it in a way that’s evocative and different.”

He points to his shots of Electra and the Elyton as two that “stand out” as far as accomplishing what he wanted to accomplish. “I like it when people respond in a way like, ‘What is that? I’ve never seen that in that way before,’” says Dunlap, who lives on Southside in Birmingham.

Dunlap pilots his drone from the ground, keeping tabs from below on its “view.”  “The remote control for the drone has a monitor, and I always have line of sight of the drone,” he says. “That’s an FAA regulation.”

There are other FAA regulations governing drone use — he can fly his drone about 400 feet in the air, depending on how close he is to the airport, for instance, and there are regulations about flying when aircraft are in the area. “The drones now will tell you if there’s a manned aircraft in your vicinity,” Dunlap says.

A different look at City Walk Bham. Photo by Steve Dunlap.


Over the years, Dunlap has seen technology increase safety aspects and what drone cameras can produce.

“Drones come with very sophisticated cameras now,” he says. “Cameras are about the size of a fist. Now, I can stay a good distance away. My drone has three different lenses … that will let me zoom in, which I couldn’t do before.”

The drone’s GPS technology is also “very sophisticated,” the photographer says. “I can plot courses for the drone using the GPS.”

Flying drones doesn’t come without a cost, but it’s “relatively cheap” in the world of fine photography, Dunlap says.

“I have multiple drones, but I have about $4,000 invested in one,” he says. “You can get a similar drone at Best Buy for $1,800 to start. Mine’s about $3,500 for the drone and the controller and then you add additional batteries and filters and auxiliary things.”

Dunlap, who sells prints of his work online and at art shows, very much sees his drone photography as fine art. “I’ve done documentations of buildings and structures and power plants and that stuff,” he says of previous work.  “This is much more creative.”

And it’s changed the way Dunlap runs his photography business.

“As soon as I picked up a good drone, I realized I could make it work for the video production side of my business,” he says. “Pretty much from the beginning, I was making money. It was slow at first, but it’s built into a nice business.”

Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama. Art Meripol is a freelance contributor. Both Harvey and Meripol are based in Birmingham.

This article appears in the February 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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