Just a few years ago, we were writing about how drones were becoming the next big thing in photography.
Well, as 2020 approaches, I think we can all agree that drones are here - and here to stay.
As more and more photographers (and everyone else, for that matter...) take to the skies with a drone, safety becomes a bigger and bigger issue.
Not only do you have to fly your drone safely to avoid crashes, but you also have to be mindful of other people flying drones nearby who may or may not be as careful or as good a pilot as you are.
With this in mind, let's explore eight things you can do to avoid crashing your drone.
Editor's Note: Check out the first two articles in our drone series - Getting Started in Drone Photography and Selecting the Right Drone for Your Photo and Video Needs - to get even more insights about drones and drone photography.
DO Fly in Open Areas
A nice, open area to fly your drone is ideal.
Not only do you avoid obstacles, but you can also maintain line of sight with your drone as you fly.
Be sure that the open area you choose isn't restricted airspace, like near an airport, a military base or in a national park.
Needless to say, those areas are off-limits for a reason, and breaking the no-fly rule in those areas can have serious consequence.
DON'T Fly Over People or Homes
Avoid flying over people and buildings at all costs.
A drone falling from the sky, can cause serious injury and even death, whether it be from mechanical malfunction, weather-related issues or even sabotage (you've seen videos of people shooting down drones, right?). Drones can also cause major damage to buildings and vehicles; an experience that even seasoned pilots encounter.
Some drones, like the DJI Mavic 2 pro shown above, come with an obstacle-avoidance system that detects obstacles. You can fly forward and backward with less worry of crashing because the Mavic 2 Pro's APAS system will plan an appropriate flight to avoid any obstacles automatically. Though that's excellent peace of mind, it's still prudent to stay away from other people and their homes.
Unless you have express permission to fly over private property, avoid it altogether. If something goes wrong, it can go wrong quickly, and you could be responsible for damages. Ultimately it is best to be respectful of people's privacy - not everyone wants a drone flying over their home!
DO Defer to Other Aircraft
FAA regulations require that you keep your drone at an altitude of 400 feet or less when in uncontrolled Class G airspace.
If you go above that, you run the risk of encountering other air traffic.
When flying, maintain awareness of the airspace in your vicinity. If you see or hear other aircraft, defer to them and allow them to continue on their flight path. Unless you have permission to fly in controlled airspace (like near airports), don't even think about flying your drone!
Remember - you can much more easily see an airplane than the pilot of that aircraft can see your drone. It's your responsibility to make sure the airspace around you is safe.
DON'T Fly When the Battery is Low
Flying your drone when the battery is low is just asking for trouble.
Your drone needs battery power to stay aloft, and if you run out of juice, it could fall out of the sky, injure someone or cause property damage.
Fortunately, many drones - like the DJI Mavic 2 Pro - have intelligent batteries that trigger a "return to home" function.
This means that when the battery is at a point at which it might not have enough power to keep the drone flying much longer, it will automatically ascend to its return to home height and return if no action is taken.
If the battery is critically low, the drone will simply land itself - an action that cannot be canceled by the pilot.
Nevertheless, keep an eye out for your drone's low battery warning so you know when it's time to bring it home or to land immediately.
DO Avoid Poor Weather Conditions
Though some drones come with a self-heating system for flying in the cold, avoiding adverse weather conditions is a good rule of thumb. Inclement weather to avoid includes rain, snow, sleet, hail, lightning, and certainly strong winds.
Each of these weather events makes flying much more difficult, and negatively impacts the performance of the drone too.
Just like you have to take extra caution when driving your car in bad weather, the same caution should be exercised when deciding if it's okay to fly your drone.
DON'T Fly Under the Influence
Flying a drone under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a recipe for disaster. Under no circumstances should you attempt to fly when in an altered mental state.
Your ability to maintain line of sight with your drone - let alone pilot effectively - will be significantly reduced if you fly while impaired.
Be smart: only fly when you are physically and mentally capable of doing so in a safe manner.
DO Ensure the Compass is Calibrated and the GPS Signal is Strong
Before you take flight, make sure its compass is properly calibrated.
While in flight, avoid strong magnetic fields that emanate from certain structures, like steel-reinforced buildings.
Likewise, if you aren't picking up a strong GPS signal, don't take flight.
DJI recommends flying with a signal from at least 10 GPS satellites and at least four bars of GPS signal for optimum safety.
DON'T Answer Your Phone While Flying
Talking or texting on the phone are illegal driving a car, and for good reason.
These activities distract you from the task at hand and increase the likelihood of an accident.
For the same reasons, you should never answer your phone while flying a drone.
Remember, flying a drone isn't just a fun activity - it's a huge responsibility that requires you to be alert, attentive, and respectful of others around you.