If you have a drone - and these days, who doesn’t - you understand the trials and tribulations as well as the joys of using an aerial vehicle for photography.
But to think that taking photos from above is the same as it is from your handheld camera is a total misconception. There are the photographic considerations, including subject matter and camera settings. There are also the issues related to the responsible, safe, and legal use of drones.
In the first part of our two-part series on drone photography, we explore legal and privacy issues, as well as topics related to safely flying your drone.
As drones have become ever more popular, more and more laws have been passed governing their use. Since consumer-based drones are still relatively new, governments worldwide are scrambling to devise rules that pertain to when, where, and how drones can be used, and by whom.
At the center of it all is the common sense use of your drone. Naturally, flying it near buildings, over your neighbor’s backyard, or near airports will do nothing but get you in a heap of trouble. Additionally, flying your drone over something that could be damaged or destroyed should the drone crash is a simple matter of using your head and your wits. In short, if you’re about to fly your drone somewhere and you have doubts about the appropriateness of it, don’t do it!
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a broad spectrum of rules of which you need to be intimately familiar before you take your first flight. The FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems website is the go-to place for the latest in terms of news, regulations, instructions on how to register your drone, and procedures for flying. Other entities, like states, and cities, may have their own set of rules as well. These regulations also vary from country to country, so it’s best practice to check with local authorities before sending your drone up into the sky.
Another excellent resource is the Know Before You Fly Campaign. With guidelines for responsible flying, resources for drone enthusiasts, and much more, it is worth a visit if drone photography is in your future.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once you’ve explored the legalities of flying a drone, it’s time to practice.
It goes without saying that you will need to examine a practice area to ensure that it is safe and legal to fly there. A wide-open area would be an ideal spot, such as an empty field in a rural area. Granted, not everyone that has a drone has the luxury of an open field nearby, so this is another common sense moment. Choose a location that is as open as possible and affords you sweeping views so you can maintain eye contact with your drone at all times. Above all else, ensure that your practice location has nothing that can be damaged and no people that can be hurt. If it crashes, you want to deal with a broken drone at the worst, not a destroyed car windshield or a hurt bystander.
You’ll also want to check the weather to be sure you’re taking to the skies in the best possible conditions. The less wind, the better, for obvious reasons. You will have enough to worry about just trying to master the controls of the drone; you don’t need a breezy day to add more stress to the situation!
Beware of the Battery
Many drones are equipped with a feature that, in case of an emergency, it will return to its launch point automatically. This is great for both you and the drone if something goes awry.
However, if you don’t keep an eye on the battery levels of your drone, it will land wherever it pleases, which can be inconvenient at best and downright destructive at worst. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the process of flying, and once you add taking photos, there is an awful lot to command your attention.
As such, you will need to develop a system for checking your battery life. Set a reminder on your phone. Have a friend time your flight and call out how many minutes of battery life are left. Try to launch the drone as close to the area you want to photograph as possible. These are simple steps, but they could very well save you lots of trouble should your drone run out of juice.
Understanding the factors that reduce battery life is essential as well. The more camera weight it has to carry, the less time your drone will be able to fly. Windy conditions and cold weather have a deleterious impact on battery life as well. Be prepared to cut your flight time in these conditions by as much as half!
There is far more to know about flying a drone for photography purposes, so be sure to check the resources provided in this article before you attempt to tackle drone photography. As noted above, it’s mostly about using common sense and being informed about what you can and cannot do with your drone. Be responsible, check local regulations, and take the time to learn how to fly your drone safely before you attempt to add photography to the mix.