Drone photography — a type of aerial photography that is done using some kind of remote-controlled flyer (hence “drone”) — is becoming more and more popular. Early adopters in this field were forced to modify remote control airplanes or helicopters or to build their own kits which, of course, generally required a good bit of knowledge of electrical engineering, aeronautics, and the physics of lift and flight. However, as the field has become more and more popular, amateur kits have given way to more professional set-ups such as the DJI Phantom Series which features drones with two, three, or four rotors.
Now, before you get all excited and rush off to order one of these so you can send your nicest camera up in the air, take a step back and let’s go over some basics and advice for getting started in drone photography.
1) If you’re not already an experienced remote control (RC) helicopter operator, become one — Flying a photography drone will take some practice even if you’re experienced in handling RC helicopters. However, if you’re not experienced in that, then you’ll want to become proficient at it before you start flying a much more expensive drone with your camera attached to it. Go to any toy store and purchase an inexpensive helicopter and practice with it — indoors (but in a large, open room) at first and once you have mastered take-off, landing, and basic maneuvering, take it outdoors on a non-windy day.
Trust me, you’ll be less upset if you destroy or lose an inexpensive toy than you would be if you destroyed or lost an expensive drone + camera.
2) Find a drone photography group or an RC helicopter group and get some tips — These are the people who can really teach you about local air conditions and how to deal with things like wind, humidity, atmospheric pressure (especially if you’re living in a mountainous region), and how to handle or stabilize a craft. They can also give you a lot of advice on how to deal with birds and flying insects that might take exception to your drone.
3) Learn the rules of where you want to fly your drone — Not every place is open to drone photography. Certain national parks forbid the use of drones in specific areas of the park or even in the entire park. Some cities forbid the use of drones near certain buildings or landmarks. Some have rules on when drones can be flown and at what height. Check with a local photography group or a local RC aircraft group in the place you’re planning to visit to get the rules for their locale. Ignorance of the law will be no excuse if you get caught.
4) Even where permitted, some people will freak out — Even if the park or city you’re photographing is perfectly fine with drones zipping about, some of the people there will not be. Chances are that if you engage in drone photography long enough, you will have someone alert the authorities. If you’ve followed #3, you’ll know if you’re in the right or in the wrong. However, you may want to make certain you have some connection to photography legal groups such as PINAC in case you run afoul of an overzealous law enforcement officer. If you are asked to stop or to explain yourself by another citizen, remember to be polite and be willing to promise not to film or photograph them if they ask.
It should go without saying but don’t fly your drone close to houses or apartment buildings as you can quite quickly run afoul of both trespassing and peeping Tom laws if you do this.
5) The conditions on the ground are not always the conditions above the ground — Just because it’s not windy where you are doesn’t mean the wind isn’t blowing once you get a few dozen feet up. Pay attention to your craft and respond to what’s going on around it, not what’s going on around you.
Drone photography can be very fun and can net some unique and interesting photos and video footage. However, before you get started, it’s a good idea to study the craft a bit. Going into your first drone photography run prepared can help save you a lot of stress and money further down the road!
– da Bird