Drones are becoming increasingly popular. When referring to drones, you usually associate the name with remote control multi rotor devices, which are technically not drones. The name drone will forever be irrevocably linked with these small multi-rotor devices, so we’ll call them drones. Drones in recent years have become much more affordable, which gives you the opportunity to pilot your own, shoot pictures and get some breathtaking videos!
We’re going to look at the main issues relating to drones, such as:
- Laws and regulations surrounding the flight of your drone.
- Drones available to beginners
- Learning to fly your drone
- Safety precautions when flying
- Tips to improve your photography quality and start getting those pictures you’ve been dreaming of!
Whether you’re a beginner, wanting to grab a few cool shots or an experienced professional looking to stay informed and keep others up to date, this is a handy guide to drone photography.
Laws Surrounding Drone Flight and Usage
If you’re not a professional, you’re probably quite unaware of the laws surrounding the flight of your drone. Drone can be potentially dangerous, if not flown sensibly. The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) sets rules that all drone users must abide by. If you wish to use your drone commercially, a proficiency test is required, as well as registration with the CAA. The basic rules of drone flight are:
- You should be in control and aware of every person and vehicle within a 50-meter radius.
- You should never fly the drone out of your direct line of sight.
- Never fly the drone more than 400ft vertically.
A simpler take on safe flight should be common sense:
- Don’t fly in or near crowds
- Stay away from roads.
- Stop flying your drone if the battery reaches 20%, to allow for the safe return flight of your drone
- Stay away from airports, aerodromes and other flying aircrafts.
Best Drones for Beginners
There are tonnes of drones available for the beginner, varying in price, size and ability. Your first drone is likely to be your cheapest, you’re likely to crash the drone if you’re just learning and so an expensive drone would be a waste, but there are still plenty of options. Some of the best options are:
- UDI U818A – It’s a sturdy, compact quadcopter that offers plenty of features for such an affordable price. It’s easy to fly and comes equipped with a 640×480 pixel video camera. At £62*, it’s 8 minute flight time and 0.3 megapixel, 30 fps camera is more than adequate.
- Parrot Bepop Quadcopter – Another popular choice, by one of the best drone manufacturers, the Parrot Bepop is a lightweight, easy to control and manoeuvre. With an integrated camera that can take video and images within a stunning 180° field. At £344*, it’s one of the more expensive beginner drones, but offers 11 minutes flying time and an astonishing 14 megapixel, fisheye camera!
- Hubsan X4 – A mini-drone perfect for beginners who need to practise their skills with a compact, light and easy to fly quadcopter. With incredible speed and basic features, it’s a great place to start. Better used for practising your slight than taking photos, it has a very low quality camera. But at £83*, it boats a 6 minute flying time and a 720×240 pixel camera.
Best Drones for Semi-Pros
- DJI Phantom 3 Standard – The DJI Phantom 3 drone is a great investment that will help any professional aerial photographer. Crafted to offer high-quality photo and video material, as well as a fun flying experience. At £550*, it’s quite the sum, but for the price you do get an astounding 25 minutes flight as well as a great 12 megapixel, full HD 1080p video camera.
- 3D Robotics Solo Drone – The 3D Robotics Solo Drone is a minimalist quadcopter that offers quality 3D footage. As one of the highest priced drones on the list at £639*, it does offer 20-22 minutes of flight time, but unfortunately if you want the camera with it, you’re going to have to pay more!
Choosing Your Equipment, Attachments & Accessories
In order to get the best from your drone experience, you might need a few other bits of equipment, such as:
- Gimbal – This is a must! It provides smooth stability for your camera which will provide better quality footage, regardless of weather conditions. There are different types of gimbals for different price ranges.
- Extra Batteries – Extra batteries are always a great idea! It means more flying time!
- Crash Pack – Saves you when you lose control and crash! Keeping your drone intact and saving you a potentially costly repair bill!
The environment also plays a huge part in your video or photo quality:
- Weather & Wind Conditions – The wind is a main factor behind ruined footage. It’s best to avoid flying your drone on a day with wind speeds above 20 MPH, although your drone can probably cope with speeds up to 30 MPH, the camera won’t deal too well. Flying with the wind will always help the quality of images captured.
- Altitude of Flight – There are a few camera settings you should adapt to your specific altitude on the day of the shoot: shutter speed (controls the duration of light that reaches the CCD), white balance (the way your camera interprets the light colour in a scene), and aperture (control the amount of light that reaches the CCD – For aerial photography, F8 is perfect). These are the main settings that will determine the quality of your photographs or footage, so do your research before heading out to fly.
- Imagery Style – The particular style you want your images to have will determine the camera settings, as well as the post-processing techniques you should use.
Learning to Fly Your Drone
Most people seem to think that drones are toys anyone can pilot, but this is not the case. Especially large, professional drones can become dangerous if someone inexperienced is trying to fly, so make sure you get enough practice with a mini-drone before you move to a more advanced one.
The advice most professionals give is to allow yourself to fail a few times until you get used to the specifics of flying a drone. It is normal to crash your drone in the beginning, so that is why it is recommended to begin learning on an affordable, small drone that can be replaced. Another thing to consider is practice. You will require a lot of flying hours before you know how to control your device without endangering you or other people. Take your time to practise in your back yard before you head to the park, the mountains, or the city centre.
Planning Your Flight Path
The key to getting spectacular aerial photos is to plan in advance. Know your route, the duration of your flight, the obstacles you might face and the weather conditions before you even take your drone out of the house.
Another important thing to consider is that you are not allowed to fly your drone in certain places, such as near airports or over private properties. You can be sued if you break the law, so be sure to check your local rules and regulations before you start flying your quadcopter. You can read more about specific laws and regulations in our next section.
Privacy Issues – Another concern is privacy, as more and more people acquire and use drones to shoot footage of public spaces. You are not allowed to photograph or film an individual without his or her consent which leads to a murky situation when it comes to drones. How can a drone operator that is filming a protest ask for everyone’s permission before flying his device? Well, the regulators suggest making yourself clearly visible, so that people know who the operator is and this way ensuring that they can leave if they do not want to be filmed or photographed.
Safety Precautions for Safe Flying
The main precautions you should take when flying are:
- Do not fly in precarious weather conditions! Strong wind, rain, and snow are not your friends, and they will certainly damage your drone, which means you should avoid these weather conditions.
- Do not fly close to private properties and do not get close to people because you might violate privacy regulations and end up with a fine to pay.
- Stay away from schools, churches, stadiums, and airports!
- Be sure to register your drone if you are using it for commercial purposes.
- Do not allow children to fly the drone!
- Do not take your drone above busy highways or crowded public places!
- Use the drone in rural, scarcely populated areas and avoid trees and buildings.
Things to Remember When Flying Your Drone
We know you are anxious to try your new drone and see what it can do, but it is important to always keep in mind a set of important rules to ensure that your flight is a pleasure and not a headache.
- Your drone is not a toy, so be responsible and use it only in permitted areas!
- Every drone is different, so practice, before you take yours out for a spin, even if you have piloted another before. They do not fly, work, or move the same!
- Respect people’s privacy and never lower your drone to photograph or film them up close.
- Be aware of laws and regulations and carry your permits with you wherever you are flying the drone.
- Be careful if you want to use the drone inside or in confined spaces.
- Do not go over the specified altitude recommended for your drone.
- Do not allow inexperienced friends to try flying the drone, as this reckless behaviour might lead to accidents.
Tips for Taking the Best Possible Pictures
As it was already mentioned, the best possible pictures you can take with your drone are those that mix quality with creativity. When it comes to drone photography, the sky is literally the limit, so invest in some quality gear that will allow you to explore all the possibilities of this remarkable medium.
Start by practising and perfecting your flying skills, and then move on to discovering what your drone can do and how you can adapt the camera setting for every situation you face. Below, you can find some pro tips that apply to both beginners and professional drone operators that will ease the process of getting the best results with your drone.
- Choose a great location – The key to great aerial photography that will take your breath away is getting to a stunning location that will transfer well into your photographs.
- Reduce vibration – To avoid blurry, hazy, low-quality photographs you must reduce and even eliminate vibration, which you can achieve by using a special device and developing a steady hand when controlling your drone.
- Avoid obscuring elements – Your flying time can be ruined by obscuring features, such as buildings and trees, so make sure you shoot in a plain, clear space, as sparsely populated as possible.
- Be careful with the shadow produced by your drone – Always be aware of your drone’s position in relation to the sun to make sure that the shadow produced by your equipment is out of the shot.
- Buy a good gimbal – As it was already mentioned, a good gimbal is a life saver for any drone photographer as it spares you the trouble of worrying about shaky, vibration-affected photographs.
- Shoot different angles – A great tip, especially if you’re a beginner, is to shoot various angles of the same subject to get a grasp of what effect your movement produces on the resulting image.
- Invest in a powerful camera – This goes without saying, but a powerful, high-quality camera will help you along the way, and you should definitely invest in a top notch product if you want to get great aerial photographs.
A Few Examples of Breathtaking Aerial Footage
By Richard Pinches