On my birthday, my son excitedly shook me awake proclaiming that my present was better than my camera. There’s only one thing better than a camera and that’s a flying camera – I got a drone!
The excitement of opening up the drone doesn’t wane after the first flight. Every time I plan a trip with it I feel the same butterflies as on the first launch. In the last six months I’ve taken it out on every opportunity, taken it to Greece and only crashed a handful of times.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1# Read the Instructions and Take the Tutorials
Given that you’re flying a potentially dangerous object you need to be prepared. I have a DJI which comes with an app and heaps of instructional support.
2# Local UAV Laws
Flying drones is covered by strict aviation laws and you need to make yourself aware of all regulations where you are flying. This page by UAV Coach links to rules around the world.
Given that one traveler was imprisoned for flying his drone in Cuba it’s worth researching every country you plan to take your drone to.
3# Test Fly in Beginner Mode
Your first few flights will help you get used to managing the controls. It’s like driving a car which moves in eight directions at once before you even add in controlling the camera and capturing video or photographs. Once you are feeling more confident gradually increase the maximum flight distance in your settings.
4# Plan Your Shots
Once the drone is in flight you will be focused on piloting the vehicle; it’s handy knowing the kinds of shots you want to create at take off. As we’re not used to seeing the world from above drone shots have an impact that grounded photography doesn’t always deliver.
When I’m recording video I will set the recorder before I launch the drone and then go through three or four angles (pointing directly down, 45 degrees, horizontal and flying forwards, 45 degrees and flying backwards) as I get used to the space. This can be a useful practice when you’re ‘flying blind’ when the visual feed drops.
Reviewing your footage after an initial test flight gives you the chance to focus on what’s being captured without the stress of flying.
While the box the drone came in is designed to carry it safely it’s neither convenient or subtle. I recently added the Manfrotto Aviator Drone Backpack for DJI Phantom to my kit and it’s the perfect solution. It’s a backpack built around the needs of the Phantom owner, every space within the pack which could end up as padding houses zipped storage spaces.
The main body of the bag houses the drone and its controller, blades and spares. There is a compartment for your iPad and there is a separate section on top for your camera or walking gear. I can fit my Canon 6D with 24 – 70mm lens in no problem. The bag itself is light even with equipment and cameras on board, it has chest and waist straps to spread the weight.
By far my favourite feature is that you can quickly clip the drone in blades attached and carry your gear between locations.
6# Making Friends
As drones are less common place than cameras you’ll find yourself making friends when you take it out. When someone wants to chat I’ll normally bring the drone down so I’m not distracted when flying.
7# Airport Security with a Drone
This summer we took the drone to Kos with us and discovered it’s not as easy as you would hope. I carried the drone in its manufacturer’s box rather than a custom bag.
The trouble comes from the Lithium-Ion batteries which can be a fire risk under pressure. Here’s how to ensure your drone comes on board:
- Transport batteries in your hand luggage only
- Remove batteries from their device
- Use electrical tape to cover the contacts
- Travel with flat batteries
- Contact the airline for advice and consider getting a certificate for travel from the manufacturer (DJI offer this)
- Remove your batteries from the bag and put in their own tray going through security (leave extra time for being pulled over, it took us half an hour to get the ok from the airline and security on the day)
I’m yet to ruin my original set of blade (despite a few crashes) but I always have a spare pair slipped into my bag. While the cost may feel prohibitive a spare battery can save you. Flying at 0°C recently my drone battery became too cold between locations to use – a spare kept close to my body would have solved this. I also always carry a charger for my phone / iPad as they control the drone.
In the six months since I first launched my drone I’ve found drone videography has become a favourite pastime. I hope you have as much fun as I have!