So you’ve watched aerial footage online, bought the latest drone but now find that it sits in a bag because you don’t know where to fly it. Indeed, as drones have got more popular and with constantly changing rules and legislation, the question of how and where we can safely fly is a tricky one.
I work closely with an aerial imaging company, Aerial Empire, and understanding all of these rules can be tough as a drone pilot. Therefore, in this article I’ve compiled some key tips to consider when selecting areas in order to fly safely, freely and ultimately capture the best content. The advice dispensed is a universal rough guide so make sure you’re also aware of the laws in your specific country before flying as they can vary.
Firstly, you always need to consider safety before that instinct to try to get the hero shot. Needless to say, if you hit a member of the public with a drone or a commercial aircraft, you can expect to be imprisoned for reckless endangerment. It’s a daunting punishment but there’s no need to worry if you research beforehand the best spot to fly in.
Planning the flight beforehand will undoubtedly help you relax more, concentrate on improving your flying skills and capture the best footage!
Below, I have outlined some of the best places where can you fly and what you need to think of in each scenario.
Open Green Fields
Obviously, a large field is the best place that you can fly a drone. Fewer obstacles mean you have less to worry about especially with a better GPS connection. Use Google Earth to find large green patches and if you can, identify and make yourself known to the owner of the land – be friendly and you will usually be met with kindness – people are usually receptive to high tech gadgets and will often be keen to see the resultant footage.
For some of the best looking pictures and the least interference from the public, head for lakes, rivers or the sea; my favourite is the ocean but even a local stream can yield beautiful results. Also, especially when flying over large bodies of water don’t forget to leave yourself some extra battery life to give yourself enough juice to get the drone back to land for landing; the majority of drones aren’t built with waterproof features and it will be worthless after a swim!
The main challenge to a safe flight in local parks is that they are open to the public. You should aim to stay within 50 metres from any person, building or road. With that in mind, look for quieter spots in larger parks – as long as you’re sensible and have checked local by-laws, you should get the airspace you need. If you’re in any doubt, contact the park beforehand with a short background of the safety measures you have put in place.
Forests are fantastic places to fly drones and get great content if you exercise the right amount of caution. In most cases you can expect to be undisturbed by the public, and as long as you’re accustomed to controlled flying in tight spaces, you’ll enjoy the challenge of dodging branches, twigs and trees. Honing my flying skills in the forest is one of my favourite hobbies. If you’re flying a camera, I would suggest getting there an hour or two after sunrise or before sunset to ensure you capture golden, dappled light.
The mountains can also yield beautiful aerial shots but bear in mind that you will get a shorter battery life in higher altitudes and therefore less flying time. Therefore, it’s worth the hassle of climbing high to get higher for pictures. Take a backpack and a mobile battery charger and, if you’re feeling really intrepid, a tent and have fun!
An empty beach
Yes, an empty beach, and certainly not a nudist one! If there are a few members of public there, speak to them all before taking flight and find out if they have any issues and reassure them that your intention is not to film them. If the beach is incredibly crowded, I would tend to avoid it as you do not want your drone to come down on someone’s head, especially if you are not very experienced.
Inside buildings you don’t have the worry of dealing with aviation authorities. However, you are more likely to have obstacles to avoid which can cause damage to your drone so be careful when in flight! Make sure you’re not in GPS mode as the connection will be weak or unreliable and that you have obtained permission (in writing!) from the landowner.
Avoid Airports, military zones and other controlled airspaces
Prior to operating, you should check your area of operation doesn’t lie within a 10km radius of an airport or other sensitive airspaces. It’s worth knowing whether a helicopter is about to swoop past! Use www.skydemonlight.com to find relevant information about nearby aviation activity. It’s also worth looking for flight data apps like Drone Assist that cover your region.
Moreover, keep an eye on weather forecasts before setting off. Whilst snow might be cinematic enough to risk some equipment damage, heavy rain sticks to the lens, ruins imagery and can destroy the electronics in your drone. Further, wind can often come as a surprise, drastically affecting your control over the aircraft, especially at heights.
Bearing these tips in mind, it’s now time to head for the skies with your drone!
Make the most of having such extraordinary power at your fingertips to create fantastic content (both stills and video) whilst always remembering: safety first!