Drone Flying Tips

Drone Flying Tips

Drones are all the rage. Just for fun or for commercial use, it seems that everyone wants a drone. The fact is, just about anybody who can play a video game can fly a drone. With that said, we need to remember that a video game is stationary, ergo can’t physically harm someone. Although flying remote control drones can be invigorating, and there are more and more opportunities leading to profit, it’s best to proceed with safety in mind. Come with us on this beginner’s guide and learn to fly your quadcopter like a pro.


1. Safety First


Many hobbies and occupations come with their own set of hazards. Drones are no different and safety precautions should be completed. A drone has many moving parts in addition to being a moving object. Drones are fun but can pose a danger, so following drone safety tips are essential. Responsible drone pilots spend more time flying and less at the ER.
{{Small picture of Drone Heading for Crowd - People Running (possible word wrap)}}

  • Batteries: Unplug and remove the drone battery before attempting to handle the drone.
  • Propellers: Even on a small drone the hard plastic of the propellers should be avoided when moving.
  • Crashing: Letting go of the throttle seems a no-brainer but in a moment of panic that’s not the case. Drone pilots need to train themselves when in doubt, let go of the throttle.
  • Outdoors: Survey the flight area for obstacles including power lines, trees, humans, pets, etc.
  • Indoors: Before flying a drone inside, especially in a small space, tying it down or encasing it is recommended.

 Be sure to take these safety precautions before you fly quadcopters or any type of drone. One of the best tips for flying your drone is to read your systems guide or drone manual.

Reading Drone Manual



Here is an excellent video of some drone safety tips.


2. Drone Laws and Regulations

Know The Rules


When drones became affordable and user-friendly they flew off shelves and websites. As issues arise drone laws and regulations are enacted and altered. Each drone pilot is responsible for keeping up-to-date with current statutes. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

The drone boom has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to step in with guidelines and regulations. The regulations may seem inconvenient, but drones pose a unique set of issues when compared to other hobbies or occupations; affecting both safety and privacy. Following the rules helps us to avoid problems.

The FAA website can answer most drone-related questions for pilots. Here is a short list of laws and guidelines (subject to change):

  • Drones exceeding 0.55 pounds must be registered (FAA Registration)
    -- Fines for unregistered drone use can reach $27,500
    -- Registered drones must be marked with an FAA ID
  • Drones exceeding 55 pounds require pilot certification
  • Maximum flight altitude is 400 feet
    -- Crop dusters, Life Flight, and others fly low, posing a danger
  • Drone should be visible to the pilot’s eye at all times
    -- Watch for obstacles
    -- Listen for other aircraft
    -- After sunset flights should be avoided
    -- Visual contact keeps aircraft from flying out of range
    -- Return-to-Home (RTH) features operate in a limited distance
  • Flying over humans requires a waiver
  • Drone pilots should remain aware of and avoid wildlife, buildings, etc.
  • Respect all the no-fly zones (FAA Map)
  • Flying within five miles of an airport or runway is prohibited
  • Drugs and alcohol should be avoided when piloting a drone


In addition to federal regulations, many local authorities have enacted regulations. Before embarking on an illegal flight, visit this website for Drone Regulations by State.

No-Fly Zones
Strict no-fly zones exist in every country on the planet. Airports are off limits for obvious reasons, but many more exist. It is the responsibility of every drone pilot to avoid these legally restricted areas. It’s best to visit the no-fly database provided by drone manufacturer DJI.

American authorities have completely banned drone flights in several areas:

  • Washington, DC
  • Near Active Wildfires
  • Airports and Landing Strips
  • National Parks and National Monuments
  • Organized Events with Large Attendance



Be sure to stay out away from airports, National Parks and the areas mentioned above with your drone.

Commercial Drone Pilots


The demand for drones in industrial, construction, agricultural and other applications is skyrocketing. Drones are now used for surveying, monitoring job sites, inspecting crops and even delivering packages. There is money to be made for pilots willing to take the time to become certified.

Commercial drone pilots require an FAA exemption to begin using their aircraft for profit. A Section 333 Exemption is required and can take a bit of time. The drone business is still a novelty to the FAA and they are rushing to catch up to the increasing demand for exemptions. When getting started with commercial drone flight it is even more important to follow drone safety tips and follow a preflight checklist.

Enjoying the Flight


Now that we’ve dispensed with the serious issues of safety and legalities, let’s have some fun. Flying a drone is an exciting hobby and can be a lucrative business. Starting out can be intimidating but have no fear. These drone flying tips will be a great deal of help for experienced and novice flyers alike.


3. Choosing a Drone

choosing a drone


A drone is an unmanned aircraft. The most common drone is a small quadcopter, under 55 pounds. These consumer drones use multiple propellers to allow for ease of control and the ability to hover.

Drones vary greatly in size, ability, and cost. Normally, the greater the capabilities, the higher the price. Novice drone pilots with aspirations to go commercial often desire a high-end drone to begin. This is ill-advised. Learning to fly a drone can involve some trial and error. An inexpensive drone is recommended for beginners, affording less risk in the case of a crash.



Toy Drones
As the name states, drones are available as toys. These are great for children and adults with no upgrade plans. Controllers on toy models usually differ from even beginner drones and are not recommended for those hoping to learn to fly for upgrade purposes. Toy drones are rarely equipped with cameras or desirable features. They just fly and they are fun. This type of craft is usually the most affordable drone you can get.

Beginner Drones
For novice pilots who aspire to greater things, beginner models are available. For a reasonable, but not toy model, price tag a beginner can acquire a decent, professional-type aircraft. For the beginner, a low price tag  presents less risk while learning. The drawback will be the light weight of the aircraft, making wind a serious issue. Cheap drones can be the best bet for the beginner who will crash often.

Some features to look for include:

  • a dual stick controller, rather than one similar to a remote-controlled car
  • a still/video camera drone
  • added features like RTH
  • Altitude Hold or altitude mode – Which allows the drone to hover in place with no throttle.

Intermediate Drones
For beginners who choose to upgrade, many mid-grade drones are more than sufficient for commercial purposes. This level of aircraft won’t break the bank but will allow for longer flight times and added features. Many of these models will be equipped with a higher resolution camera and possibly a gimbal, for more stable filming. Some will be equipped with GPS and possibly a First Person View (FPV) headset which allows the pilot to see what the drone’s camera sees. FPV drones are often used in FPV racing, with an FPV goggle. A good intermediate drone would be the Mavic Air. The Mavic Air is not fast and better racing drones can be had.


Advanced Drones

Obviously top-of-the-line, most of these drones are not equipped with cameras or gimbals. These models are designed with mounting hardware to allow professional photographers to attach their own photography equipment to the aircraft. Many of these models are octocopters, sporting eight propellers. Octocopters are more stable, maneuverable and are not easily affected by weather conditions, including wind.

Pilots planning to dive seriously into an aerial photography business should consider investing in an octocopter. If an octocopter is too expensive the DJI Phantom line of drones are some of the best quadcopter camera drones available. Photographers should also consider the drone’s carry capacity to determine if it will hold the weight of the desired camera and gimbal. If you are still having trouble picking out a drone check out our buying guide. Look at some of our top drones with cameras here.

4. Learn: Don’t Rush It

Learn to fly a drone


Reading the manual, printed or digital, is actually a good idea before a test flight. Drones vary and being familiar with the specifics is a great asset. Reading the manual will give you a quick guide to initial flight and can save the drone from crashing to an early, unexpected death.

Once the basic features and controls are familiar, a slow start is advised. Below are some tips to for flying, along with some dos and don’ts.

  • Find an open space with few obstacles
  • Always face the drone away from you!
  • Use prop guards at first, if you have them.
  • Take off from a flat, level surface
  • Hover at two or three feet above the ground then land
    -- Repeat several times
  • Increase altitude slightly and practice turns
    -- Keep the aircraft close
    -- Land several times and repeat
  • Be aware of the wind (especially for light-weight drones)
    -- Don’t count on the RTH feature – distance is limited
  • -- Get used to flying in manual mode when possible.
  • Don’t rely on built-in autopilot features or headless mode – Learn to Fly!
    -- Hover
    -- Land
  • Practice Lateral Movement
    -- Increase altitude and then maintain quadcopters position
    --  Pushing the throttle to move side to side
  • -- Pushing the right stick and hold quadcopters altitude
  • --  Push the left stick and take note of the throttle sensitivity
  • -- Push the stick to the left and note the direction the craft takes.
    -- Move the quadcopter forward and backward. Repeat moving forwards or backwards.
    -- Return to hover
    -- Land in the same location as take off
    -- Repeat
  • Reverse Lateral Movement
    -- When comfortable, turn the drone to face you, then practice lateral movement
    The controls will now seem backward; left will move right, etc.
  • Practice Rotation
    -- Rotate the quadcopter 45 degrees to the left; then 45 degrees more; repeat for a full 360
    Practice until this maneuver becomes easy
  • Practice, Practice, Practice Makes Perfect
    -- Always determine the aircraft’s flight direction, away for you
    -- Increase speed gradually – no heavy thumbs
    -- Get comfortable with each function
    -- Use features alone and in varied combinations
    -- Practice avoiding inanimate obstacles (not living things)
    -- Choose a target like a rock or a stump and fly around it in a circular pattern until the flight is steady and controlled.
    -- Mastering the controls comes easier for some, difficult for others - practice


After having practicing these maneuvers you should have a good yaw control with the controller or stick controls.

 After taking a test flight some novice pilots are still a bit apprehensive. Consider taking a training course or attending drone pilot ground school. Many are available, some free and others inexpensive. 


Several drone manufacturers offer free classes and DJI has an awesome beginners video available here.



5. Contact Info


Stuff happens. A gust of wind or pilot error can render a drone missing in action. It’s always a good practice to label the aircraft with contact info. At least a phone number firmly affixed to the bottom, not to interfere with operation, is recommended. Fly your drone knowing you at least have chance of someone returning if you lose it.

6. Control


Not “Controls” but “Control”. A pilot must remain in control of their aircraft at all times. Autopilot features can be an asset, but flight control is ultimately the responsibility of the pilot. Attention should always be on the drone when flying. Hands should be on the remote even when automatic maneuvers are being employed. Avoid distractions with flying the quadcopter. There are many drones out there for beginners that are have easy flight controls and are great for aerial photography.

7. Open Spaces

drone open space


Prior to taking flight, a pilot should survey the quadcopter flight path every time. Regardless of how empty the field was yesterday, it’s a new day. People, animals, and vehicles are mobile. The field or park must be reviewed for obstacles before every flight. Flights on private property must acquire permission. Privacy issues are huge and flights should be relocated if any chance of surveillance can be construed. Practice flying in an area with no people around. You should always be paying attention to your surroundings.


8. Birds of Prey

birds of prey


Large birds are territorial. The presence of a drone could be misinterpreted as encroachment. The risk of damage to the aircraft is only one issue with this scenario. Many large birds are protected and the possibility of injury can result in large fines. Best to avoid eagles, hawks, etc.


9. Weather

Bad Weather Thunderstorm


As with any aircraft, weather conditions play a part in safe flight. High wind speed can be a drone’s worst enemy. Although storms and lightning should be avoided, even seemingly light winds can toss a light-weight drone into an obstacle. Worse yet, a gust of wind can take a drone and blow it out of sight. Although RTH is an asset, the feature is limited to the distance capabilities of the radio transmitter. Do not fly quadcopters in harsh or windy conditions.

10. Maintenance

drone maintenance


Just like any vehicle, preventive maintenance will alleviate downtime and can eliminate costly repairs.

  • Inspect the drone before and after each flight
  • Clean the camera lens with the included cloth or an eyeglass cloth
Calibrate the compass
-- If a compass is installed an app should be available for calibration


11. Batteries and Spare Parts


As we’ve covered previously, stuff happens. The battery life in current consumer drones is very limited, so proper battery care is important. Read the instructions for tips on battery care. In addition, accidents happen. Most drones are made of durable plastic, but a collision can take out a propeller or other important part or accessory. Having replacements on hand can eliminate the need to call it a day.

Portable chargers are available, but repeated charging and immediate use of batteries can cause overheating. Ample batteries allow those being charged to sufficiently cool before reuse.

12. Controller


Controllers, also called Transmitters, control drone flight like an old-fashioned remote-controlled car. Controllers range from simple devices to complex transmitters for controlling multiple drones and features.  You of course could not fly drones if not for the controller.

13. Flight Modes


Advanced flight modes can be a great help to pilots of every skill level. As with most options, more expensive, high-end drones will be equipped with more of these flight mode options.

  • Standard: auto leveling when sticks are released; the amount of tilt is limited for easier maneuverability
  • Advanced: same as standard mode with less restrictive maximum tilt
  • Manual: all stabilization is off with no maximum tilt
GPS: allows flight at a fixed altitude, hover in place and automatic adjustment for wind (only available when fitted with GPS)


14. Photography


Mastering the controls is the first step to still photography and filming. If you can't fly, you can't take pictures. After flying has been mastered, perfecting the final product comes into play. To avoid blurry photos and jumpy videos requires a bit more learning and practice.

Equipment


Even beginner’s drones are usually equipped with a low-resolution camera. Depending upon what type of filming is planned, an upgraded camera might be necessary. Added features, like a stabilizing gimbal, may be needed for commercial endeavors. Storage capacity is another consideration, high-resolution photographs and videos are larger files and require more space.

Camera
Although most drones are equipped with cameras, high-end drones meant for professional use are not. These drones are equipped with mounting hardware to add a professional, digital camera and accessories. Choosing a camera and a high-end drone go hand-in-hand. Be sure the drone can carry the weight and the camera can handle the ride.

Gimbal
Professional photography will require a gimbal. This is a stabilizing harness for the camera. A gimbal will keep the camera level and may allow it to be turned independent of the drone. Like drones and cameras, gimbals vary in price and size. The weight capacity of the drone must be able to carry the desired camera and gimbal.

FPV Screens and Goggles
The quality of photos and film can be greatly increased with the use of FPV. By seeing exactly what the camera sees, pilots are more equipped to photo desired targets and shoot higher quality footage.

Best Drone Photography Practices


Aside from studying and practicing drone flight, pilots should also study photography. For commercial purposes improving techniques will increase revenue. For hobbyists, blurry photos and bouncy videos can interfere with the value of keepsakes.

Composition Techniques

  • Include a human, if possible (with a waiver), to afford a sense of scale to the image.
  • When the sun is going down it creates sharper shadows which add depth to the photo.
  • Photographs that contain a splash of bright color are more eye-catching, less bland.
  • Landscapes aren’t just made up of colors. Learn to capture the texture of the scene.
  • Post-flight editing is a great asset in any photography session; especially aerial. Learn.
  • Take the time to learn composition techniques from some experts.

Zoom Features

Most digital cameras are equipped with zoom capabilities. This feature is not recommended for drone photography. Even high-end cameras will produce blurry photos and shaky videos when zoom is employed. Drones shake. Cameras are not designed to override aircraft vibration. For the best results become an expert pilot to be able to perfectly position the aircraft. Don’t ever use the camera zoom, unless you want to test this theory.

15. Filming


Having a plan in place before takeoff is advised. Flight time is limited by battery life. Camera storage is also limited. By planning ahead and even walking the area to be shot, if possible, can save a great deal of time and frustration.

16. Preflight Checklist


Beginners can benefit from an organized flight plan. For professionals, a flight plan is a must.

  • Check weather conditions
  • Obtain necessary permissions (i.e., legal, property owner, etc.)
  • Inspect flight area, if possible
  • Inspect drone
  • Test camera
  • Tighten propellers
  • Select flight mode
  • Test controller
  • Batteries charged and packed
  • Spare propellers, etc. packed
  • Clear SD cards and pack
  • First-aid kit packed


In Conclusion


There are a great many beginners deciding whether the drone business is right for them. These Drone Photography Tips are meant to afford novice pilots enough information to make an educated decision. Learning how to fly your drone can be fun yet frustrating experience.

Obviously, for the hobbyist, it’s easy to get started. An inexpensive drone and some self-training are all it takes. For commercial purposes, there is a bit more to it.

Novice drone pilots must realize that starting a drone photography business, like any business, can get expensive and time-consuming. With drone photography, laws and regulations must be considered. Skill is involved and techniques must be learned and improved upon to achieve success. The learning curve not only includes flying, but also photography.

Drone flying isn’t virtual reality, it is reality. Piloting an actual physical aircraft is much more invigorating than flying in a video game. Drones offer amazing opportunities for stunning aerial photographs and video. Bottom line, drones are a blast. All pilots must make the decision: hobby or occupation.

Hopefully, this beginners guide to flying will be a help in determining the path to take to start flying on your own.

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