The Best Ways to Use Drones in Photography

HeadShot300x450By Steve Kuss

Drones are one of those new technologies that can be an indispensable tool, a toy, a photographer’s dream, or perhaps the latest scourge unleashed by your neighbor. New models seem to come on the market weekly, each with a whirlwind of specifications, making an intelligent purchase decision nearly impossible. If one is purchased, the buyer becomes the neighborhood whiz kid, or the purveyor of all that is evil in the world.

 Drones come in all shapes, sizes and costs. Some areGOPR3689-Pano-2 just for sport. They exist purely for the fun of piloting an aircraft by remote control. Others are built for speed. They have motors, so there is a huge group of people involved in racing the beasts. Then there are those used in law enforcement, mostly in the search and rescue sector. Contractors, farmers and surveyors use them with infrared sensors for incredibly detailed mapping applications. While drones are most known for shooting video, they take still shots as well. As such, they make a nice transition vehicle for the casual photographer looking to start shooting video. Many women are helping to lead the charge. ( There are even Facebook groups devoted to drone photography.

GOPR4292-2Over time, the FAA has come out with very specific (and fairly obvious) guidelines for drones. For example, no flying above 400 feet, never above crowds, not at night, within 5 miles of an airport or helipad (hospitals), and don’t disturb wildlife. If you have own other than a “pocket” drone, you’ll need to register. It’s a whopping $5 and can be obtained on line. You’ll get a number that must be easily displayed somewhere on the drone, such as the bottom of the battery case. You only get one number, which is for the pilot and goes on all the drones you own.

I tend to think of flying as somewhat like riding a 4-wheeler. Common sense, common courtesy and the established laws prevail.  Basically you can fly over your own property, friends and neighbors who give permission, and designated public places. The last one can be a little tough to determine. Many local parks are just fine but some post that operating any RC (remote controlled) device is forbidden. National Forests are fine as long as you don’t interfere with wildlife or fire detection/suppression. National Parks are all off limits, and State Parks vary as determined by the local authority. Always ask to be sure. The best place to start is a Google search for “Know before you fly”. There you will find the FAA links, websites, and of course, “there is an app for that.”

GOPR2217-4-2 (1)On the subject, I’m obligated to mention something important for the public at large.  A drone is a legal aircraft, and while it must be flown under the rules and regulations of the FAA, it also has the same protections as any other aircraft.  Shooting at a drone (or say, throwing rocks or using a squirt gun) is just as illegal as blinding a commercial pilot with a laser. The same safety rules apply. You may call authorities, but you cannot, under any circumstances take matters into your own hands.

Finally, I suggest everyone do a search for “I was going to review a $1200 drone.” An article will pop up that is full of practical advice concerning owning one of the more advanced drones. Ignoring the part that this was an illegal flight (drones must remain in visual contact of the pilot at all times); it discusses the realities of drone ownership with some really good “hind sight is 20-20” perspectives.

Would you like more information about drones or photography?  Please join us.  The Cookeville Camera Club meets at the First Presbyterian Church, on the second Monday each month at 7pm and guests are welcome!