Posted September 25, 2015 by Casey McCallister

1. Follow the Rules

Drones are still a sensitive talking point for lawmakers. Laws are already strict when it comes to when and where you can fly, and any incidents will likely be used as talking points for more strict flying laws. Before taking your drone to the sky, educate yourself and follow all drone rules. These rules are put in place for safety issues and following them will ensure that drones can continue to take to the sky for creative purposes.

Some notable rules include:

– Use a multi man crew for scouting purposes when flying.

– Do not fly over people/airports/national parks/stadiums or anywhere where a descending drone could cause harm

– Keep your drone within line of sight

– Never fly higher than 400 feet above the ground

– Return to a home position with plenty of battery power in case of emergencies

2. Fly First in an Open Area

Before taking your drone to more challenging terrain, it’s best to take flight where incidents will have minimal impact. Look for big open areas with few trees like a park or a football field where you can avoid people and powerlines. Flying in the morning is best as there won’t be as many crowds of people and the wind tends to be less. Personally, I will fly only when the wind is 15mph or less. Drones are still capable of flying in conditions more windy than that, but the resulting footage will be shaky and less sharp.

3. Begin With Most Basic Movements

Start by hovering at 5 feet for a few seconds, then slowly increase another 5 feet in elevation and so on. Many actions performed by a drone are repeatable. Learning these tasks first is essential. Actions like hovering and landing are a given, but it’s also important to learn how the remote controller can manipulate yaw, pitch, and roll. Look to develop a muscle memory so that piloting your UAV becomes second nature.

Practice movements that will put the camera in common positions for capturing compelling footage. Work with slow, methodical motion. This is not only best for beginning to fly, but also necessary for capturing smooth, sharp images and video.
DJI Phantom Remote Control

4. Buy Spare Parts

I can’t reiterate it enough – crashing your drone is inevitable. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing a UAV that doesn’t have many battle scars on the side. With my first drone, I went through 4 propellers in the first week. I always recommend having spare propellers and spare propeller guards on hand in case of accidents. You don’t want to abruptly end a productive day flying because of a simple damaged propeller.

Spare batteries are another essential. Most drone batteries will last a maximum of 30 minutes and can take many hours to charge. Unless you intend to have shorter and less frequent flights, you will want an additional 2 or 3 batteries to keep on hand to continue flying when one drains.

5. Insure Your Gear

The UAV world is easy to get sucked into. As you get more involved, the likelihood of purchasing more high dollar equipment improves. Because of the high crash probability, you will want to purchase insurance in case of any accidents.

6. Don’t Start With an Expensive Drone

Drone photography is not something that’s easily jumped into head first. It’s likely when starting out as a photographer that you worked your way up to a fancy DSLR. The same goes for drones. Learn to fly on smaller, more affordable UAVs that can simply be replaced in case of a crash. These intro drones will help you learn how to control a UAV and give you a feel for reaction time before moving onto larger and more reactive hardware.

Check out these two affordable beginner drones:

Cheerson CX10
Hubsan X4

7. Beginner Forums and YouTube Channels

There are numerous resources across the Internet for beginner pilots. Some that I recommend include:

That Drone Show Youtube Channel – News and information in the world of drones

Drone Life – Technology updates and news.

My First Drone – Buying Guides and tutorials.

Drone Training – Resources for flight training and courses in your area

Drone Buff – Reviews, buyers guides, and helpful tips for flying your drone

Mapbox No Fly Map – interactive US map showing where flying drones is prohibited

8. Follow a Pre-Launch Checklist

– Make sure your flight path is clear of any people or airports.

– Is the weather and wind providing safe flying conditions? Some days are not meant for flying.

– Make sure the drone has fresh batteries.

– Make sure your propellers are correctly attached and spin smoothly without obstruction.

– Configure your camera settings.

– Be sure that your area is clear of crowded Wifi signals.

– Determine the takeoff and landing surface to be level and clear of obstacles.

– If you are keeping a flight log, note the date, time, flight path, and weather conditions.

I also recommend drafting a storyboard of footage you wish to capture prior to taking off. With limited time in the air, this can be helpful in making the most efficient use of your time in the air.

9. Learn to Fly Without GPS

Most pro and many amateur model drones come with built in GPS features that allow the UAV to return to a pre determined home location, and, in some cases, fly unassisted. These features are great and ease the learning curve. That said, they can never be relied on entirely. GPS has a tendency to fail in areas of steep mountains, canyons, and tall trees where the drone temporarily loses line of site. It is important to understand how to navigate the drone back to you in a short amount of time before the battery dies. After spending a whole day trekking across the landscape looking for a crashed drone, this is one tip I will never forget.

10. Want To Get Paid?

The FAA requires all pilots working commercially with a drone to have a 333 exemption. The application process isn’t exactly black and white, so check out our 333 exemption guide to get started.

SmartShoot is the perfect place to find a certified drone photographer for your project. We have over 100 legal drone pilots all across the United States. Have your 333 exemption? Sign up to start receiving job notifications from paying companies.

About Casey McCallister

I am an adventure and outdoor lifestyle photographer from San Francisco and the growth hacker at SmartShoot. I enjoy traveling and spending time in nature.

Keep in touch: @caseymac

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