Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Getting a drone is exciting. Not only are they fun to fly for personal use, but they open up a new realm of creative and professional opportunities. Drone media offers a unique perspective that standard photos and videos just can't convey. Whether you are shooting real estate photos, taking a road trip, or just want to see the world from a different point of view drones are a wonderful tool to capture the perfect shot. If you have been thinking about investing in a drone I cannot recommend it enough, but there are a few things you should consider before getting into the drone game.
1) Professional vs. Personal use
Of course there will be overlap, but there are key differences between flying for personal use and flying for professional use. Let's start with professional use. If you are flying commercially, or plan to make money flying your drone, you have to get a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA.
To get the certificate you must pass the Part 107 exam with a 70%, or higher, demonstrating your understanding of the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones. There are many resources to prepare you for the exam, but the curriculum I found most helpful was created by Drone Launch Academy. You can study, take the test, and get your certificate within a week as long as exam appointments are available. Check your local testing center for appointment availability.
After you pass the exam you will receive a confirmation e-mail with instructions to print a temporary Remote Pilot Certificate. A permanent Remote Pilot card will be mailed once the FAA-internal process is complete. Be sure to have your license at all times when flying commercially and register the drone before your first mission. Whether you are flying for personal or professional use you should purchase DJI Care within 24 hours of activating your drone or you have to go through an intensive video process to get insurance.
Making the distinction of flying for personal or professional use is important because it will impact your decision of what drone to get. Once you make that choice you can start thinking about all the aspects that go into getting your drone in the air and what product to purchase.
2) Rules and Regulations
You have the same responsibility as a UAS pilot as a pilot flying a Cessna or commercial airliner. It's important to understand the rules and regulations outlined by the FAA to make sure you are flying safely. Before each takeoff you should know the airspace your drone will be operating in and never fly above the noted altitude. You must yield to all other air traffic and if you are flying within 5 miles of an airport (commercially) you must notify the air traffic control tower.
Lastly, as a general rule, you should always fly within line of sight and never above 400 feet (121 meters). For a more detailed list of regulations check out the FAA's fact sheet and use these apps for help.
Flightradar24: Flightradar24 is an app that shows you the planes in a given airspace. It also lists flight patterns, direction, altitude, and other specific flight information.
UAV Forecast: UAV Forecast is an app that tells you weather details such as wind speed, visibility, satellites available, cloud cover percentage, and if it's safe to fly.
B4UFly: B4UFly is an app that allows you to map your flight before take off. It will notify you of no fly zones and altitude restrictions. Airspaces are constantly changing so this is a very useful app and should be referenced before each flight. Available on Android's Google Play store and Apple's App store.
3) Research the type of drone you want to buy
Now that you have a better understanding of the rules and how you want to fly it's time to research drones. There are a ton of drones on the market and you will have to figure out what's important to you before you purchase your first copter. Price, specs, and transportability are all factors that will play into your decision.
Take the time to do your research, watch videos, read articles, and seek clarification on anything that will help you make a better decision. The last thing you want to do is rush into a purchase only to find out you didn't get the drone that does what you want.
If you are flying commercially I would look at specs first. Almost all professional drone content has to be shot at a certain quality. That means you have to invest in equipment that allows you to shoot in 4k and different frame rates, etc. If you are flying for fun specs won't matter as much and you can invest in something cheaper. Transportability is also something to take into consideration. If you plan to travel with your drone it makes more sense to look into aircrafts that are smaller and fold up neater. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference and what you are using the drone for.
I fly a Phantom 4 Pro and love it. I use it for real estate photography and videography as well as personal use. It captures stunning footage, has automated flight modes, and good battery life (about 25 minutes). After completing many successful projects I only wish it was easier to travel with, but there are pros and cons to every piece of equipment. Do your due diligence and you will start to gravitate toward a certain product.
4) Practice flying
There is no better way to practice flying a drone than hands on with a remote control, but apps can be helpful. You may not have all the switches and toggles of an actual drone remote, but you can get a better feel for stick layout, sensitivity, and directional flying. Using apps to practice is all about increasing your comfortability without any real risk. You can pin it, fly backwards, fly high, practice different routes, or learn how to correct in-flight errors. The time you spend practicing will directly translate to how comfortable you are when it comes to operating the real equipment.
5) Common uses
The use of drones is becoming increasingly more popular across many industries. Environmental companies are using them for surveys, real estate firms are using them for listing promos, music festivals are using them for recap videos, and entrepreneurs are using them to create dynamic marketing material. It seems everywhere you look drone photos and video can be found. Once you have decided what drone to invest in you can begin finding your niche within the drone world.
From auto-bracketing photos to pans, fly overs, fly throughs, time lapses, hyper-lapses and reveals a well-executed drone shot or video can leave a lasting impression. Whatever you use the drone for it is sure to capture compelling media. Practice different routes, take advantage of the automated flight modes, and get creative with your aircraft. Make some money if that's your goal or fly for personal use. Either way, fly safe, and have fun!
I hope this information helped you understand drones more. If you have any questions or would like to discuss anything drone related in more depth you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.