KNOW YOUR DRONE LAWS
Do you need to register? Get a licence? The rules of flying drones keep changing, but we’re here to help
Check the latest regulations around drone use
Drone photography is growing at a rapid rate, and we know that many DP readers are proud drone owners. In this tutorial, we’re giving you a refresher on the official drone rules that you need to follow (correct at the time of print), plus how to set one up if you haven’t used a drone before.
The recent launch of the DJI Mini 2 (reviewed on p108) has highlighted the biggest growth area in drones: lightweight. The Mavic Mini and Mini 2 are designed to weigh below the 250g weight, beyond which you’ll need official registration in the USA and Canada.
In the UK, one of the best resources to check that you’re flying safely and legally is Drone Safe, a site run by the Civic Aviation Authority
(WWW.DRONESAFE.UK). It states that “anyone responsible for a drone weighing between 250g and 20kg (or under 250g if it has a camera) will need to register as an operator… and take and pass an online education package.”
To use a drone for commercial purposes, you’ll need to attend a PfCO course approved by the CAA with the National Qualified Entity (NQE). These rules do change, so be sure to check the information for approved operators plus new exemptions at WWW.CAA.CO.UK.
As a good proportion of people fly drones purely as a hobby, most of the rules are common sense, such as not flying your drone within 1km of an airport, and ensuring you keep a direct line of sight with your drone at all times.
You might think the physically much bigger USA would offer more space, but in practice there are plenty of restrictions, including National Parks and military bases. If your drone weighs more than 250g (8.8oz) you’ll need to register for an FAA identification number (which costs $5 and covers all of your drones for three years). If you’re flying for fun, the requirements aren’t strict. But if you plan on making money with your unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), you’ll also need to pass an FAA test and receive Part 107 certification. Once certified, you can use it to capture aerial images, work on film productions, weddings and sell stock – the sky’s the limit.
Now that you’re familiar with the basic rules, here are some extra steps to get you started and take your drone work to new heights…
1 UPDATE ANY SOFTWARE Check that the drone controller has the latest firmware, and update it if not. Also, check you have the latest version of the smartphone app if you’re going to be streaming the video feed to it.
2 SET THE HIGHEST QUALITY Find the settings on the controller or app and set RAW for stills, if available, and the best video output – 4K is preferable to Full HD, as you can crop for a tighter shot and stills output in Full HD.
3 THE REMEMBER PHOTO FUNDAMENTALS basics of photography are just as important when shooting from the sky. Frame up your aerial shots by using the rule of thirds to make the composition more striking.
4 PRE-FLIGHT CHECKS Inspect your drone, make sure you’re at least 50m away from buildings, people and vehicles, and 1km from any airports and airfields. Check the weather forecast, and avoid flying in adverse conditions.
5 USE SPECIAL MODES Drones like DJI’s Spark have modes such as gesture control, target tracking and panoramic shooting. It’s worth reading the manual and getting to grips with the special modes specific to your model.
6 TAKE SPARE BATTERIES Fly time is likely to be around 10-20 minutes with consumer-level drones, as it takes a lot of power to keep them in the air and recording. Invest in spare batteries so you can shoot for longer.