If you want to get in to the exciting and rewarding world of aerial photography or videography, you’ll be pleased to know it’s probably easier than you think, but you should also be aware that there are a few very important things you need to know first, especially when it comes to flying safely and lawfully.
Choosing the right aircraft:
The first thing to consider with your choice of camera drone is likely to be price, but with so many to choose from it can be a little overwhelming. It is therefore best to step back and think less about which drone you want, but more about what you want the drone to do. Most camera drones will offer the ability to take still photographs or even 4k video.
If your main aim is to shoot video from your drone, then ignore the claims of high megapixel counts from the camera, as 4k UHD is always 3,840 pixels by 2,160 pixels, which is only 8.3 megapixels (MP). You might therefore be more interested in looking to see if the camera can shoot more than 30fps at 4k to give you the option to create slow motion video, or to see if the camera can shoot true 4k at 4,096 pixels by 2,160 pixels. You may also decide that you only want to shoot regular HD 1080p for smaller files sizes.
If your main aim is to shoot photographs, then megapixels is key, with the more the better. That said, be sure the pixel count is from the sensor itself, as some cheeky manufacturers are using false figures taken from combination images made up from multiple low MP images stitched together. You may also want to look for a drone that offers more camera control, such as aperture adjustment.
Many camera drones also come with additional features and intelligent flight modes, such as ‘follow me’ and anti-collision sensors. Only you can decide what you think will be of use to you, this is all down to personal preference.
In terms of the flight controls, what is known as ‘Mode 2’ has become industry standard, which is where the throttle and yaw (rudder) are on the left stick, with pitch and roll being on the right stick, but this doesn’t mean it is the best or only option. The best control layout will be the one that feels right for you, with a focus on choosing controls that feel ‘intuitive’, as this means you will be able to react quicker and safer when needed. Most of the modern camera drones can be easily changed from one Mode to another in the drone’s App, but do check the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure.
You MUST register to be lawful:
Once you’ve chosen your drone, the first thing you will need to do is register with the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority as both an Operator and a Flyer to get your identification numbers. This is a legal requirement for any remotely controlled aircraft fitted with a camera regardless of weight. As a British Drone Flyer member of the BMFA this process is very easy and can be done through the membership portal at https://bmfa.azolve.com
The Operator ID:
This is an annual application that costs £9 per year and is a simple registration of identity. The Operator must be at least 18 years of age and must be applied for by the person deemed responsible for the drone. For anyone under 18 this can be a parent or guardian for example. This will give you an identification number that must be displayed on the drone itself. Don’t worry if you have more than one drone, as you can use the same number on all of the drone’s you are responsible for.
The Operator ID can be applied for directly through the CAA, but if you want to make it easier for yourself, you can also purchase it through us and make it part of your membership and future renewals. See https://bmfa.azolve.com
The Flyer ID:
This is for the person that is going to actually fly the drone, so the ‘pilot’. This is usually the same person registered as the Operator, but doesn’t need to be, especially with junior members. The Flyer ID is how you can demonstrate to the CAA that you meet their minimum requirements for competency.
The Flyer ID involves passing a multiple-choice type theory test online, which can be done via the CAA and their Drone and Model Aircraft Registration and Education Scheme (DMARES) or via our Registration Competency Certificate (RCC) test. Both tests are free to take and last up to 5 years, and both are fully recognised as lawful, however we recommend all our members take our RCC test, as the questions are more focused towards the Article 16 authorisation. See https://rcc.bmfa.uk/rcc
Learning to fly:
You might be forgiven for thinking that due to the small size of some of the camera drones that you are perfectly OK to teach yourself to fly in your back garden, but beware as you might be breaking the law if you do. This is because there are laws on how close you can fly to ‘uninvolved persons’, which is your neighbours and anyone that might be walking or driving past your house for example. There are also limitations that prevent you flying in a congested area, which an area set aside for housing would be.
The next place you might consider is a local park or sports field and this might be OK, provided you can keep a minimum distance from uninvolved persons, but might be a problem if the area is open to the public, or if there are any local byelaws in place.
As a result, the safest and best place to learn is a model flying club, which you can find using our club finder page. As well as offering a much safer environment to fly in, you will also be flying with other like-minded people, which gives you access to people that can probably help you learn more about your drone and how to fly it.
Knowing your drone’s capabilities is also very important. Most camera drones are very advanced pieces of electronics, that use gyros and global positioning systems (GPS) to hold their height and position in the air. These systems can be used to electronically limit the distance and height your drone can fly, as well as how it might behave if there is a failure. Take some time to read your manufacturer’s instructions to know how all of this works.
Know the Law:
This guidance document that sets out the limitations for flying drones from the CAA is called CAP722, but as a British Drone Flyers member you are part of the British Model Flying Association and therefore also have access to the BMFA Article 16 authorisation, which enables a different level of flexibility to these limitations.
Article 16 is an Operational Authorisation that has been granted to all members of the BMFA by the CAA, and is also available to British Drone Flyers members as you are part of the BMFA. The article details the extended permitted limitations that you can fly within.
Article 16 is the best place to start to work out where you can and can’t fly, but your BDF insurance also covers you to fly in the Open Categories of CAP722, provided you are flying lawfully.
In order to be lawful when flying, you need to understand that there are numerous laws that govern the use of drones. This includes where you can and can’t fly, how far away you must stay from the public, as well as what you can fly and how far and high.
The most important thing to understand is that the pilot of the drone is deemed to be legally responsible for the flight they are performing, and are therefore responsible for knowing the law. So the best thing to do is to make sure you are familiar with the Article 16 document.
Respect people’s privacy:
Drones can have a bad reputation, with many people being concerned that you are spying on them if you fly near them, so put yourself in their shoes and consider how you might feel if one was being flown near or around you.
Be responsible with what you photograph and avoid taking photos that might look into the private property of others, something which is very easy to accidentally do when taking images from the air.