Thinking of Getting into Drone Photography? - Dreamstime

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Some of the most spectacular video photography you will ever see is now being done by small cameras mounted onto drones. Thanks to advances in technology, both the quality and cost of equipment is now affordable for amateurs who are looking to be on the cutting edge of a whole different kind of photography, including video.

DJI Phantom quadcopter drone

Those who are new to drone photography and video should do a little research before rushing out to purchase the required equipment. Drones are generally sold in hobby and specialty stores and many times the clerk behind the counter will be quick to make their commission and sell you whatever is on the shelf.

The Camera

The first consideration is the camera itself. It needs to be small and light, at least for the low end drones. There are professional grade drones that can carry larger and heavier equipment but the cost is prohibitive. Therefore, until there are competitive alternatives, virtually everyone is using the GoPro camera. You will also find that drone manufacturers will design their flying machine to specifically hold and mount the GoPro camera.

GoPro cameras are designed to be versatile and mount to just about anything. There have even been a few videos floating around the internet where the GoPro camera was mounted onto falcons and other large, trained birds. These videos are quite stunning and show the possibilities if you use just a little imagination.

It's hard to go wrong with the GoPro as it about the only camera available and has been proven over and over to deliver. There are many videos online you can search for in order to see what they can produce.

Technicians Using Laptop By UAV Drone

The Drone

The camera may be easy, but when it comes to the drone, there are many different choices and features that need to be considered.

Drone Flight Time

First of all, even though many drones are built with the ability to mount a GoPro camera, you will still want to make sure the camera can be mounted onto the chassis. Also, is it powerful enough? Just because it can hold and carry a camera, will it be strong enough to handle the load adequately?

One thing some store clerks won't tell you is the life of the battery on the drone. They might be more interested in the quick sale and by selling you a unit that seems to be a bargain price, you may find the drone you purchased to be a lot less than you bargained for. There are drones on the market that will perform just fine but with the camera mounted, the battery may have a charge that will only last for seven minutes, give or take. The price difference for the next model up may not be that much more but well worth the extra cost if you'll find a drone where the battery lasts a good 25 minutes.

What good is a drone if you have to wait an hour to recharge the battery for a seven minute flight? You could purchase extra batteries but then you're spending the same money for the model with the 25 minute battery.

Drone Gimbals

Another option is the gimbal. A gimbal is an attachment where you can control the direction of the camera. The camera is mounted on the gimbal which allows the camera to be rotated in various directions. You don't have to purchase a gimbal but then the camera will be attached directly to the drone. If you want to pan left or right, you will need to move the drone. A gimbal will allow the drone to fly in a stationary position yet you'll be able to control what the camera is looking at.

Drone Controller

The controller which flies the drone also has various capabilities depending on which unit you purchase. Drone can be purchased with or without the controller but the vendors will usually include a lower end controller so the customer can have a complete kit.

A controller will have several channels for different functions but you need to make sure the controller will be adequate for your needs. If you use a gimbal the controller will need extra channels for that. You may want channels to be used for monitoring your video.

if you purchase a basic drone unit, you will not be able to see what you're capturing. Since a most cameras used on drones have more of a wide angle view, it may not be that important to see what the camera sees while flying. If the camera was wifi features, you will have the option to use a digital viewing device to connect and watch the video in real time.

The problem with wifi is the range. If the drone is too far away, you will not be able to maintain the wifi connection. Therefore, you may want to purchase a drone that transmits a signal so you can see the video in real time. Viewing options can vary but then you will need to purchase the additional equipment that will give you in-flight video viewing. The controller will need channels for this so be sure your controller will have enough channels for all the functions you require.

DJI Phantom quadcopter drone

Drone Regulations

As drone enthusiasts grow in numbers, it is inevitable more and more government regulations will come into play. There are existing laws in place and more will be coming. In the United States, hobby drones 55 pounds or less must be operated five miles away from an airport. There have been cases where drone operators posted their video online and a government agency was able to determine the flight location. $10,000 fines have been handed out where regulations were not followed.

Be aware of where you are flying your drone and at the very least, use extreme caution what you post onto the internet. A seemingly innocent video could bring you all sorts of legal troubles.

Drone Safety

You also need to be aware of drone safety. You will want to avoid injury to you or others and you will not want to damage your equipment. Some people suggest purchasing an inexpensive unit so you can practice flying. A rogue breeze can send the unit careening into the ground or a wall or another person. It may be a relatively calm day but once the drone is above the trees there may be a strong breeze that you're not aware of. If you practice flying you will have a better feel of conditions before flying your more expensive equipment.

It would be a good idea to wear safety glasses when flying your drone, especially if it's within close proximity to you. If it suddenly angles off the propellers may cause some cuts or worse. I saw one instance where someone was practicing with a small drone inside their home when it careened out of control and skimmed along the face of their big screen TV. The propellers left a scratch along the screen which, of course, was not a good thing.

So those are the fundamentals of things to consider when purchasing a drone for photography and video. You're going to want a camera that is small and light enough for the consumer and hobbyist grade drone models. Make sure the drone has enough power to handle the equipment and add-ons and that the battery will last long enough for your needs. The controller will need enough channels for add-ons such as a gimbal and options for watching the video in real time. Lastly, be safe! Practice flying before getting too brave. It may be tempting to run to the beach to get some of those fantastic surf scenes but you don't want to be swimming out to retrieve the unit and hoping the darn thing will float. Be careful when flying indoors and at least wear eye protection. And know the laws for your location before taking flight!

Photo credits: Tyler Olson, Marek Uliasz.

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February 01, 2020


GREAT blog, thanks for sharing.

January 18, 2020


I'm glad to see the drone articles finally come trickling in! 

January 16, 2020


Hi Wisconsinart -  Nice article. Thank you. I would like to share my experience with you as I got myself a drone with a camera as well. I got lucky and got a super nice drone from my neighbor that never used it.Doing research myself as I wanted to submit images that I go from here in the USA and in Brazil I found that if any of my images or footage from the drone was to make any money or gain anyone monetary value...ANY AT ALL...our wonderful IRS (in the USA) states you must have a Part 107 pilots license if any monetary value is gained. Also for example: If you were my neighbor and asked me to take my drone up to your roof so you can see if there is any damage I would essentially be saving you money from calling a "Professional".....that action has monetary value and therefore i am doing an illegal action.If I am just flying the drone for fun, although there are a billion rules which almost makes having a drone pointless, all I need to do is register my drone and then fly fly fly.Point is please do your research and check the guidelines regarding drone photography wherever your from. Happy New Year Everyone!!!!

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