This is a guest post from our friend Dirk Dallas, founder and curator of From Where I Drone. Take it away Dirk!
I’ve been flying drones for a few years now and one of the questions I get from new pilots is, “What are some things you wish you would have known when you first started out?” So I thought it would be helpful to compile five things I wish I would have known sooner.
1) Always scout your locations
One of my favorite free tools for scouting new locations to fly and shoot at is Google Earth. Google Earth allows you to get a good sense about the landscape, obstacles, roads, parking and clear takeoff areas of that location without having to leave your house. I also like to use it to virtually explore an area that is unfamiliar to me to see if there are any interesting patterns, subjects or landmarks, like in this example, that I might otherwise miss just being at ground level.
Google Earth allows you to pan and tilt all around satellite imagery to get an idea of what the best flight path or angle might be for capturing that epic photo or video. Another added bonus to using Google Earth is the photo mode that is powered by another great scouting website called Panoramio. Photo mode populates a location with photographs that have been geo-tagged so you can see what other photographers have captured in the area.
2) Know the rules and where you can fly
When I first started flying, figuring out the rules for where I could fly my drone was impossible. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) website had no information which made everything even more confusing. Thankfully, things have changed and there are quite a few resources for learning what the drone rules are.
This is why I highly recommend you first study the FAA’s Know Before You Fly website to learn what the rules are for operating your UAV. Then before each flight, I recommend you visit a website like Airmap.io or download an app like Hover because they provide up-to-date maps of where you can and cannot fly your drone.
These free drone map search tools allow you to see where a no-fly zone might be because of a nearby airport, national park or even just a temporary FAA no-fly zone that is a result of a fire or security issue in the area.
3) Always check the weather conditions
You should always check the weather to be sure you’re taking to the skies in the best possible conditions.
My favorite drone specific weather website is UAV Forecast (they also have an app) because it provides detailed information related to current and forecasted weather conditions.
UAV Forecast breaks down local wind speed (my favorite feature), wind direction, cloud cover, visibility, temperature and the chance of rain. It also provides hourly forecasts for the week, as well as a Kp index which helps you to determine the amount of interference you might experience with radio control signals due to geomagnetic disruption.
All this information then culminates into a simple yes or no indicator helping you determine whether or not you should fly in the area you have selected.
4) Photography principles still apply
Taking your drone up a couple hundred feet and looking around is truly amazing. But as a visual storyteller don’t forget that basic photography principles are what help take your imagery from okay to great. Many of my early photographs are just random, uninteresting shots.
Now I take the time to really consider lines, texture, patterns, balance, depth etc… Remember, all of these proven photography principles are just helpful guidelines for making your imagery more interesting. After learning about the photography basics, check out some specific drone photography tips here.
5) Find community
I wish I had found community much sooner into my drone journey. I can’t tell you how important it is to find like-minded people that are also interested in this new and exciting field.
If you have local friends that you meet with face to face that is great, but if you don’t have that opportunity, try to connect with people online. There are great forums, like the UAVCoach Forum as well as many drone Facebook groups (just do a search on Facebook) as well as ways to find other drone pilots on social networks like @fromwhereidrone or by using a hashtag such as #fromwhereidrone.
Having access to resources like this will not only help you with questions you might have but it will also serve as a way to learn from others and not make the same mistakes, and my favorite part, to be inspired by all the amazing things people are doing with their drones.
If you aren’t a part of some type of online community then definitely go find one!
I hope this was helpful to those of you who are new to this field. For those of you that have been involved with drones for a while, what did I miss? What do you wish you would have known when you were first starting out? Tell us in a comment below.
Dirk Dallas is the founder and curator of fromwhereidrone.com. From Where I Drone is a resource dedicated to educating and inspiring drone photographers and cinematographers to help them become better visual storytellers.