Using a Drone for Photos

6 minute read

Drones are a new and exciting option for taking photos and video in locations otherwise unreachable. Some folks have been reckless and/or inconsiderate with their drones. Some folks do not respect the safety aspects. This has caused friction with the average public who don’t adopt change easily.

Photos With A Drone

image-right Adding a drone into my camera arsenal has been exciting. I’m able to capture shots you couldn’t otherwise get. I used the drone to travel ahead a couple miles and scope out our drive on our dirt road to make sure the RV wouldn’t have any problems. I’ve also been able to look over mountain ranges and fly down creeks to see if something is interesting to pursue. It’s been handy.

Flying a drone comes with a bit of responsibility. For starters, people hate change and drones are new. Regulations for drones are rapidly evolving. Law enforcement is often misinformed about who regulates drone use; and, this passes down to civilians being misinformed.

image-left Drone use in National Forests is perfectly legal under the most recent documentation released by the Nat’l Park Service. Park rangers will still tell people they are not legal.

I was taking a picture of a sunset over a farm when a couple of people stopped to inform me that flying my drone was “highly illegal in National Forests”. You could tell they were annoyed and threatened to take my license plate. I encouraged them to do so and patiently explained the law. I explained that I’d be perfectly happy to wait and discuss this topic with a Park Ranger.

Once I started rattling off specific sections of the FAA code and snippets of the National Forest guidelines they retracted. It was an awkward encounter but brought visibility to a bigger problem; people don’t like them because they’re new. It didn’t matter that I was flying in the middle of nowhere hundreds of feet away from anything. It didn’t matter that no humans were within miles of the area. It didn’t matter that I’m always cautious and respectful of my surroundings. They saw me landing and didn’t like the drone.

Make sure you know the law.

When I started using my drone I did a tremendous amount of research. You are required to register with the FAA and display your license number prominently on the drone. You are also required to follow a slew of guidelines.

Since people tend to have drastically different feelings about drone use I’ve made an effort to be respectful and keep mine out-of-site-out-of-mind. Even if I’m within my rights to fly around an area with people I tend to fly really high and stay less noticeable. Drones can pollute a beautiful scene with noise. They can be pretty loud. I try to balance my usage with getting a good photo but keeping my distance from popular locations. Sometimes I lose a good shot and that’s okay.

It’s imperative that if you want to use a drone that you read up on the laws for the environment you’re going to fly. For instance, National Parks completely ban the use of drones. National Forests do not have such restrictions. Even without the restrictions in National Forests, you are still limited to only flying under Public Law 112-95 Section 336 which is for hobby or recreational flying. Commercial flight is prohibited in National Forests without a permit.

I always keep a PDF and documentation related to the applicable laws for where I’m flying handy. You must understand that the code and guidelines for Drone use are evolving much more rapidly than training for local law enforcement. Be prepared to have a polite and constructive conversation and bring the laws to the attention of the enforcement officer. The officer may persist and under that circumstance your best option is to land your drone and leave.