Of Drones and Photography

We have all gasped at the stunning footage more than once. Here, guest writer Max Therry provides a comprehensive look at what you need to know when commissioning/shooting with drones. Definitely one to bookmark!

Over the years, photography has seen many different forms. But perhaps, one of the most controversial methods of photography, has been in the last few years — with the popularization of drones.

Drones offer an unparalleled form of image creating, allowing viewers to see the world from way up high. They also come with the idea that an unmanned aerial vehicle presents no human pilot onboard and therefore, it requires various regulations.

We’ve put together a list of the most basic regulations, from insurance to registration to current guidelines, to give you an idea of what you need to know before you fly!

Keep in mind, when flying your aircraft, that drones (along with their rules and regulations) are constantly changing and evolving. So, before embarking on a new journey or project, make sure to check in and see what requirements are needed for your particular drone uses.

Drone Insurance and Registration

Currently, you’re under no obligation to insure or register your drone if you’re flying for recreational or hobby purposes. According to fortune.com there’s no official tally of damage caused by drones, though high profile injuries have included musician Enrique Iglesias and Trevor Bauer (a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians).

Coverage for damage caused by the drone varies from situation to situation. As fortune.com discusses in their article, if your drone damages your car, that’s related to your auto policy, whereas bodily injury would fall under the liability portion of your homeowners policy (and so on).


There’s a lot of questions “up in the air” about whether or not a drone needs to be registered.

These days, if you buy a new drone for fun flying purposes, you no longer have to register it. However, if you find yourself flying for commercial purposes, you do need to register.

This has to do with a decision issued by a federal court in Washington D.C. on May 19th, 2017.

In an email to Recode, DJI’s head of policy Brendan Shulman stated, “The FAA’s innovative approach to drone registration was very reasonable, and registration provides for accountability and education to drone pilots. I expect the legal issue that impedes this program will be addressed by cooperative work between the industry and policymakers.”

For now, the lack of need to register still stands — though that might change in the future as things progress with the policy makers and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Different Rule for Commercial Productions

When it comes to productions, the rules and laws are a bit different — so it’s good to do your research beforehand depending upon your specific location. Getting insurance not only protects the owner or operator of the aircraft but the production company as well as the public.

Film productions in California, for example, that are wishing to film on State owned or operate property must supply insurance coverage for their specific aircraft with a limit of at least 2,000,000 — whether that’s coming from an aviation-specific insurance carrier or if the coverage is being added to a general liability policy.

For more information, you can visit www.movieinsure.com.

The Main Drone Guidelines

Although you might not need to register your drone with the FAA currently, you do still have to follow the guidelines if you’re choosing to operate the aircraft.

Here are the main guidelines:

  • Drone is to only be operated during daytime or civil twilight (which is 30 minutes before official sunrise or 30 minutes after official sunset)
  • If you’re flying within 5 miles of the airport, give the airport notice
  • Drone should only be operated up to a maximum of 400 feet above the ground
  • While you’re flying, the drone must remain within your visual-line-of-sight
  • Do not fly your drone within 50 meters of a person (with the exception of take-off or landing) and keep it 50 meters away from buildings, structures and vehicles
  • Do not fly over people (crowds, community gathers, concerts, etc.)

If you’re looking for more information, this article by Air Map has some useful tips and this article from Peta Pixel references the FAA’s full list of rules.

So, Where Can’t You Fly?

  • Do not fly near other aircrafts, particularly near airports;
  • Do not fly over groups of people;
  • Do not fly over stadiums or sporting events (Major League Baseball, National Football League, etc.);
  • Do not fly near emergency response efforts such as wildfires;
  • Do not fly in National Parks;
  • Do not fly in the airspace around Washington DC (it is the most restricted in the country).

The Deal with Private Property

When it comes to private property and flying your drone, there are many things that remain unclear so far as regulations go. The FAA owns the aerospace, meaning that private property owners can’t entirely tell a drone operator that they are not allowed to fly in the area. In essence, there is not yet a clear definition of where private property ends when you’re discussing the air above that property.

However, a property owner (or someone like a security guard) can ask you to land your drone and leave the area if they don’t want to be bothered by the drone, claiming that you are violating state privacy manner or flying in a way that is reckless.

Your best bet is to research laws in your particular area, as certain local laws can prohibit you from flying over cities.

The Data Protection

Although drones use wide angle lenses and aren’t the typical paparazzi tool, any footage you create with your drone photography is regulated by law the same way that regular photography is. Check out the Photographer’s Right for clear guidelines.

What this means, is that you have to get permission from the people that you are filming – that can be negotiated and agreed upon with the parties that you have or are planning to film. However, sometimes in order to save yourself from possible legal obligations, you can delete trademarks, people or objects from your images in the post-processing phase –  all the modern photo editing tools like Photoshop or Snapheal are able to do that. This technique is widely used for stock photography: for example, you might need to delete crowds from tourist destinations to create clear landscapes, remove brand logos from the clothes etc.

The Best General Practices

Here are some of the best practices to abide by when flying your drone, according to Voluntary Best Practices for UAS Privacy, Transparency, and Accountability:

  • If you can, tell other people you’ll be taking pictures or video of them before you do so.
  • If you think someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy, don’t violate that privacy.
  • If someone asks you to delete personal data about him or her that you’ve gathered, do so (unless you have a good reason not to).
  • If anyone raises privacy, security, or safety concerns with you, try and listen to what they have to say, as long as they’re polite and reasonable about it.

So, if you’re looking to take flight soon — our hope is that these tips, tricks and guidelines help you get up in the air and snap some incredible images.

For more information on model aircraft guidelines, make sure to check out this link from the FAA and knowbeforeyoufly.org

Happy flying!

Max Therry is an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. Feel free to contact him by email or follow on Instagram.

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