So you have bought your first drone, well done! Maybe you have had your drone for a period of time but have no idea how to start? Hopefully this beginners guide to drone flying and setup can help you with drone setup, flying your drone and taking photographs & videos.
Sure there are thousands upon thousands of YouTube clips and Google articles on how to do exactly that and this is no different, but I will tell you how I do it, how it has worked for me and things I have learnt along the way…all from an amateur perspective.
That means no selling useless junk, or the view of an uber professional, just a straight to the point discussion with information you can actually use. Lets begin!
All drones are relatively the same, they have four propellers (some six), they have batteries and most have cameras attached, plus they all look cool!
All these drones need to be prepared properly so you have the best chance of having a safe flight.
With my Mavic Pro, the first thing I do is check the propellers.
I make sure they are in good condition with no chips, rough edges or cuts on them, as this can cause them to disintegrate at high speeds.
Naturally this would result in complete flight failure and crashing!
Secondly, I check the airframe.
This involves looking for any cracks in the outer shell, and particularly the arm joints as these are subject to the main forces. These arms act like wings on an aircraft. Unlike a fixed wing aircraft, the wings do not provide lift, but without them, or if one is fractured you will lose your drone.
Thirdly, I check the camera, the gimbal and battery.
These are a precursory check for any fatigue points and dirt. Dirt could cause friction and overheating of the gimbal mount and making sure it is dirt free will allow it to move freely.
If this is left unchecked and there is debris, you will find that a failure will happen in the initial startup and/or overheating the gimbal. (trust me).
Finally and most importantly, I check the app I use to fly my drone, DJI GO 4, and download any updates available.
This will ensure any no fly zones are adhered too so that you don’t get into any trouble.
I also strongly suggest downloading the appropriate drone fly apps that show you if you can fly in the area you want to. So with me in Australia, I use Opensky (iTunes App Store/GooglePlay). It provides information for you to see if there are airports nearby, fires, no fly zones etc, giving you peace of mind when you fly.
Flying your drone
Great! You have set up your drone and checked your local area. Now its time to fly!
Needless to say you would have charged all your batteries and ensured you have a MicroSD card placed into your drone ( I use a 64GB one to make sure I never run out of space).
Turn the drone on and wait for its initial startup. Once ready takeoff and maintain a height of roughly 3 metres. I make sure the satellites are locked on and perform a full rotation, camera movement check and focus check.
Taking photographs with a drone
Now move forward to your desired location, either a ship you saw, or dolphins in the water, or a sand dune for instance. I try and make sure the wind is not excessive and have it in front of the drone as much as possible, (this aids in your return journey by giving you a tailwind).
When your’e over the top, move your gimbal down and touch your phone or iPad screen to focus. I have lost count on the amount of times I have taken out of focus photographs or my camera was unable to focus due to dirt or vibration.
Take multiple photographs from all different angles, high, low, from side to side etc. This will allow you to pick the best the best one to edit, crop etc.
Taking videos with a drone
Taking videos on a drone is basically the same as taking photographs but your main focus is to be smooth and deliberate.
The thing that makes a video good or bad in my opinion is the jerkiness or lack there of. A smooth operator can time his or her turning of the drone with the turning of the camera mount, making it look seamless.
Make sure your drone is not in Sport Mode, as there is no such thing as smooth and seamless when its trying to do barrel rolls!
Once you have taken your video, slow the drone down to a gradual stop, record for a few more seconds and then stop.
This will allow the viewer to recognise the end of the clip without thinking it was abruptly cutoff. In my opinion this works best and you can see examples of this on my Instagram page or below…
Landing your drone and packing it up
Now the biggest thing in droning, is know your limitations.
Don’t fly if you feel uncomfortable with the weather conditions, don’t fly in heavy wind, don’t fly in adverse weather conditions, and do not fly past your drones battery life.
Luckily, with the Mavic Pro, it tells me when my battery is dying and will return home automatically. Some drones do not have this so please keep that in mind! (If you ignore the warnings with the Mavic, IT WILL LAND BY ITSELF, NO MATTER WHERE!)
Once you have landed, shut the drone down as per normal and give it a chance to cool down.
Remember that batteries cannot be charged directly after they have been used as they are too hot.
Replace the gimbal covers and camera covers and check the air-frame, propellers etc.
Tips to help
Here are a few more tips I hope you can use as this is from experience!
If you find the wind is too much once you have become airborne and find you are getting pushed further away despite maximum forward action, decrease height and use the natural surrounds as a wind break.
I have done this a few times and have gotten low and slow just to get back. Sometimes this works and if it is just too much, identify the best and safest area to land so that you can pick it up later on!
If you are out over the water, no juice and the wind is too much….then I suggest you video your drone’s demise and learn from it!
Pay attention to no fly zones!
Even if you think you are safe, check!
Trust me, I thought I was safe in an area, and ended up paying a $1200 fine from being a few hundred metres in a no fly zone. This is no joke, check, check, check!
Learn all you can on the drone you are flying, learn all its features and experiment with it all. You will find that they can do many things and will open your eyes to the possibilities!
Happy flying, and if you want to learn more please follow me and contact me anytime. You can leave comments below and I will respond to them when I can.
About the author – Timothy Merchant
My name it Timothy Merchant and I am an amatuer drone photographer. I grew up in Perth, Western Australia (WA) before joining the Army and then settling in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
I have always had a passion for flying and since I can remember, I had always wanted to be a pilot. Throughout my 35 years on this earth, I managed to get my Private Pilots licence but circumstances prevented me from continuing. Needless to say the flying bug has stayed with me, throughout my tours in Afghanistan and Iraq seeing all the jets and helicopters doing their thing, living the dream of all boys and girls out there, to now here in Canberra..it will never leave.
So introduce drones, the amazing technological advancement allowing people like me to satisfy their flying urge, but also given the oppurtunity to take high quality aerial photographs. It was a win win for me and I always love the feeling of setting it up and taking off that first time.
Please feel free to follow me on Instagram. I take photographs of anything that peaks my interest, mainly ocean views, surfing, ships, boats and anything that has that potential wow factor. Message me if you would like any information on drone flying or setup.
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