A Guide to Traveling and Shooting Video with a Drone

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This story originally appeared in Best Western’s blog, YouMustBeTrippin.com

BY MANNY RUIZ

Gradually, drones are becoming so common that just stepping outside your home’s door, it’s not unusual to find one flying overhead.  In sharp contrast to the first generation of commercially accessible drones that were bulky, easily blown away and came with flimsy video recording capabilities, today you can find drones that for just under $1,000, fold into your pocket, fly long distances and shoot 4K video.

Being the geeky traveling camera guy that I am, I recently bought one of the most popular drone models because I want to take my drone on my family’s upcoming vacations.  Wouldn’t you know it: In just two days of amateur flight training, I made a terrible rookie mistake and accidentally caused my drone to crash land into pieces.

I’ve since had my drone repaired, but it prompted me to explore what I did wrong and what I could learn from an expert drone videographer like my friend Pablo G who recently spoke at a drone video training session that WK Kellogg Foundation hosted at the annual Hispanicize event.

Here are some incredible nuggets about using drones for vacation videos and other recreational uses:

Practice Piloting Your Drone in an Open Field: Speaking from my own awful experience, I can vouch for the fact that it’s critical you practice using your drone away from trees and other obstacles.  Even though it’s very easy to lift off and move your drone in basic ways, you’ll need three to four hours to learn the many sophisticated ways you can fly and shoot video with your drone.  Pablo says one common best practice to achieve good control is to try to make the drone fly in the pattern of the number eight.

Drones Go Up and They Come Down: As impressive as drone technology is, you must ALWAYS remember that drones are machines and they malfunction more than most people are aware of.  This means you should avoid flying over people because if radio interference or other problems emerge in flight, a drone weighing nine to 15 pounds could come crashing down on someone.

There are Regulations for Flying Drones: The new generation of drones have built-in GPS systems that let you know if you are flying too close to an area with restricted airspace, such as an airport.  This was done to avoid an obvious tragedy so you need to take these restrictions seriously and upon purchasing your drone, you must register your drone with the FAA.

Don’t Hover!  In the course of flying your drone, keep in mind that your drone is really an aerial HD 4K camera. Pablo says it’s considered bad etiquette to hover over populated areas (like sunbathers at a beach) because it angers people who are already inclined to believe drones violate their privacy.

Don’t Trust Your Drone’s Battery Life Indicator: All of the mid to high range drones come with low battery power sensors that begin alerting you to drainage at 50%. Pablo says that even with his pro drones, he never believes the power indicator and by the time his drone begins to alert him that it has reached 50%, he is forcing the drone to return home. Like most rechargeable devices, Pablo says drone batteries begin to drain faster with more usage so he always keeps three backup batteries and he recommends the same for everybody.

International Travel Considerations: Outside of the U.S., drones are also starting to face regulations and limitations so before traveling internationally, do some research and try to adhere to the same cautions as the ones you must practice in the U.S. GPS systems are satellite dependent so chances are that even in some remote nations, your drone will pick up GPS systems.

Take Your Drone Batteries on Your Carry-On: In the U.S., rechargeable lithium ion batteries must always be carried in carry-on baggage. Three batteries, including one in the drone, are the limit for traveling. This includes your drone batteries. You’ll need to verify with the airline, but the standard regulations limit passengers to only two lithium ion batteries over 100 watt-hours (Wh). There is no limit for most batteries under 100-watt hours.

Buy a Drone Protection Plan: Based on my own experience, I would have been out more than $700 if I hadn’t bought a drone protection plan. Because I had one, it only cost me $79 to repair my drone.

Plan Your Drone Video Shoot: If your primary purpose for taking your drone on vacation is to shoot video, carefully plot what your video shots are going to be and try to make them smooth flowing in whatever direction you do shoot them. Intermediate techniques include learning to pan the camera sideways towards an object as you go higher or lower near that object, following someone alongside them as they run, pedal a bike or roller skate and even creating a contrast shot of a large object that is near with a vast scene that is widescreen in the background. The more you plan close-ups, smooth video and wide angle shots, the better.  Planning is also helpful because the average drone will fly 12 minutes before they arrive at the cautionary 50% power level that Pablo encourages everyone to use to start returning the drone home.

Never Fly Drones in Rain or Windy Weather: If the wind is strong or it starts to rain, risks being swept out by the wind or damaged by the rain.  Bring it home.

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