Until the use of drones, “getting all the angles” meant standing on chairs and desks, lying on the floor, or even hanging from the top of a chain-link fence. But now, image-makers can now easily add 400 feet up in the air to their repertoire.

Drones are becoming more commonplace and can be an amazing tool to help storytellers with their work. Even though they are more affordable now than when they first hit the market, drones can still trigger a cringe when their new owners first send them up into the sky. After all, what if that still-expensive piece of equipment crashes into, say, a street light or disappears into a forest?

I do not claim to know everything about drones, but I do have a lot of experience putting them up in the sky and successfully landing them – all the while capturing some great images and moving pictures. From the first two years of piloting, here are some things I’ve learned:

Always know the area in which you are flying

Don’t be that drone operator who’s accidentally taken down a small plane. Know where you are flying at all times. Apps – such as AirMap – will find your location, let you know which airspace you’re in, and let you know if you are too close to any airports, airfields, stadiums with live games or anything else that would restrict you from flying your drone. Use a spotter to help keep an eye out for things such as low-flying single engine planes (which are common) or large birds (I know an operator whose drone was attacked by a bald eagle and sent to the bottom of a lake).

Don’t be surprised when people ask you to fly where you can’t

This falls in line with knowing the area in which you’re flying. Most people don’t know the rules and regulations when flying a drone – so this is your opportunity to be a teacher. When you get a request to fly, there are tools online (and apps for your phone) that you can easily use to show your client where you can and cannot safely fly.

Not every story requires a drone shot

Yes, you spent a lot of time and money buying a drone, passing your license test and getting insurance, but this doesn’t mean that everything you do should automatically include a drone shot. Think of it this way: Does that drone shot add any substance to what you’re trying to say? That being said…

Drones work great as gimbals and to show space

Most new drones have extremely steady video and are great for following or panning shots. Don’t have a gimbal? Use a drone! Just be careful if you’re using it in close quarters or near people – getting hit with the propeller hurts and can cause some serious injuries.

Another great use for drones is to show space. Because drones are bringing image makers to literal new heights, it’s easier than ever to show a full building, the small boat on a big lake, a group of snowboarders on a snow-covered hill or a governess singing “The Sound of Music” on a grassy hillside in Austria.

Instruction manuals – and the internet – help

Drones are incredibly complex machines. I read through my entire manual (er, most of it) and was still perplexed by the number of things that could go wrong. When in doubt, consult the internet. Sometimes watching a video of someone calibrating a drone is easier than reading about how to do it.

Be courteous

Some people just flat-out do not like drones. They’ll make themselves known if you’re flying anywhere near them and will tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. If you would, please, just be courteous. Show them the amazing image on your controller and ask them if they want to watch. This works to calm them down most of the time, as a majority of onlookers are just curious; however, if they continue to complain, land your craft and politely explain to them that you’ve taken all the proper precautions and steps to ensure a safe flight.

Don’t test the theory that it’s ‘impossible to crash these newer drones’

This might be obvious. But just know, even with the sensors that detect objects, your drone can still crash. It might seem like it’s stopping well in advance of objects such as buildings or trees, but the moment you say, “Watch this – it’s impossible to crash these newer drones,” you will inevitably crash your drone.

Having a drone and being able to view and capture things at an entirely different level than before is an amazing experience. Be sure to know the rules of the sky and keep up to date on changing regulations. As we’ve all learned from the Spider-Man comics, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Twin Cities PBS teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the governing agency on all things transportation related, to bring you this story about how to use drones in creative ways while being a responsible pilot at the same time. ________________________________________________________________________

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