Introduction: How to Fly a Drone With a Camera Safely

About: Inventor and Emergency Doctor.

Some people have a bucket list of places they want to visit; I have a bucket list of skills I would love to have. (Currently it's only welding left!) Last year I wanted to be able to fly a drone but didn't have a good excuse to buy one. When I spotted a plant growing out of the chimney I decided to use a drone to kill it with weedkiller, as you can see in my previous Instructable. It took me a few hours to feel confident flying it, not as long as I thought but the learning curve is pretty steep! Here are some tips on how to fly a drone with a camera safely.

I now have three drones, including an awesome tiny one you can see above which is only an inch across which is here on Amazon;

I also have a much larger 608g Holystone Ophelia which is here; and I have this awesome folding quadcopter;

The big one is far easier to fly than tiny one. The main difference is that the larger Holystone has GPS and altimeter which mean it can hover in one position without drifting sideways or up or down. The smaller one has neither of these, so even after trimming the controls it tends to drift and for the first few hours of flying it I was totally centred on not hitting the walls and ceiling, rather than doing anything meaningful.

Flying indoors there are more obstacles but there is also no wind. A large open space outside when there is no wind is probably better but a small drone may be carried by only a light breeze and as an inexperienced pilot you might not be able to bring it back. If you have to fly indoors make sure it is a large room or ideally a sports hall or similar. Put away anything breakable!

Step 1: Safety First!

Drones can be powerful and rotors sharp. Keep away from rotors when they are running and never fly near a person or animal. Large drones are easily powerful enough to chop a finger off. If your drone is about to hit a wall, the ground, a tree or anything else, cut the power to minimise damage to the drone and whatever is about to be hit.

Be sure there is no way to power the rotors on when you holding or working on your drone. Either disconnect or keep clear of sticks on the controller.

Make sure you stick to the law, see here

Never fly near an airport, pylons or powerlines. Keep away from trees and buildings. Only fly during the day when there is close to no chance of rain and minimal wind. Larger drones can tolerate a breeze but small ones can be lost easily if you are a novice (I learnt this the hard way!)

Check your drone isn't damaged and that all removable parts are properly connected.

Step 2: Basic Controls

Flying a drone is significantly different to using a radio controlled car or boat as it can move in three dimensions. There are three basic aspects to controlling it, yaw (rotate in horizontal plane), pitch (move forwards/backwards), roll (move left and right without rotating) and up/down (climb/descend). The basic controls of all drones are the same.

Push the sticks very gently to start with, even tiny drones can be powerful and move fast. Start with the throttle pulled fully towards you, like in the photos. The rotors will be off. Take off by gently pushing the left throttle stick away from you. Once you are at about eye level gently pull the throttle back until the drone stops ascending and hovers. If the drone is drifting in one direction use the trim buttons to compensate. If its drifting forwards press the backwards trim a few times until it stops. This happens when the controls aren't equilibrated and may need to be repeated after a damaging crash or replacing rotors.

Use the right stick to move left and right, forwards and backwards.

Try flying around in the space you are are in, getting a feel for speed and how much you need to move the controls to get the drone to do what you want it to.

Once you have got the hang of what the different controls do try flying in a square and practice taking off and landing a few times. Why not take a few photographs of your worried expression for your Facebook page?

When you are ready to land hover over a space and gently pull the throttle towards you. Don't cut it suddenly or it will fall out of the sky.

To start with it is best to avoid yaw as it is easy to get confused as to which way the drone is facing. Stand so that your drone is facing the same direction as you are; this way, if you push the right stick the drone will move in the direction you move the stick. Once you rotate it, pushing forward on the right stick will move the drone in the direction it is facing, which won't be the way you are facing. Save this for when you are happy with the other controls.

Step 3: Auto-Takeoff and Landing

More advanced drones may have a multitude of other controls including auto-takeoff and landing, auto return and route following options. Auto-takeoff and landing is fairly self explanatory. If you press auto-takeoff the drone will leave the ground and hover at a preset height, waiting for further commands.

Auto-land will cause the drone to lower itself to the ground and cut the power to the rotors. These are both fairly simple manoeveures after a few goes but the dedicated button simplifies it.

Step 4: Camera Controls

Many drones have a built-in or add-on camera. Often the drone will connect with your phone via wi-fi and you can then mount it on the handset to give a live feed of what the drone is seeing, as well as some cool extra touchscreen controls. Using your mobile adds extra hardware and function to your drone without extra cost.

Aerial imaging is currently the most common application for drones. I have used mine for checking out inaccessible areas on the roof. Practice taking photos on trial runs before trying it out for real to make sure you can control the drone and operate the camera at the same time. You can also check the camera and app or SD card are working properly.

Some smaller drone won't transmit images to your phone and instead will store them on an SD card on the drone itself. Usually controllers have one or two buttons which allow you to take stills or record video. The controls may come up on your phone using an app. The location of the buttons will vary with model.

Have fun and be safe!

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