Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Photographers Responsible Use of Drones - And How I use my DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

A couple of nights ago, the TV show "60 Minutes" ran a story about consumer drones. And then, this morning, I turned on the television to yet another story about drones, and how someone in Seattle felt that she was being spied on. As an owner of one of these devices, it made me think about social impact of this technology. Any time a new technology comes out, we see mixed emotions in the news. Look at the introduction of Google Glass, where you had some people excited about the wearable technology and others worried about the potential negative uses of the device. Now, with the wide spread interest and increasing sales of consumer drones, I see four different reactions from people:

* There are people who become curious and want to know more about how this technology can be used to enhance their lives or business.

* There are the people who become paranoid and worry about the repercussions of these new devices.

* There are the early adopters who want to purchase the device right away to experiment with it.

* There are the disinterested people who ignore the technology.

As a photographer who teaches others, I thought I would be the first to try and set our own standard for the use of these devices.

The word "drone"

First of all, lets start with the term drone. I really hate calling these "drones" since that term has such a negative connotation. When we hear the word drone, we usually think of military devices used to spy or attack our enemy. They have many other names for these consumer devices, including octocopters (which have 8 props) and quadcopters (which have 4 props)...but I think we should call these flying cameras.

Regulations and privacy

Agencies around the world are trying to figure out what regulations might be required for these flying cameras. I find it interesting that so many people worry about a "camera in the sky" when we are surrounded by aerial cameras. As we walk down the street, through the mall, around our office park, we are constantly on cameras. If people were really concerned with being on camera, nobody would ever go to Las Vegas! I don't think there is any space in Las Vegas where you are not on camera.

In the mean time, I think that us photographers should do our best to create our own standards. We should not use these to spy on our neighbors or take photos or video in areas where we are not invited. But then again, these are the same rules we should follow with our  DSLR cameras. In other words, we should be good citizens, regardless of what camera we are using.

Fly where it is safe

I have been in numerous situations where I am flying my camera over people (like the crowds at the WRC rally in Italy), and I am very careful not to get too close to the people. At home,when I am with friends and family, I will often fly within a couple of feet of them, but I would never do that with strangers.

Where can we use these flying cameras?

Recently I flew my Phantom 2 Vision+ around the Golden Gate Bridge. Before doing so, I searched the Internet to see if there were any restrictions from doing this, and I found nothing. I know that all of the National Parks in the US have banned these flying cameras, probably more for the noise issues than privacy concerns. I am sure that there will be more restrictions to come, as the popularity of these devices increases.

I do know that, in the US, it is illegal to fly once of these devices within a 5 mile range of a major airport.

Demystify the technology

Wherever I fly my Phantom 2, I get a lot of people asking questions about the copter, the camera, the gimbal and the controls.

I always try to share information with them, so that they understand what I am trying to capture and how cool the technology really is.

When flying over the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, I had a lot of people wanting to come over and see what I was seeing on my iPhone display.

Promote the advantages over the disadvantages

We should promote the advantages of this amazing new technology, and try to make people understand that there are more good uses of these flying cameras than bad uses. As a photographer, I love the ability to photograph scenes that were previously impossible or near impossible. Our range of photo opportunities just got so much bigger.

In Sardinia, there are more sheep than people. I wanted to take a photo of sheep to add to my story, but could not get close enough to them to get a decent shot. But with the Phantom, I could fly up and over the field and get a wide shot, previously not possible for me.

And of course, there are the countless other good uses of these flying cameras, like search and rescue, farming, disaster recovery... I personally feel that there are way more positives than negatives when it comes to using these devices.

Commercial use

For now, it sounds like the commercial use of flying cameras is still up in the air (yeah - I just said that). I am personally not sure how this will unfold, as more and more professional photographers and videographers add these to their hardware collection.

Recently, while shooting a wedding, I was asked by the bride and groom if I could take an aerial shot of their wedding. I was happy to do so, with their permission. Now the big question is, can I legally sell them this image or not?

Be creative with this camera like you would any other camera

I have always enjoyed shooting photos that are different from everyone else's. Since adding the Phantom to my collection, I now look at aerial opportunities too. I view the flying camera just like another lens choice. I see the scene that is in front of me, and then determine whether it would be best from the ground (determining the best focal length) or from the air.

I was driving around the North side of Sardinia, when I saw this view from the freeway. There was no way to take a photo from the roadside, so I pulled over at the nearest turnout and sent the Phantom 2 up to get my shot.

I loved the color of the water in Sardinia, and I did take many photos using a circular polarizing filter with my Canon 1DX. But I was more impressed with the aerial photos looking back at the island. Is the camera better than my Canon DSLR? No way. But the vantage point was clearly more spectacular.

So...maybe you are one of the thousands of people who has either purchased a flying camera, or is about to make that purchase. The most important thing is to have fun with these amazing new cameras. Once you have tried one, you will be hooked!

For those of you wondering what aerial equipment I am using, here is my list:

DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ (which includes the camera and gimbal)
2 extra batteries (each one lasting approximately 25 minutes)
HPRC Travel Case (with wheels)
3 of the Lexar 32GB 633x microSD cards (which come with a USB 3.0 reader))


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.


Paul lakeman said...

Excellent article and superb images you are a credit to your industry. I wish there were more Blogs like this.It would help people understand how these unmanned aerial vehicles can be used in a responsible and rewarding manner.

Anonymous said...

Good article Jeff and as always great photography thanks I mentioned about using drones/flycameras on facebook and for the price the Phantom vision is brilliant I am saving up for one but only to discover it is illegal to fly them here in Spain I do live in the countryside with mountains etc so could take some amazing aerial shots but sods law as we british the Guardia Civil (millitary Police) would come along and I would probably end up in their local clink (prison) same with Dashcams here you cannot use them in your vehicles I had my goPro on my dash for years not realizing it was an offence to record stupid motorists doing crazy things (invasion of privacy)
maybe they will change the laws someday or not knowing Spain
take care
Happy Filming

mik said...

One big difference with drones (or as I prefer to call them, unmanned aerial vehicles - UAVs) is that they are..... airborne! The knock on question is, what happens if it crashes? That, and that alone, is the sole reason that their use should be licensed. There have always been exceptions for model aircraft in the UK, but these tend to be in spatially and vertically restricted zones which you cannot go outside of.

Its early days in their use, but I think we will see international regulation slowly appear.

Anonymous said...


I really enjoyed seeing the pictures you were able to capture using this new technology and your thoughts about how to use these in a responsible manner.

With regard to the bans in the National Park system, I think that safety (as well as noise and privacy concerns) was an important factor. As one press report I read pointed out, it would be very dangerous if somebody flew one up to get some shots of somebody free climbing in Yosemite. But it isn't just people that could be endangered, it is also the wildlife. This is from the June 20 National Park Service press release: "Later in the month, volunteers at Zion National Park witnessed an unmanned aircraft disturb a herd of bighorn sheep, reportedly separating adults from young animals."

Your trip to Sardinia raises another issue. Before your fans decide to follow your example and pack their drones with them when they travel overseas, I would urge them to find out as much as possible about local laws and regulations regarding their use. It is not uncommon for other countries to have a very different take on the use of such technology. South Africa just banned their use -- at least until the government has more information on how to regulate them. But other countries may take an even harsher stand. Although I don't know if this is still the case, I do know that In the 90s several Americans ran into trouble (including being arrested) in Russia for having GPS-enabled devices. Although such technology was already becoming common-place in the West, in Russia this technology was tightly controlled because of of its use in "intelligence-related" activities. I would imagine that at least some countries would take a similar view of airborne cameras.

Bas said...

Wow thanks for this blog. You sound like a responsible person that tries to understand how other people feel about their privacy. But it's true that alot of people COULD misuse their drone, but I think more people just want to fly arround or/and make pretty pictures. In the Netherlands we have pretty strict regulations on the use of drones.

Anonymous said...

can I use one of your images and give credit?

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

Tommy - please email me at

Unknown said...

Thank you for share this amazing post and photography. we have a lot of tips and tricks from this. I am working as a Photographer.Visit to get more information about photography.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this knowledge. The DJI Phantom 2 Vision comes with an integrated camera that can shoot photographs at 14 Megapixels aerially. This is definitely something that can make photographers go wow! And it doesn’t stop here. You can know more here see more

Tim Handley said...

Hey, great share.....

These are really amazing pictures. I am a big fan of drone photography as it provides better spatial resolution and geometric/radiometric fidelity in comparison to many ground based methods. Drones can focus in on a very specific wavelength range and distinguish subtle differences. I have also something great to show. You can check out some
drone photography here. I am sure everyone is going to love it.

Thanks for sharing this post. Keep sharing more....

Abdullah Allamin said...
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Samantha Baker said...

I cant deny the beauty and natural talents in those photos. How I wish I could have such gift! Thank you for sharing this wonderful article with your arts. It inspires new drone photographers like me. Its been 2 weeks since Ive been into drone photographies and its like a lifetime hobby. This hobby also gives me challenges to focus on the subject as my device (drone) is moving from rapid to smooth above the chosen subject or model. And when I look into your piece of art, I couldnt help but to be amazed in your piece. Looking forward for more posts.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

HI , i have skyhaweke quad copter it leans left side when flying. i re calibrate and then replace all 4 motors but issue still the same, do you have any ideas why this happening read this

Unknown said...


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Jack son said...
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David from said...

Hey Jeff,

I'm glad you're highlighting the way that drone flyers can improve the reputation of drones. It's unfortunate that a few bad apples have actually made people vary wary of drones, but as you rightly said, if we can educate people such that they understand the benefits coming from the use of drones - we will all be better off.

Privacy issues are of course a serious factor, and I've seen some incidents, even in Drone focused Facebook groups where people have really crossed the lines of privacy.

As people who have an interest in drones, we should really come down hard on anybody who is making a bad name for the rest of us, otherwise it's coming back to bite us really hard.

I appreciate your article because it's plenty of practical advice for making the situation better.


Joseph Ferguson said...

nice post

kaushik roy said...

Wow, That's really great, all pictures are looking nice, Thank you for sharing this drone photography.

Bob Turnbul said...

wow, that's an awesome post. dron's nowadays become so much essential part in photography. I liked the article very much really. thank you so much for sharing.

Biddut Sarkar said...

Great blog. I appreciate your article and keep continue sharing. Thanks for your amazing work.
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