Aerial Photography – What it takes and What you need to know to stay legal.

Aerial photography, drone photography, UAV photography, there are so many terms for this type of work but essentially they are all the same. Using a remote piloted aircraft to capture imaging for your business.

Now the uses for these images range from photography and video capture to 3d and 4d aerial mapping, to construction surveying, to agricultural surveys and much much more.

This type of work takes a lot more planning than ground based imaging and this post should give you plenty of information to help you and your business stay compliant and legal. In a nutshell any aerial imaging captured with a UAV or drone, if used for any commercial purpose or gain, is illegal unless it is captured by a fully insured, CAA approved PFCO holder. If your business is using footage or images captured by someone who does not hold a PFCO then you or your business could be liable for prosecution by the CAA.

As drone use becomes more prevalent and drones become more affordable more and more people are buying drones and flying for commercial purposes without the correct approval and putting themselves and the businesses they are working for at risk of prosecution.

To avoid all of this you need to ensure that the company capturing your aerial imagery is fully insured and holds a current PFCO issued by the CAA. You can check the list here (I’m on it)

I’ll outline below the process and planning we go through for every flight to capture your aerial footage for your business use. I want my clients to get the best service, be compliant and protected legally and end up with stunning imagery and useful data.

Flight planning and shoot planning

Every aerial shoot starts with planning, putting an aircraft into the sky takes planning no matter how small the craft or how short the shoot.

The first thing we have to start with is the location, this is crucial with the planning as we have to make a lot of checks regarding the location.

These include

  • What type of airspace is above the location
  • Who the land owner is (We need their permission to take off from their land)
  • What is around the location (Sensitive areas / buildings / obstructions / power cables / airports / hospitals / schools etc.) The list goes on quite a bit.
  • The height of the site above sea level
  • The Latitude and Longitude of the location
  • Air Traffic above the location
  • Wether we need permission from location Air Traffic Control (ATC)
  • Hazards that may be near by such as other tall buildings, live stock, nature reserves etc.
  • What roadways, train lines, motorways are near by
  • The proximity of the nearest local residents
  • NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) for the specific date over the site

The list is quite long and very in-depth. We have to satisfy ourselves that the flight is safe to complete and the above checks help us with this process.

Other factors that may impact of flight safety are time of day, normal population density, events happening near or around the location etc.

Once we have completed the full pre flight planning then we can look at the flight date it’s self. The weather will have a huge impact of the flight as bad weather is difficult or impossible to fly in. High winds, rain, snow, hail etc make for dangerous flights and poor footage. We also need to check the radiation coming from the sun as it impacts on the signal between the UAV and the controller.

We would then need to carry out an onsite survey and risk assessment, this can be done on the day but may highlight things that can jeopardise the flight so it’s advisable to carry this out beforehand.

Once all this is complete then we can complete and sign off the flight plan and look at the job it’s self.

Planning the shoot

Once the flight has been planned we can plan the shoot, these are very different things. The flight plan covers all the legal stuff to make sure what we’re doing is lawful and safe. The shoot plan is the creative element of the job that will define how the images / footage / survey is carried out.

For photography I might look at the height and angles of the shots we want to achieve, the distance from the subject, the time of day we shoot for lighting. All these factors will affect the look of the images.

For filming I will consider all the elements as the photography shoot but also include how the UAV / Drone moves to give the shots a dynamic feel. There’s no point in having a drone and not utilising it’s unique view point and movement.

I will discuss this with you and work with you to create your vision. Or equally I’ll come up with a shot list for you if you need that type of input from me.

For surveying we will identify exactly what area you need surveying and wether you need 2d, 3d, 4d or thermal imaging and create the best waypoint flight plan to capture that data you need.

Giving me as much information and direction that you can in advance will help me plan both the shoot and the flight better. Direction on style, final use of the captured images / footage / data, information about the area, company background can all help in the planning.

All this complete we can now go flying.

So there are a few things to consider when looking at booking an aerial photography / filming  / data capture job. There are certain things that take a lot more planning to do and avoiding these can make the job easier and more cost effective.

Under a standard PFCO

  • We can’t fly within 50 meters of anyone or anything that is not under our control, This means anything really.
  • We need the land owners permission for the take of and land sites
  • We need a clear take off and landing area, not closer than 30 meters to anything or anyone not under our control
  • We can’t fly within 150 meters of crowds over 1000 people, but we can take off at 30 meters and film whilst we push out to 150 meters.
  • We can’t flyover any person, road, train track, motorway, vehicle, vessel that is not under our control.
  • We can’t fly higher than 400 feet or further than 500 meters from where we are unless we have other measures in place such as spotters / observers on the flight path with direct coms back to us. (We can follow the drone so long as we stay within 500 meters)
  • We can’t fly at night

There are ways around most things but it would mean applying for an operational safety case to the CAA which is time consuming at costly so it’s best if we can plan within the PFCO. Most general jobs will fall under the PFCO rules.

I hope this has been useful for you when considering any aerial photography and remember, if you use an unlicensed operator YOU could be liable as well as them if something goes wrong.