Making Photos Podcast: Drone Photography Checklist

by David Sornberger 4 months ago in how to

How to Avoid Disaster with a Pre-flight Checklist

Making Photos Podcast: Drone Photography Checklist

Season 2 Episode 3

In this week’s episode, we’re talking about the items that you need to look out for or bring with you when you're preparing to fly your drone.


Hello, I'm David. Today is Tuesday, July 14th 2020. Welcome to Season Two Episode Three of the Making Photos Podcast. I'm not really promising you a podcast that super polished or anything, just straight-up photography, news tips, random stories about my photo journeys and learning and hopefully, a lot of interaction with the audience, because that's what really drives me to continue creating.

Well, on this week's episode, we're talking about the things that you need to look out for and bring with you when you're going to fly your drone. So essentially it's a checklist.

I've created a summary of the checklist in a one-pager that you can get and you can print if you want. You can get that just by visiting my website at

So, do you own a drone? Are you thinking of getting one? I've had several models of DJI drones, including the Mavic Pro, the Mavic Air, and I'm currently using the Mavic 2 Pro. It's certainly, um, exhilarating when you put the drone up in the air and you can capture some of those stunning images.

Even in your own town, it's a totally different way of looking at the local area where you live. There's a lot of excitement with it. And the first few times I flew my drone, I struggled to remember everything. Did I put a memory card in the drone? How strong will the wind be? Did I charge all the batteries and ah, do I need permission to launch my drone in a certain location. There's a whole lot to learn. I think most people look at the drones, the fancy advertising and go, yeah, I want one of those. And then they spend lots of money on it and they get the drone. They bring it home and then they think, okay, well, what's next? Where? Where do I want to fly it? But more importantly is, "am I allowed to fly it where I want to go?"

So anyways, the preflight checklist, I think is really important for all drone pilots to complete before beginning every flight. And the checklist will also help you ensure that you bring all of your equipment to your flight fully charged and ready to go because you definitely don't want to get into a situation where you're having a drone crash on you, especially in a situation that could easily have been prevented.

So hey, let's get going. I broke the checklist down into seven sections. Number one, airspace, location, number three's equipment, number four is the weather, number five, the preflight and the last two sections are during the flight and the last one, number seven, is post-flight.

So, first up is the airspace. If it's possible, it's ideal to visit your flight location the day before your actual flight. And this is important so you can get a good look at the area both in the air and the ground area. This is quite possibly the most important check you'll need to do. Are you legally allowed to fly your drone in the air space above your launch location? And, if so, to what height? Can you ascend to national limits or are there local restrictions that apply? It's essential to ensure you understand the laws that govern airspace when you fly your drone. It is incredibly important and could potentially save you a lot of trouble. You'll also want to confirm that you're legally allowed to fly your drone in that location. So, for example, you'll want to confirm that you're not near an airport, a national park, an emergency site where there are response vehicles on-site, near an advertised event. That would also include sports events, stadiums, that kind of thing or over buildings or people. If you'll be taking photo photos or video, think about how you're going to take them, the angles of your shots and the altitude. This is important to pre-plan to make sure you're not flying higher than the maximum legal altitude that's allowed in your vicinity.

Number two on the checklist is location. Are you permitted to fly your drone from that particular location? Are you on public or private property? So, conduct a survey of the area. Will there be any people in the vicinity? Are their power lines, wildlife or other distractions?

Item number three on the drone checklist is equipment. A checklist for your equipment can help you to remember to pack everything you'll need, as well as making sure that your equipment is ready for your flight. So you'll want to think about things such as, "are all of my drone batteries and is my smartphone charged?"

Do I have enough memory cards for photos and videos? And had they been formatted since your last flight? Does my smartphone have the latest version of the drone software installed? And I noticed with my drone that updates come out quite frequently. So just because you've done an update, let's say 55 days to a week before it's usually good within the last 24 hours before your flight, just to connect to the Internet at home and see if there any updates available. And if there are, definitely install them. Have you inspected your drone for any operational issues? Do you have an extra set of propellers with you in case you accidentally brush up against a tree? Do I have all of the accessories I need for this flight? Things such as, well, the things that I bring with me are typically ND filters because I love taking photographs, and videos, as well as lens cleaner and cables. And if you have a launchpad to bring that with you as well.

And item number four on the drone checklist is the weather. This is one of the most important and you can't control it. It's an uncontrollable factor, but you can be prepared for it. The three things that I think about when I'm looking at the weather is what is the estimated wind speed for the time of my flight? There are two reasons for that. Number one, just the pure safety of it for others around you. You also don't want to damage your drone. And also, if the wind is too high and you're planning on doing some videography or photography, then do you really want to put your drone up in the air? The image is likely won't be stable anyways.

Also, are there any storms or extreme weather events that are expected? Maybe the weather looks great right now, but within about an hour, half an hour or so, a storm could be rolling in. And, um, will bright conditions make it difficult to view my device? There are certain kinds of covers and so forth that you can put around your phone. So if you're having difficulties with the glare, that kind of thing might be worthwhile checking in on that and what we're talking about, whether a pro tip is Ah, if, um, if you're interested.

There is an app called UAV Forecast, which his available for both IOS and Android, which will help you figure out if it's good to fly your drone or not. They're both downloadable App Store and on Google Play. You can see the weather forecast, GPS satellites, solar activity and no-fly zones and flight restrictions. And it's all together in that one convenient tool. And it's perfect for a whole range of drones. The ones they've left listed include the DJI Phantom, the Spark, the Maveric, the Mavic Pro, the Inspire, and they also mention models by Parrot and state that the app will work for so many others of these unmanned aerial vehicles. It does come with a free version, and it says here that the app shows 24 hours of the forecast. If you want the full seven days forecast, you can become a subscriber to what they call the hobby subscription.

Moving on - item number five on the checklist is preflight. So, when you arrive at your flight location, do a risk assessment at the location. Are there things such as power lines or that type of thing around your vicinity. You'll also want to calibrate your compass and record the home point. I know with the DJI it automatically prompts me to do those things, which is great. Also, check that your memory card is actually in the drone. Nothing's worse than getting the drone up to the exact spot where you want to take that epic photo and you hit the camera button but there is no memory card in there.

And ah, the last one is to check your shot list. I find this is a great way to save battery life by having an idea of the photos that you want to take and then you think about the flight path or the approach that you're going to take with the drone so you don't have to be flying all around the area, making it really inefficient. So plan your photos before you actually put it up in the air.

Number six on the checklist is "during the flight" So, while you're up in the air, continually monitor the conditions. Have a look at the weather. The airspace. Make sure there are no other aircraft in the vicinity. Other things that might be going on on the ground as well. Other ground issues and super important is keep a close eye on your battery level. And don't take chances if it's looking like it's running low on battery life, turn it around, come back, land safely and then put another battery in there if you've got some backup batteries.

And number seven, the last one on the checklist is, of course, after you've flown is the post-flight. So once it's landed, do an examination of the equipment for any issues or faults. And also make sure that all of the items the drone, the drone obviously nd filters, propellers, cables, any of those other things are accounted for it. You don't want to be leaving any of those expensive items behind you, and I think you'll find if you establish a routine like these ones in the checklist that flights are easier and you won't lose anything.

So, a drone photography checklist is a great idea to keep you prepared and to ensure that you are taking reasonable steps to fly safely and legally, and ah, I find with this checklist, this is the one that works for me.

You might want to make your own list and print it out and keep it in your drone backpack. I find that I am now way more confident and more efficient because I've taken these steps to prepare for each of my flights.

I'm interested to know what else you would add to your drone photography checklist? I know this is a very general one, and depending on where you are in the world, I'm sure there are certain laws and other models that are available out there that you might want to tweak for in your own checklist. Tell me in the comments on my website at or on one of my social media channels. And maybe I'll do an update to this drone checklist based on the feedback I get.

So that's it for this week's podcast. Join me next week for episode... What are we at? I think we're on episode four for next week of the Making Photos Podcast I'm really excited about next week because we have photographer Joanna Lentini, who specializes in underwater and aerial outdoor adventure photography. She'll be my guest, and we're going to be talking about her photo of a cormorant diving into a school of sardines that won her the grand prize at the 2020 Autobahn Photography Awards. So don't miss that coming up next week. I'll probably put the podcast out on Tuesday as well, anyways. In the meantime, have a great week, and I will see you next time.

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David Sornberger
David Sornberger
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David Sornberger

David Sornberger is a self-taught Canadian photographer whose work is layered by surf, landscape, city and travel subjects |

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