Drone journalism

1. Shoot something you can’t get a good shot of from the ground.

Drone journalism’s cardinal sin is flying when it isn’t necessary. Drones are inconvenient, costly, and dangerous. When you don’t have to, why would you want to fly? It would help if you tried several other possibilities first, including satellite pictures, Google Earth, and even standing atop big buildings or hills.

However, there are genuine reasons to use a drone, and understanding these reasons is crucial to employ the drone as a tool rather than a fad. Consider immediacy and accessibility: is the event you’re seeking to capture happening right now? Drones may be the only method to observe an image that isn’t visible on satellite images. The same goes for flat terrain and areas with limited ground access.

2. Be aware of the legislation.

Most countries now have some form of drone use legislation, and it’s critical to be aware of the rules before taking to the skies. The following is a partial list of drone legislation from around the world. The following are general guidelines: Stay below 400 feet altitude and well away from airports, helipads, and sensitive installations when flying over buildings, roads, or people. Special laws may apply depending on what you intend to do with the film – commercial operations (flying for profit) differ from flying for enjoyment. It’s likely that how you’ll operate as a journalist will fall somewhere in the between… So be as cautious and knowledgeable as possible!

3. Plan your flight route before you get there.

Before launching your drone into the air, establish a flight plan, just like you would when flying an aeroplane. You don’t need anything fancy: Google Earth is a fantastic tool for viewing height, topography, roads, and buildings. It’s also crucial to know where you’ll take off and land, as well as secondary landing zones in case of an emergency.

You can also plan what you want to look at with the drone using various mapping data. There may be maps that depict environmental data, census data, or past survey data to assist you in planning your flights, depending on your region. You could discover that using pre-existing satellite imagery is easier (and less expensive)!

4. Long, steady shots are more effective.

Length of the steady shots they take in their film is the easiest method to detect if someone is an experienced drone operator. Aerial videography is thrilling, fascinating, and may provide a wealth of visual data. Before making a cut or modifying the drone’s course, you want to give your viewers as much time as possible to absorb that information. So don’t touch the yaw when you’re holding a shot! The yaw causes the drone to sway from side to side, ruining a continuous tracking shot. Continue to keep the shot as-is if you find yourself veering off course, then return to it and repeat it. You might discover that the “off-centre” image from the beginning works better!

In general, reveals, pushes, tracking, and point-of-interest shots are what you’re searching for. These four shots will be your bread and butter, and you must practise them in a controlled environment before taking the drone out into the field.

5. Your footage won’t be able to stand on its own.

Drones are a fantastic tool for journalists, but they rarely provide a story. Additional materials, such as written work, stills and video from the ground, and data visualisations, will surely be created to help you tell a compelling narrative. Don’t exaggerate your ability to deliver a story just through the medium of air. Present the drone concept to your editor as a useful tool that can provide your viewers with a fresh perspective but should be used in conjunction with your existing skills. Shorthand is a tool that can produce beautiful, immersive storytelling like this.

6. Recognize when it’s time to say no.

Drones are deadly, and their use can be fraught with ethical issues. Because there isn’t a lot of precedence for how drones and drone footage can be lawfully used, flying them is sometimes a murky area. Make use of your instincts. Consider how you’d respond if you saw someone else operating the drone in the same manner. Also, don’t be intimidated by someone overselling the drone as a novelty or who wants you to use it in dangerous situations. Remember that a drone should only be used as a last resort; satellite imagery or capturing shots from the ground is far safer. Finally, keep in mind that the operator (you!) is legally liable for everything that goes wrong, not your editor.