FILMING WITH A DRONE

Footage from flying cameras is awesome, but there are some things to know when considering using drones for your shoot to ensure it’s done safely and legally.

LEGAL BITS

  •  Operators need to be approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), ask to see their “Permissions for Aerial Work”, and walk away if they don’t have it.

  • The drone must not be flown directly overhead (at any height) or within 50 metres of persons, vehicles, vessels and property not ‘under the control’ of the crew.

  • Landowner permission must be obtained for the take off landing site.

  • Air traffic control may need to be informed and approve the flight, but normally

    not.

  • Drones must be kept under 400ft high and 500m away.

  • The operator must be able to see the drone at all times.

  • Extra qualifications are required for nighttime flying.

  • The drone operator has the final say on safety issues, please don’t pressure them

    to ‘get the shot’, it’ll end in tears!

 

PRACTICAL BITS

  • They can’t fly when when it’s rainy or really windy,

  • They’re pretty n​oisy​and can make sound recordists sad.

  • Flying inside​is possible, but harder and will often mean the operator is not

    insured.

  • Unique Perspective’s drone uses t​wo operators ​- one to steer the craft and one to

    steer the camera, this means super smooth complex shots are much easier.

  • Our camera is ​stabilised​and remains rock solid even in high winds.

  • A ​live video feed ​is sent back from the drone for the director and camera op

    frame and monitor.

IN DETAIL  - FAQs

What is the difference between a drone/UAV/RPAS/SUSA/hexacopter/quadcopter?

Small remotely operated aerial cameras have l​oads o​f names and terms associated with them, but the term drone has become the most commonly used, so that’s what we’ll go with here.

What is a drone?

Generally they are small (2-15kg, upto 30-150cm across) with 4 to 8 electric motors powering propellers. Put simply, more propellers means more safety and heavier payloads, but also means heavier, harder to transport drones.

Do you need CAA Approval?

In order to operate commercially in the UK drone pilots need gain “Permission for Aerial Work” (PfAW) from the CAA. To get this, they need to be gain a remote pilot’s licence, have insurance in place, and prove they know the law and operate safely. This PfAW has to be renewed every year so check it’s in date. The first thing to ask any drone operator is if they have a valid PfAW. If they don’t, go somewhere else. The CAA have a list of approved operators if you’re in any doubt, and the UK Association for Remote Pilots, ARPAS UK c​an also help hook you up with an awesome operator.

Do you need Insurance?

It is a legal requirement to have specialist aerial filming insurance. We are covered up to £5 million public liability.

What does ‘under control’ mean?

Unless special exemptions have been awarded by the CAA, a drone must not take off within 30m, fly within 50m, or directly overhead, of persons, vehicles, vessels, roads and property not ‘under the control’ of the crew.

In this sense, having something ‘under control’ means they must be aware there’s filming going on, and must be able to respond to instructions from the crew. To get an area under control, it may require cordoning/fencing off footpaths or entry point, pre-flight leaflet drops, enlisting people to chaperone onlookers or even closing roads.

Before any flight, the area will be thoroughly assessed and a plan for gaining control of the area with be designed and implemented.

Again, unless the operator has special permissions from the CAA, if the craft is over 7kg (ours aren’t) it must not be flown within 150 meters of a congested area.

If you think maintaining any of these distances may be an issue, get in touch and we can start the process of applying to the CAA for an exemption.

What permissions are required before flying?

Landowner. Landowner permission must be obtained in order to use a spot for taking off and landing. This can be as simple as knocking on a farmer’s door with a smile, or as complex as delving into the land registry or negotiating terms with the crown estate.
We’ve found it’s normally on the easier end of this spectrum but it can be time consuming so consider this when you’re planning a drone shoot.

Air Traffic Control. If the drone weighs or than 7 kg and the flight will be in ‘controlled airspace’, we have to let air traffic control know and check they’re OK with it. Even we’re not over 7 kg it’s good practice to do this anyway. Again, not an issue, just a quick phone call. There are a few places, and times, that flying any sort of craft will not be allowed, but we’ll cross that bridge with you if we come to it!

Are there limits on operating distances?

A drone must be kept below 400ft high, within 500m and in clear sight of the operator.
At anything close to 500m away the drone is nothing but a dot in the sky, so that limit is plenty thank you very much! As with minimum operating distances, if you think any of these distances may be an issue for your shoot, get in touch and we can start the process of applying to the CAA for an exemption.

What safety precautions need to be taken?

We take safety very seriously and take every precaution to ensure safe flights. We will never fly if it is not safe to do so. We will never compromise the safety of others to get the imagery. For every flight we undertake, we take the following steps:

  • Pre-site survey -​To ensure we can safely fly at your location and there are no hazards that will cause us concern. This consists of checking aviation charts for airspace, NOTAMS (Notice To Air Men) to see if any manned aviation activities are taking place in the area, Google earth, local press in case of any events nearby, weather and weather warnings.

  • On-site survey -​This is conducted on the day; if we have identified anything in the pre-site survey that causes us concern we will make a prior on-site assessment. This will back up our pre-site survey findings.

  • Safety checks ​- We carry out before flight operations, and after flight operations to satisfy ourselves the UAV is capable of undertaking any flight in a safe manner.

  • Fail safes ​- The UAV is fitted with several fail safe systems. In the event of a radio transmitter failure the UAV will land itself at its take-off point. If the UAV has 6 or more motors, in the event that a motor should fail we are still able to control the UAV and land it. We can initiate the fail safes at any time to return the UAV to its landing area.

  • Emergency procedures ​- We regularly practice our emergency procedures. To ensure we are calm and under control in the event of a system failure. Our UAV’s which have 6 or more motors will still fly in the event of a motor or propeller failure.

What is the setup time?

Once the on-site safety checks are completed we can we can be out the vehicle and ready to fly in 10 minutes (well 3 min 48 seconds is our record, but it’s best not to rush these things!)

What is the flight time?

Each pair of batteries will last around 12 minutes in the air. We will then bring the drone down, swap the batteries and be ready to go again in a few minutes. We have several sets of batteries and charging facilities to keep us going all day if needs be.

What camera do you use?

The camera on the drone is a Panasonic GH4, a brilliant mirrorless camera which delivers 4k up to 100mbps or 1080p up to 200mbps, so plenty to work with in post. We've used the footage alongside footage from the C300, FS700, FS7, PMW­500, 5D and it looks great next to them. There's none of the GoPro fisheye look either! We can also capture RAW stills as well.

We are also have access to bigger craft that will carry your REDs and ARRIs, remote zooms and follow focuses, get in touch to discuss the options.

We have real time video downlinks so we can see what we’re recording from the ground, to make sure we nail the shots.

What happens if the weather is bad?

Now, with the legislation out of the way, we come to the weather! Most drones (ours included) cannot fly when there’s any sort of precipitation, not least because it’s a lot harder to wipe the lens! Also, if the wind is above 14 mph the footage starts to become unsteady (nothing that we can’t fix in post) and the drone is harder to fly as precisely. Above 17 mph we can’t fly the drone at all.

However, in our experience it’s rare that it rains/winds solidly for a whole day and we can usually find a window in the weather in which to operate.

If the weather looks iffy, we’ll let you know the day before. If it looks like a write off we’ll re arrange the shoot for no cost. If it’s a maybe, we’ll advise you what we think and it will then be upto you to make the call. If we go for it and are unable to fly we’ll charge a half day.