On the Importance of Not Being Dumb with Your Drone

January 30, 2015

By Laura Brauer

Last week, our fearless leader Jacqueline Tobin warned of the dangers of photographing subjects on railroad tracks (short version: don’t do it!). While we don’t want to turn this into a forum for photographic scoldings, a recent news item has us channeling our inner schoolmarm one more time.

The item, as you may have seen, was the crash landing of a DJI Phantom Drone on the White House lawn. According to an account in the New York Times, the drone’s operator was flying it around his D.C. apartment at 3 a.m. when he decided to open the window and send it outside. At that point, he lost control of the drone and it flew away on its own, eventually landing near the White House.

Image: Wiki Commons

Image: Wiki Commons

DJI claims the entire event was due to operator error, while the unnamed Phantom owner is blaming DJI and its technology for the loss of control. Nevertheless, DJI has since indicated that new firmware should cripple the ability to fly its drones in D.C. by leveraging GPS data to lock down the unit before it takes flight.

Now, let it be said up front that there’s no indication as of now that the individual who sent their Phantom on its D.C. joyride is a professional photographer. Nevertheless, this incident should be a reminder to photographers who do use drones just how seriously they need to take their responsibilities as a pilot. While drones have a huge potential to revolutionize photography, they’re also incredibly dangerous if used improperly. Photographers who want to see drones flourish into their full potential need to do their part to ensure these tools are used properly.

As a first step, familiarize yourself with this interactive map. It uses FAA data on drone no-fly zones to give you a rough idea of where not to fly:

Then head on over to the FAA’s drone Q&A page for a lay of the legal and regulatory land. This site is also helpful, particularly for commercial drone use.

There’s one truism whenever a popular new technology emerges: people will inevitably use it to do something stupid and people will inevitably use it to do something malicious.

We trust our friends in the photo community aren’t malicious but we’ve just had a stark reminder about the need to be smart, too.