How to Deal with People Asking Questions While You Fly Your Drone

How to Deal with People Asking Questions While You Fly Your Drone

I'm sure a lot of us drone people have been here before, where in the middle of a flight when we are deep in focus or trying to pay attention to our drones as they hover in the sky, someone walks up to you and begins playing 20 questions. I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me, but I can say that it has been one of the most distracting things when I'm flying. I am working on the best way to avoid this sort of problem and would love to share a few quick tips for anyone else who has a similar problem when they fly.

When I was flying in Wildwood on the Fourth of July with my buddy Tom for a commercial gig (with a permit to be there and all the permission we needed), tons of people came up to us asking questions that blew our minds. At the end of it all, I realized that not everybody knows what I know about drones and people are always going to ask questions. So if you can't avoid being around any people at all, just assume that someone will probably ask you something.

If it is distracting, do your best to tell them you can't talk because you are busy flying or, if it comes down to it, don't acknowledge the person if they continue to ask you questions again and again and just focus on your flying. Even when the two Inspires were just sitting out and we were waiting to launch, people would ask us things like, "Do those have cameras on them?" "Does that cost more than a toy?" or "What do you do with it?"

And these are all questions that I kind of laugh at because my drone has become one of the biggest sources of income for me. So, yes, it has a camera. Yes, it costs more than a toy, and I use it for work and to create content for myself.

First things first, whenever I fly, I do my best to not be around people for the sole reason that I can avoid any conversation that I don't need to be having. If I am with someone doing a job or someone I know, that is fine. But when a stranger walks up to me and starts asking me how high does that thing go, what's the range on that, and how much does it cost, it is so distracting and very hard to answer because I am usually in the middle of doing some sort of pan or taking a specific photo.

I also do not like to answer certain questions, especially the very common, "How much does that thing cost?" A good drone is expensive, usually over $1,000, which is pricey for somebody who isn't used to buying camera gear. When people would ask about my Phantom, I had no problem saying that it was just over a grand. But when people ask about my Inspire 2, it's hard to say that I've invested $6,500 into the drone alone and then another $3,000 or so on batteries, lenses, filters, etc. When people ask me how much my drone costs, I try to avoid giving them a number. I tell them that this one is pretty expensive, but you can get one a lot cheaper.

If price is brought up, I tell them you can get a pretty good drone for around $700 and the range goes all the way up to $80,000-plus for ones they use in movies. This way, I am able to jump over my drone entirely and make it something that just fits in-between.

Some people may be a lot more pushy trying to get the price, and some pilots may not have a problem bringing up price. I just know I don't like to put myself in certain situations when I am flying around sketchy areas where I don't feel comfortable, I usually try to keep all that information to myself.

The best thing I've learned to do is accept the fact that people are going to ask questions. When they do, you don't need to spend two hours talking. You can give them short answers and just satisfy the questions they ask because once you do that, they will probably leave you alone. I think one reason I get annoyed when people ask too many questions when I'm flying is because I know a lot of people that know a lot about drones, so I don't realize that the average person barely knows a thing. I mean, I'm sure the average person has seen a drone or heard about drones, but most of the time they aren't up close with them and seeing them everyday. This leads to people being curious about them and feeling like they can just walk up to you and ask you about them.

Another thing I tend to do before I get to a location to fly (for personal content) is find a spot a bit further out from a crowd. This will give me some privacy and some peace of mind when I fly because I wont have to worry about people distracting me. When I am shooting a home for work, I will usually ask the client to either stand next to me so they do not get in the way and I accept the fact that I have to answer their questions because I am working with them (this isn't the worst thing) or I ask them to go inside and stay away from the windows so they don't get in the way. Some of the people I work with are good about being out of the way, some are good at keeping quiet and then some think they have the same level of knowledge on drones as me.. which I love to question. Either way, before you fly your drone, understand your surroundings and potential distractions so you are at least aware of them before your drone is up in the air.

Not all of us are bothered by the questions, but I know that it can really get to me. When I work or fly, I usually get really into what I am doing, so a distraction like this is something can throw me off a little bit. Hopefully those few little tips help anyone out who has the same problem, but if you can't avoid being in too public of a place and you aren't out in the woods or something all by yourself, remember that people are curious and tend to ask questions. After being inspired by a bunch of huge Instagram accounts and a lot of drone work online, I was able to make the best of this trip, deal with the people asking questions, and even get a few of my favorite images to date.

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26 Comments

Christian Santiago's picture

It's gotten to the point where I just (rather rudely) tell them that "I am working and I can't talk" and then ignore them. Some people will call me an asshole, but they always get the hint and leave me alone.

John Riedy's picture

Clearly if you're doing commercial gigs you have your FAA 107. Curious how you're able to fly your drone over large groups of people like in the last image at the carnival? It's a killer shot, but as far as I know, there are no waivers given for flying over large groups of people. It's hard enough to find places to legally fly. When you post images that are clearly in conflict with the FAA guidelines it's only going to get harder and harder to find places to legally fly.

Edward Porter's picture

lol right? Part 107 allows you to fly over participating people, but not unaware crowds at an amusement park. You can apply for a waiver to do this legally, but I've yet to come across anyone that has actually done so...and the FAA makes this point very clear when testing/studying to be certified. The crazier aspect is that we can't even fly drones over moving vehicles without a waiver, which puts most pilots in violation when working in urban areas. Perhaps an article on applying for waivers would be more useful?

Michael DeStefano's picture

I have no info on this but I wonder if it works similarly to other private property permits. If you are hired by the park and get a permit to fly the drone for that use. Then buying a ticket to be in the park waves your right to privacy and being photographed in the park. So maybe it also waives the safety issue? Again this would only work because it is private property. You give up certain rights for access to the park and if the client who hired you were the property owner, well.

I really have no idea just thinking out loud .

You are all wrong. The ONLY and I repeat ONLY people that you can fly over "US laws" are the PIC "Pilot in Command", the RO "Remote Operator", and a VO "Visual Observer". You can NOT fly over actors, athletes, park fans, concert goers ext. Even with waivers this goes against FAA Part 107.

I am a Part 107 pilot. The FAA clearly states you can NOT fly over ANYONE who is DIRECTLY participating in the flight. The ONLY people under the "participating" category are the PIC, RM, and VO.

The PIC is the person who has their name on the Part 107 license. A non 107 person can be the RO but NOT the PIC. Anyone can be a VO.

John Riedy's picture

I'm also a 107 pilot. You are right that you can't fly over people at a sporting event or amusement park. Actors who are part of a shoot (and crew) can absolutely be flown over. It is not just limited to the three people you described.

Andrew Panayotoff's picture

FAA Part 107 airman certificates can be verified using https://amsrvs.registry.faa.gov/airmeninquiry/Main.aspx. The author has an airman certificate.

Ty Poland's picture

I knew somebody would have to make a comment saying how this is against regulations and you aren't supposed to do it and this and that, but I don't need to be bashed. There are times that it is unavoidable and I can bet you just about every UAV Pilot has broken the rules at some point or another. Instead of ganging up on me here, maybe we can all come together and figure out a way to get around this common problem.

When you are assigned certain jobs, you'd think a permit would be enough to fly over the area you are supposed to filming in. Am I supposed to shut down the boardwalk and kick people off the beach on the 4th of July to film a building? No. Is the client I am working for going to clear the space for us to take as much time as we need filming there? Probably not. These are things that are very hard to avoid and I think they are things we need to find a way around to continue doing drone work "legally."

If you think I'm an idiot for flying over people or crowds, why don't we worry about the people coming up to me telling me they are going to fly their drones during the fireworks meanwhile they don't even know what kind of drone they own when I ask. Furthermore they don't even know about any sort of license to fly one commercially. I think those are the people we need to be worried about. The people who think they can just buy a drone and fly it where they please not knowing anything about the part 107 or rules.

nobody is ganging up on you. You choose to shoot and post images in situations that are debatable. Don't point at others or state these situations are unavoidable because you landed this job and had to shoot it. You are the professional, you choose to shoot and post these.
If a client wants you to shoot impossible or illegal stuff a professional (in my opinion) should always refuse and educate or explain the situation to the client. I don't know the rules in your country but here in the Netherlands I see a lot of people posting all kind of stuff thats not legal. Thats not a reason for me to go flying above people, too close near airports or above vehicles etc...

So, I'm just trying to get this straight here. It's the outline of the job that dictates if you are going to break the law or not? Because the law is difficult to follow it's ok to ignore?

Andrew Panayotoff's picture

My comment was not intended to bash you.

If you post on a site frequented by profesional UAS photographers, you should expect a number of comments regarding photos which may appear to violate provisions of part 107. Trust me it is way better to get a few comments from us than the dreaded phone call from the local FSDO. Even if you are doing everything by the book, it still sucks. Use these pros who took an interest in you, pick their brains.

You are correct that this is a common problem, but it is much better to constructively discuss on how to mitigate the safety risk while still following the rules. The everyone breaks the rules excuse doesn't cut it when there is an accident and it's your ass. Ultimately you are the Pilot In Command.

I've been in this exact situation multiple times and had to inform the client that getting the exact shots he wanted was not legal. However by modifying the shots slightly we were able to basically get everything needed legally. Educating the client is critical, taking on questionable jobs hurts us all. Every client needs lots of education on every job, rarely do they know what they really want. Guide them.

When flying in an area near non participants, the kind of place where many people might stop and talk to you, this should immediately set off a few red flags. In these situations, I have at least one VO to both ensure that I do not accidental fly directly over someone and to talk to people, security or even police who may show up and want to talk. Bring a friend and business cards!

Inform people asking for quotes about how they can verify your pilot's license online and that hiring a unlicensed pilot can lead to civil liability and may violate federal law as well. Tell them you are insured. Every client we can discourage from using illegal and uninsured pilots, the better for us all. Go fly!

Best Regards,
Andy

Remote Pilot, Advisor DOT Audit of FAA Approval and Oversight

Andy, not sure how you searched by Tyler Poland of Mahwah, NJ is indeed in the database ;-)

Andrew Panayotoff's picture

Yes I stand corrected. There is a certificate in his name, there must have been an issue in the search. I have edited my postings to correct this error. Thanks

Nice images with the shapes - really like them. I find hidden spots while flying too - sometimes brave people still come over though.

Ty Poland's picture

Thank You! I know this article makes me look like a Part 107 criminal, but most of the time I am flying over places where there are no people. Just so happens they were kind of unavoidable at this job. I like to fly in spots where people wont talk to me because it just makes my life easier not having to deal with the questions lol

Hey, New Jersey, Staten Island here. I bought my college kid a Phantom 3 for Christmas for $500. He asked me for it when it first came out and it was way more money then. I'm inspired by your images to learn how to fly it.

Ty Poland's picture

Thank You! Definitely learn how to fly and practice in a safe area until you are comfortable flying it in other places. One of the biggest things I had to learn was to trust myself and trust my drone so I knew what I was capable of doing with it.

Tony Broussard's picture

Every time I fly I get:

1. How long does the battery last?
2. How much does it cost?
3. How high can it go?
4. How far can it go?

They always want to look at the screen so they get right behind you to see. I'm pretty cool about it.

I shoot industrial stuff so it's not really the general public I'm dealing with but if I had a dollar for every question I get I'd be pretty well off. Lol

Ty Poland's picture

hahaha these are the most common 4 questions I get too and people always ask to see. I'm just so used to flying that it doesn't phase me too much anymore but to the average person, drones are either amazing, stupid or scary. Maybe we should wear shirts that say every question costs a dollar, little extra income there!

Simon Patterson's picture

Maybe a solution is to wear a t-shirt that says "Can't talk, concentrating. FAQ: the drone is worth about $4,000, a battery lasts 20 min, I usually fly it to 400ft up and almost 3 miles away."

I’m frequently in public with a 4x5 field camera and face the same challenges. So while not a direct comparison you may find some useful techniques to adapt to your particular circumstances.

If I am truly busy, racing the light or clouds or whatever and really can’t talk I tell them “I’m racing the light, can you give me a few minutes to sort things out? Happy to answer questions if you can wait a minute”. This weeds out the casual but the truly interested stay around. I also haven’t alienated anyone by responding this way.

If I’m waiting for the light, or clouds or whatever, or they are still around after I’m set up, I’ll explain what I’m doing and when I can, put them under the hood for a look at the ground glass. Hearing the exclamations upon seeing an inverted image projected on the screen for the first time is a real treat.

By this time most people have had enough and wander off. If they’re still with me I explain the benefits, discipline and precision demanded by film and why so few people still practice the discipline. I’ll show folks the camera and explain the movements and how they affect image formation. Then I”ll show them the film holder and explain the dark slide. Occasionally I’ll let someone trip the shutter.

During the entire interaction I try to make them part of the process and I’m trying to subtly establish in their mind my long commitment to learning depth of craft and art. I want them to understand my effort and time spent and have them realize how much value is embodied in the production of the final object - the print. I want them to develop their own narrative that I'm eccentric, humble and kind. This isn’t base manipulation, you may find the truly curious to be interesting people in their own right.

The Questions:
Q: How old is that?!
A: I bought it new in 1986.

Q: How much?
A: A lot in 1986 but it virtually worthless now (a lie that keeps people from wanting to steal it). Make up your own “age/price drop” story here.

Q: How many megapixels?
A: Good question!

Q: Why film? Or, What's better Film or Digital?
A: I prefer to make a physical object (print) by hand, one at a time. And I’m unwilling to let my decades of hard won skills disappear.

I always thank them for their time and interest, right before I get their email address for my exhibit mailing list. I always have a few business cards to hand out too.

Even though I'm quite introverted I've come to see these interactions as a feature, not a bug. People are wonderfully curious, embrace them, they could be your next client. But more importantly, you'll enjoy your day more.

Ty Poland's picture

I like the way you go about it. I myself actually try to do the same thing if I am not flying because then I am actually able to talk. People always ask me what I do with my drone and I like to tell them I use it for work all the time. That usually sparks their interest a bit and I tell them about what I do and shine some positive light on drones. Sometimes if they are interested enough, I will show them some of my work and usually they are really amazed.

One time I was flying near a marina and these two older people were sitting and chatting right next to me. As soon as I landed my drone, about four of their friends walked over and next thing you know, I am giving a presentation to 6 older men and women. When I look back on that experience, I smile because I know they knew nothing about drones and because I am so young they thought I was just there horsing around. Once I told them about my business, showed them a few of the houses I had shot and a few other videos I made, they were all very proud of what I have accomplished so far at my age. Sometimes it is very worth it to talk to people and I try my best to always be friendly when people have questions.

I think no matter what, or how busy we are, we should all spread good words about what we do and why we do it because photography is such an interesting thing that is continually evolving. I know film is completely different from aerial, but I am sure the whole process you have can relate to the process I have when it comes to going out and creating images. Thanks for sharing Ed!

Sam Lucero's picture

My tip for avoiding curious questioners is to wear a set of headphones when flying in a place that is not secluded. It sort of tells people "I can't hear you!"

Ty Poland's picture

Not a bad idea but sometimes I question the people with headphones because I would assume they are listening to music and that would take focus off of flying the drone in its surroundings too. I can see how it would get people to not talk to you but I would think that they may assume you cannot hear as well.

Andrew Panayotoff's picture

Go big or go home!

Look like the profesional you are. Show up with safety signs, orange cones, blinky lights on the truck, wear a hard hat and a vest. Put out rack flyers and business card holders on your truck. Company logo, website and phone numbers on signs and on vehicle. Bring a friend to be your VO, to intercept people and talk to them, hand out flyers and cards!

Andrew Swanson's picture

Interesting, I wonder if the FFA Part 107 pilots who are pointing out the violations of the law are the same people who stop 3 seconds at every stop sign and always drive the speed limit in fear of losing their driver's license.