How To Prep, Fly, And Photograph with A Quadcopter Drone On Location

If you've ever thought about trying out a drone, you probably have heard how complicated it is. Sure, there are easier systems to use like the DJI Phantom, but there is still a learning curve that you need to overcome before you should fly and shoot with a drone on your own, especially before an important shoot... and also before any situation where you may possibly LOSE the drone. Watch the video and learn more below.

According to Colin Smith's YouTube post:

This video shows how to fly a DJI Phantom 2 Vision + drone. On location at the beach, see how to calibrate, preflight and fly for aerial video and photography. We shoot some paddle boarders, from the DJI video handbook.

I have always been the kind of guy that considered myself fairly tech savvy and never really needed instruction manuals. Well, own a drone and that will change your perspective quickly. I purchased a DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus over the summer to get some aerial footage for some small video projects we had coming up. It was cool because it had its own HD camera and software to transmit directly to my iPhone without needing to buy any additional accessories. It was essentially a turnkey solution to take off, shoot still or video, and watch live footage and move the camera around independently of the drone with their supplied software. Sadly, it was not that easy.

First, I plowed the drone into a tree on its first test flight (start practicing in a big open space with no solid structures or water nearby). Thankfully it survived with a few dings, but it was clear that it was way too easy for flight control to spin WAY out of control way too quickly. Although, it only took me 30 minutes of practice in an empty parking lot to train my brain how to make the drone go the way I wanted it to go. Because it can go in so many directions, the controls are not as easy as up, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, select, start. You have to be able to feel out the drone and be aware of wind gusts and structures, how it handles, and camera angle. Practice truly is key. It is a fluid process more so than just learning what buttons to press.

Second, follow the prep instructions for the drone. I had a LOT of problems getting the drone to properly transmit its camera functions and live feed to my smartphone. For awhile, all I had was a neat remote control quad copter with no camera. It took a younger more savvy person to sit down and go through each step with me to ensure the feed would work properly. I did some research and learned that sometimes drones like to "fly away", which entails the drone flying off into the sunset on its own when it loses connection with the controls... never to be seen again. Thankfully the Vision Plus has a function that makes it hover in place rather than fly away when it loses connection. My point in the end is, again, read the instructions and make sure you have a strong connection and are aware of its signal limitations.

Have other lessons to share? Comment below! Remember to practice, research, and do plenty of pre-flight checks before you take off!

Colin Smith has loads of other helpful drone tutorial videos and articles (the "car chase" tutorial looks cool) on his new DVD that you should definitely check out here.

Hat tip to Glyn Dewis for the original article. Make sure to check out Glyn's photography and Photoshop blog!

Douglas Sonders's picture

Commercial Photographer (mainly Phase One medium format digital) and filmmaker based out of NYC. Started a site called to spread stories about well-behaved and positive pitbulls. Love cars, 80s movies, dogs, and adventure. Free time is spent traveling, sleeping, adventuring, or working on my baby, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.

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Nice article! The DJI Phantom is definitely one of the best quadcopter for aerial video right now. Learn more about them here: and also stay tuned for their new model, the DJI Inspire 1!

I appreciate the Contra reference. :)