Top Tips for Drone Filming and Flying at Night
Drone UAS pilot Stefanie Williams has over 30 years flying experience. She started flying radio control aircraft at the age of 12 and started flying manned aircraft in her early 20’s. Flying is in her blood and she clearly has a passion for flying and a natural skill for flying drones and complex aircraft configurations at night. She has flown at night on both land and sea for various productions including SNATCH, Keepers, Brassic, Agatha Christie (BBC), The Heist (Sky One), Celebrity Hunted (Channel 4), Hunted (Channel 4), Strictly Come Dancing (BBC), The Worst Witch (cBBC), Watchdog (BBC) and commercials for Adidas, Marks & Spencers, Samsung, Lamborghini, Jaguar LandRover and Jamiroquai to mention a few. To date, she has amassed over 100 hours night flying. Here she talks about top tips for flying, filming and operating a drone at night.
Read Stef’s top tips for flying a drone at night.
I would always recommend researching the location, operating area and flight plan during daylight hours. Even better conduct a daytime flight so that you understand the technical challenges of operating in the area. There may be other influencers such as bad signal or underground power cables. So, make sure you mitigate as many unforeseen problems as possible during the daytime.
Make sure that you understand how dark it will really be. Moonlight is a very valuable source of natural light and call also add an amazing element of lighting to your shot. There are various applications available for smart phones which show the phases of the moon. Check them out!
The operating area (also known as the take-off and landing area) is critical to the success of your flight. Most accidents happen during the first few second after take-off or the last few seconds before landing. Your depth perception will be affected at night, so make sure you have a larger than normal operating area and that it is very well lit.
Make sure that you’ve given consideration to how you will light up the drone and the control transmitter. Most drones have built in lighting, so make sure this is enabled and that the colours you choose aid with orientation. Head torches are also a great idea and there are some very powerful ones which are easy to turn on and off with a swipe of the hand.
Make sure you have good and effective communication with all crew members and that they have been briefed on drone safety and operations. Effective communication with everyone will enable you and your team to move around efficiently and effectively to capture the best shots.
Pilot and Drone DOP Safety and Comfort
Make sure that you as the drone pilot and your drone DOP have plenty of space to work and that you have a comfortable and secure place to operate the drone. It does also get very cold at night even in the warmest of countries, so don’t forget a good warm jacket.
Make sure that your fail safe is set to “Return to Home” as opposed to “Hover” or “Land”, this will ensure that your drone will automatically return to the operating area in the event of a problem.
When undertaking flights at night, I would recommend setting your geo-fence to a restricted distance to mitigate risk and ensure safety. It is very easy to become disorientated or lose depth perception at night. I normally set to the maximum distance required for the flight or a reduced safety distance (e.g. 200 meter).
Make sure you land with plenty of power in reserve. I would always recommend landing your drone with at least 3.7v per cell of power. This gives plenty of scope for an emergency or go around if required.
Make sure your drone insurance covers you for operating at night. Most drone insurance companies do allow you to operate at night, but it is something worth checking.
Above everything, be confident, calm and professional at all times and capture those amazing shots that you didn’t think were possible. Enjoy and I hope this check list has been helpful.
If you have any comments or feel I have left something out, please feel free to send me an email.
You can also read more about our Creative Drone with Mega Lighting System.