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Why Use a Spotter in Drone Shooting?

Spotter Drone OperatorAerial footage is something that many clients request for a corporate video shoot or production. Whenever someone shoots with a drone (sometimes called a UAV – unmanned aerial vehicle), the person operating the drone is designated the drone operator. The drone operator is not there only to fly the drone. They are also responsible for the look, movement, and feel of the footage. it is difficult for drone operators to watch their surroundings, since they are also busy concentrating on the flight of the drone. This is where a spotter comes in handy. You may be asked to spot for a drone operator and there are a few things that you’ll need to know.  And for companies that get FAA approval for drone operations (a FAA 333 Exemption), a spotter is mandatory.

 

  • Where the Drone is Flying- Will you be indoors? Or outdoors? If you’ll be flying outside make sure to bring the proper gear (sunglasses, a hat, sunblock, even an umbrella – in case it rains). Nothing sucks more than spotting for a drone when it flies by the sun and you lose sight of it because you weren’t wearing sunglasses. BE PREPARED! Even if you’re told the drone will be flown inside, they may request outside shots as well.
  • Your Surroundings- Look out for tall buildings, walls, pillars, light poles, telephone poles, trees, automobiles, birds and anything else that the drone can possible fly into. If you’re indoors make sure that you can see clearly. A drone operator I work with a lot was getting a shot of a bridge when he flew his drone past a light pole. I could tell that he was far enough away from the light pole that he wasn’t going to hit it. He was still surprised when a pole suddenly appeared on his monitor. A simple warning of “your clear but will be passing a light pole on your right” would have helped in this situation. As it is, he thought the drone almost crashed before realizing the pole in question was 40 feet away from said drone.
  • Remain close to the Operator- You want to be close enough to the operator that they can hear you. In the event that they’re about to run the drone into something, they’ll need to be able to hear you tell them the information. Your job is not to follow the drone physically. Your job is just to watch the drone with your eyes. Therefore, having a clear line of sight is important at all times. If you ever lose sight of the drone let the operator know.  The FAA requires the drone to remain within eyesight at all times.
  • Don’t Let Anyone Except Yourself Talk to the Operator- As the spotter, you need to make sure that your operator can concentrate fully on the operation of the drone. Drones are very popular now, and everyone wants to talk to the person flying the drone. This is not a good idea! Nothing should distract the operator from doing his or her job. If you see someone approaching the operator or they start to talk to the operator, kindly ask them to direct all questions to you or wait until the drone has landed. This is for their safety, as well as yours and the operator’s.
  • When Close too Close- So when do you talk to an operator? When you see that the drone is flying close to an object let the operator know. Say something simple like “tree on your left approximately 15 feet.” Your goal is to make this warning short and provide all the information needed. Let them know what the obstacle is, how far it is, and which side of the drone it’s on. Usually the operator can see what is in front of them, so it’s rare that you would need to alert them this way. However, they will not be able to see what is to their left, right or behind them. Remember that most drone crashes occur when a drone is flying in reverse.
  • Don’t Freak Out- There are some instances where there may not be an obstacle but an issue with the drone itself. The importance of staying calm in situations where a technical malfunction may have happened is crucial. The operator already knows something is wrong so please keep a clear head. They can’t possible deal with you as well as a drone. Keep eyes on the drone to make sure that if something happens the drone won’t hurt anyone or land where it may be damaged.
  • Watch Where the Operator is Stepping- The other day an operator I work with was bringing his drone in for a landing. He stepped to the side and tripped over a track. When he tripped his hand hit the controller and sent the drone crashing into a wall. Thankfully the crash only broke a blade, but it could have been worse. The drone could have broken, or worse, it could have flown into someone and seriously injured him or her. So, make sure that if the operator is walking their path is free of obstacles.

 

Flying drones for corporate shoots takes a special skill set and special licensing, so not everyone can do it. However, anyone can be a spotter. Be familiar with the different types of drones and their specs. Check out our blog where we compare the new DJI Phantom 4 to the SOLO 3DR.