1. Check Qualifications – Just because someone has a drone, it does not mean they are qualified to fly! A professional Drone operator must be licensed with their country’s governing body. In the UK it is necessary to gain the appropriate pilot license to fly an UAV – Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or “Drone” – from the Civil Aviation Authority, CAA. To fly commercially and gain the license requires exams both theory and practical, and submission and approval of a company Operations Manual which details the procedures and organisation of the company giving Permission for Commercial Operation, or PfCO.
2. Check the number of operators – just because someone can fly a drone, doesn’t mean they are able to operate a camera in order to gain the optimum images and video! It may be best for your project to employ a company who have a two person team – one to concentrate on the drone flight and safety and one to focus purely on the capturing the spectacular images.
3. Check the insurance – and any reputable company will have large public liability insurance cover. This is not something you should be paying for yourself!
4. Check that the company produce pre-flight safety assessments and reports. This may include a site visit prior to the planned shoot. This may require permission from landowners or even contact with local air traffic control if the planned shoot is near an airport or field!
5. Check what is and isn’t included in the price. A website may state that their prices start from quite a low sounding price, however, does this include pre-site visits; pre-flight planning time; overnight stays; travel to and from site? Does it include post-production costs, or are they extra? The operator company should be able to outline exactly how much your shoot will come to and also offer suggestions to work within your budget.
6. Check what drones and camera equipment is available. Both drones and the cameras they carry can vary vastly. Generally speaking the larger the drone, the larger the camera. The advantages of a larger drone/camera system are that you can potentially capture more versatile shots. The downside is that these will inevitable cost more.
7. Check the terrain and environment your shoot needs with the drone company. Drones and drone camera technology is advancing all the time, and many companies will offer a range of systems to suit your budgets and requirements. Sometimes a smaller drone will be best for more tricky environments, for example, narrow spaces or indoors.
8. Check for experience and previous body of work. A drone company should be able to show you examples of their work and customer reviews or testimonials. Usually their website will be a good demonstration of their body of work and you can see if you like their style and production!
9. Check for ideas and creative input. You may not be an expert on drones, cameras, drone legislation, or even what drones are capable of, but the drone company operators are! Use their expertise and brainstorm ideas – the operators will be able to advise and suggest ideas that may not have occurred to you!
10. Check your dates and time line. Your drone operator may need time for online flight planning and checking airspace before agreeing to fly. It is useful to plan more than one day for a potential shoot to allow for weather conditions to be optimum – not only are drones unable to fly in high wind or rain, you will also want your shots to be in the most favourable conditions for sunshine – the more lead in time you are able to give, the more likely you are to have a successful shoot with breathtaking images!