If You Can Play Xbox, You’re Halfway There: A (Very) Beginner’s Guide to Drones

Our collection of aerial stock footage is among our most popular categories—partly because everything looks amazing from the air and party because aerial footage can be intimidating to shoot on your own.

However, you don’t need a helicopter to shoot aerials anymore, nor do you need much of a training program. Drones like the DJI Phantom 2 now sell for hundreds of dollars, not thousands. More importantly, they can incorporate cameras you already have—and be controlled by the skills you already have.

If you grew up playing video games, you really are halfway there. Here are a few tips to make it the rest of the way:

Always Remember Wind is Stronger than You Think

If it’s windy outside, you need to be very careful flying drones. A sudden gust of wind can move a drone several feet in an instant—and several feet can mean the difference between air and a tree. Even in mild wind, your footage will be less stable, so always consider the wind before you consider taking to the air. For beginners especially, calm days are ideal.

Take Time to Practice Flying First—Just Flying

Trying to simultaneously stay airborne and capture the footage you’re after is a recipe for disaster. Practice the pure flying bit first, then add the camera controls once you’re comfortable. Even then, it’s never a bad idea to have one person dedicated to navigation and another to the camera.

Avoid Highly Populated and Hazardous Areas

There are a number of reasons for this, particularly when just starting out. First, crashes or hard landings are going to happen. Luckily, most drones are surprisingly durable, but it’s a good idea to get your start on soft ground far away from people and potential hazards (think power lines and firework displays). Staying away from bodies of water is a good idea as well.

Additionally, aerial drones are surrounded by ever-evolving regulations, and populated areas like beaches often have prohibitions against remote aircraft. (Also prohibited are flights around airports, national parks, and military bases, for different reasons.) Finally, drones don’t have the best reputation just yet and tend to make people a little nervous, so it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your distance and fly under the radar.

Consider Training Wheels an Investment

To alleviate some of the nerves that go along with hovering expensive camera equipment 400 feet in the air, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a cheap toy quadcopter (the ones you see in malls or toy stores) first until you get your moves down. You can often find them for $30 or less on Amazon, which can be a good investment for your state of mind alone. You’ll regret breaking one of those a lot more than you would its big brother.