drone photography

Drone photography is the capture of still images and video by a remotely-operated or autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), also known as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or, more commonly, as a drone.

Drone photography allows images and audio/video to be captured that might not be otherwise possible for human photographers and videographers. That capacity can be enabled by the flight abilities of drones, their small size or their ability to tolerate harsh environments. Drone photography often enables a first-person view (FPV) that would normally be impossible to achieve.

There are many different drone sizes and designs, including fixed-wing with propeller or jet engine, as well as many rotor-based designs. Fixed-wing craft often have an edge on altitude and endurance but lack the maneuverability of rotor-based craft. Because they are often chosen for military operations, they are generally more threatening.

Costs of consumer drones can range from under $100 to several thousand dollars. A recent high-end camera designed for drone use, the 80mp iXU 180, is priced at $60,000.


For all intents and purposes, drones equipped with computer vision, face recognition, object recognition and other tracking technologies are flying robots.  Their increasing presence in the environment is enabled by the combination of networking, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). These advanced AI-capable drones can adapt to their environment and perform many autonomous tasks, like taking a drone-based selfie (also known as a “dronie”) or following an owner and taking pictures or filming while they walk around or travel in a vehicle.

Drone photography is used in surveillance to gain intelligence against enemy targets by government agencies in war and for competitive intelligence by businesses. It is used in journalism and also law enforcement, as well as spying. It is also used artistically and in journalism to capture previously impossible or extremely costly helicopter photography.

As long as drones are under 35kg, no special permits are required by private citizens looking to use drones non-commercially. Special flight operations certificates are required for drones over 35kg but most personal drones are under that weight limit. For commercial purposes, the Federal Aviation Administration requires a certificate of authorization for drone use. Other FAA regulations include a restriction on flight above 400ft or within two miles of an airport.

In the United States, privacy rights in regard to drone photography are often regulated on a state-to-state basis and are still being worked out. Some states ban all aerial photography of private property.

See also: drone surveillance, drone journalism

This was last updated in August 2015

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