Current Rules for Flying Drones and Drone Photography

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current rules for flying drones

Flying a drone as a hobby is undoubtedly cool but unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can also be used to do a range of practical and useful things.

Aerial photography is one of the most popular options and the reason why there are so many drones with cameras, or drones compatible with GoPro, capable of shooting high quality pictures and video.

Want to turn aerial photography and videography into a business? Interested in creating clips or offering freelance services? If so, you’ll need to complete a very important first step that involves getting acquainted with national drone photography laws.

In order to operate a drone for any business purposes (to make money) in the United States you will need a license.

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Registration Requirements

If you live in the US and plan to fly a drone in the country, that weigh 0.55 pounds or more, you’ll have to get the piece registered. FAA launched the registration system as an opportunity for dealing with the numerous violations that have taken place over the past few years.

There isn’t anything particularly difficult or challenging about getting the UAV registered. The procedure is going to cost you five dollars. Keep the following thing in mind – if you’re caught piloting a drone that isn’t registered, you’ll be subjected to a fine that can reach as much as 27,500 dollars.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Small Unmanned Aircraft System Registration Service is the one responsible for the procedure. The rules apply for unmanned aerial vehicles that weigh 0.55 pounds or more.

All of the registered drones receive a unique identification number. A single number can be used by one pilot, regardless of the number of drones that the person owns. The only requirement is for the drones to be physically marked with the number (for example, having it printed on the side of the drone or simply putting the number on the UAV with a permanent marker).

Drone Photography Laws in the US

drone photography laws in the US

Keep in mind that there is a clear distinction between the hobby use and the commercial use of drones in the US. Although FAA claims that it’s predominantly concerned about safety, the distinction being made has led some people to a different conclusion.

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Taking photographs for personal use is considered an acceptable activity. Being a realtor and using a commercial drone with camera to photograph a property that’s about to be announced for sale is considered commercial use.

People that want to fly a drone commercially will have to apply for the so-called Section 333 Exemption. It’s a lengthy process and there’s definitely some risk of getting rejected. Companies that are serious about getting the permission to use a drone commercially will usually depend on legal representation to make their case. The good thing is that numerous businesses have already gotten their permit to use a drone commercially.

As you can see, FAA works on a per-case basis. According to January 2016 data published on the FAA website, 3,662 petitions have been granted so far. Because of the serious interest and the big number of applications being received, the process has become even slower nowadays. FAA warns about some serious delays.

Keep in mind that the exemptions are provided with conditions and limitations. Thus, businesses can’t use their commercial drones for any purpose that they deem appropriate. This is yet another reason why getting legal representation and being thorough during the application process will be so important.

A Few Additional Things to Keep in Mind

rules for drone photography

Apart from needing a special permit, companies that own a drone and intend to use it for commercial purposes will also have to adhere to a range of safety guidelines established by FAA.

The common requirements that all of the drone pilots have to follow include:

  • Keeping the flight height below 400 feet AGL (above ground level)
  • Flying the drone within an area that’s located at least three miles away from an airport or a landing strip
  • Keeping the drone within the pilot’s sight at any given time during the flight
  • Keeping the drone away from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) zones, as well as from temporary flight restriction zones
  • Adhering to flight safety rules (keeping the drone away from wildlife, buildings and pedestrians)
  • Respect all the no-fly zones. You can see a map of no-fly zones here.

In essence, pilots have to use common sense throughout the process to reduce the risk of accidents or serious violations. The problem stems from the fact that many people aren’t aware about these limitations or they simply don’t care. The resulting accidents have forced FAA to impose some limitations and get started with the registration procedure mentioned in the beginning of the article.

Local Drone Photography Laws and Regulations

local drone photography laws and regulations

National regulations are one thing, local regulations are something completely different.

If you’re in the US and you intend to use a camera drone for commercial photography, you may want to take a look at the state regulations. In 2013, 30 of the states tried to pass regulations against the commercial use of drones. So far, they’ve failed to regulate the field but having some idea about the local rules is certainly a good thing.

The same applies to potential commercial drone photographers that live in other countries. Though many places are only getting started with drone regulations, there are some governments already regulating the use of commercial drones.

Don’t know how to get started on your own? Are you worried that your operations could potentially lead to some penalties? Take some time to do your research about local regulations and even talk to an attorney before establishing your business. It’s better to be on the safe side and you’ve already seen that some of the fines could be quite severe. Having a good idea about the regulations will give you peace of mind and enable you to focus on the activities that you’re passionate about.

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DISCLAIMER: We are not lawyers! This is simply an informational article pulling together some legal facts about drone use. It’s your responsibility to make sure you know federal and state laws before you fly your drone!
Jesse Young

11 thoughts on “Current Rules for Flying Drones and Drone Photography”

  1. your article is paradoxical. it says “being a realtor and using a COMMERCIAL drone for listing photos” is considered commercial use. the link then takes you to a pro drone page with reccomemdations on good drones for real estate use.

    im a realtor. i take my own drone images. i dont perceive this as commercial use. i dont perceive the use of my point and shoot camera, my phone, as commercial. the drone is the same. its a tool.

    • I’m with you, but unfortunately the FAA disagrees with you. We have a commercial license, and we did so just to be completely legal. You may never have a problem, but the rules clearly state that you taking pictures with a drone for your business is considered commercial use.

      I don’t agree with it, but that is how it’s written. You taking pictures with a still camera is the same to me as with a drone when it comes to commercial use. But I didn’t make the rules.

      • I agree, using the drone may assist in the publication of a listing, or situation. The so called Barrier or Wall we are hearing about. Follow the rules, speak with an attorney if needed. Border Drones are popular. AI Technologies can assist . Yet building something long-term to provide temporary Employment is a Good Start !!! Many receive higher pay due to Federal Employment, with many Perks too !!!

    • Your point and shoot camera, and cell phone are not flying around in “air-space” so it’s not the same thing as flying a drone. True, the drone is a tool, just like a cell phone camera, but your cell phone does not fly in air-space. The “faa” regulates/controls air space, so if your flying a drone, then you are operating in “faa” air-space and subject to “faa” laws, rules, and regulation. Unlike a cell-phone, or camera that stay on the ground. I’m a photographer, and know that there are similar rules for photographers, such as can’t photography government buildings, police stations etc.

      • This might sound silly, but what I’m hearing is,that the FAA controls the “airspace”. If this is true, can someone tell me the difference between flying a kite and flying a drone? I bet most folks would agree, that is easier to control a drone than a kite. By the way, I have had a kite several hundred feet in the air when I was a kid. Most real estate photography with a drone would be less than 100 feet…. I think it is just a money grab by the FAA… sadly

    • Respectfully, (and note I don’t agree you should have to get licensed etc… for your use) how can you reach the conclusion your use is not commercial? Your purpose of the images is to sell a property. There’s simply zero ambiguity here with no overlap with hobby use. Marking is by definition a commercial endeavor. If you’re wondering if it’s commercial or not, ask this question, “Am I doing this to make a buck, or is this video only for myself and family?” If you’re trying to make money, it’s commercial, That said, my business card says commercial insurance agent, not attorney at law, so you’re well advised to consult with an attorney.

  2. What would be considered a respectful and non-stressful distance from large wildlife such as elk grazing?

  3. I think there are some good point but I think the process is outdated 🙁 Whats the safety difference between taking a photo for fun or later to sale it.. A hobby pilot can do the same damage or even more then a person that prepares for a “commercial” photo / flight !

    Make the test affordable, more related to drone flying, even with practical test, mandatory insurance like in the EU.
    And go by weight also! I think its a big difference to take a commercial photo with mavic air 400 g only then some heavy 5kg equipment for commercial use..

  4. Hi, technically it is not the UAV but the operator of a UAV weighing more than 250g/0.55lb need to have a registration and put that number on the UAV.

  5. Can you photograph with a drone for legal purposes? Say, if you think a neighbor stole your property, and you fly the drone over and sees your property, is it legal to photograph it?

  6. Would love some feed back on this: Lets say as a hobbyist flying a drone and enjoy taking pictures…. not an issue right. What if I wish to give the pictures / videos that I have taken to a friend who is a real estate agent and do this without any financial compensation back to me….. is there an issue here?

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