Drone for Photography? Maybe Not.

DJI Mavic

What good is a Drone if I can’t fly where I want to film?

It was December 2014 when I first saw the Zano drone in a BBC article. It was presented as a small, portable, aerial photography platform. The introduction video looked amazing, a true technological marvel. Believing the hype, I placed my pledge on Kickstarter.

Sadly, Zano couldn’t do any of the things it promised. After 12 months the company went into liquidation leaving backers with no drone and out of pocket. I still wanted a small drone capable of great video, but this didn’t seem to exist.

Then, just last month, DJI announce the Mavic


DJI Mavic
DJI Mavic

A small, folding drone with a pretty good camera. This is what DJI say about the Mavic:

The DJI Mavic Pro is a small yet powerful drone that turns the sky into your creative canvas easily and without worry,helping you make every moment an aerial moment. Its compact size hides a high degree of complexity that makes it one of DJI’s mostsophisticated flying cameras ever. 24 high-performance computing cores, an all-new transmission system with a 4.3mi (7km) *range,5 vision sensors, and a 4K camera stabilized by a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, are at your commandwith just a push of your thumb or a tap of your finger.

It sounded impressive

The Mavic did everything I wanted from the Zano and the timing was perfect as I want to start making photography videos. It would enable me to get those sweeping atmospheric shots that look so great. This was the drone for me, I looked around for a local supplier and placed my pre-order.

I wasn’t alone. So many people pre-ordered, DJI were overwhelmed and the inevitable delays were announced. This was fine by me (I was kind of expecting it) and I was happy to sit back and wait patiently for my new toy. I’d waited two years and it’s not like there was an alternative to the Mavic. Some time in the next few months I’d have a photography drone that could fit in my camera bag.

DJI Mavic Closed
DJI Mavic Closed

With my Mavic ordered I had time on my hands

I started to plan a few shoots in my head. I thought about some of my favourite photography spots here in Cornwall and how I would film them in the coming months. The Crown Tin Mines at Botallack would be a good place to start as it’s a spot I know well, it’s pretty deserted during the winter months, and I’d be able to shoot from angles impossible without a drone.

Crown Tin Mines, Botallack

I’m familiar with the CAA rules on drone flight

Keep the drone in sight at all times, don’t fly within 50m of people, vehicles or structures, stay below 400ft, don’t fly near airports etc. I knew the rules and would abide by them. In addition to the CAA rules I’d arrange public liability insurance as mistakes or mechanical failures can happen. After all I didn’t want to be “that idiot” on the news giving drone pilots a bad name, I wanted to be responsible.

At Botallack, I wouldn’t be flying near anyone or anything as I’d mainly be over the sea. It’s not close to an airport and it would be easy to keep the drone in sight. I would film when nobody was around so I didn’t annoy others and I would take care not to disturb local wildlife and respect the area. All good.

The area is privately owned by the National Trust so I figured I may need permission from them to fly. I did a quick search online to see how I obtain this permission.

From the National Trust website:

National Trust Drone Rules
National Trust Drone Rules

Thinking these rules may be flexible I decided to contact the National Trust. I’ve had a good relationship with a few local wardens in the past, so emailed them to see what was possible.

While waiting for a reply, I asked the same question online. Replies I received included “they don’t own the airspace”, “they can’t stop you flying over their land” and “just take off from outside their property and it will be fine”. I did a bit of checking to see if these statements were true and it’s a bit of a grey area, but a person/organisation does seem to have certain rights to the first 500ft of airspace above their property according to the Civil Aviation Act 1982, although I have no idea how these rights would play out in court.

A few hours later I received a reply from a National Trust warden:

NT policy does not allow drones to be flown on, from or across our land except in certain commercial cases which we deem appropriate whereby a license for use is drawn up.  In these cases, only contractors with the correct licenses and insurance are used.

I’m sorry I cannot be more help with you on this matter

Not the response I hoped for, but conclusive.

What’s next?

Do I believe what I’ve been told online and hope that it will be fine? or do I respect the advice I’ve asked for and been given by the National Trust?

For me it comes down to what I said above. I’ve always had a good relationship with the National Trust and I don’t want to jeopardise this.

I’m a member and spend a lot of my free time at their locations. When I’m on their land I’ll respect their rules and bye-laws. If this means not using a drone for photography, then okay.

So no filming Botallack from the air, where can I film?

I started thinking about other photography spots here in Cornwall that I love.

Godrevy – Owned by the National Trust,

St Agnes Head – Owned by the National Trust

Rinsey – Owned by theNational Trust

Golitha Falls – NOT owned by the National Trust (but hardly ideal surroundings for a drone).

The truth is, here in Cornwall the National Trust own a lot of land. If you want to see how much, there’s a UK map HERE

After waiting two years for a drone that suits my needs, I’ve realised I can’t use it in most of my favourite spots. The DJI Mavic looks a great product, but it’s no use to me if I can’t use it in the places I want to film. I’ve cancelled my order this morning.

I’ve seen so many aerial videos on YouTube taken from National Trust sites that it never occurred to me that they might not allow drones. Glad I checked before wasting my money.

Maybe I’ll get a pole for the Osmo.

3 thoughts on “Drone for Photography? Maybe Not.

    1. Funny you should say that Darren. The National Trust used to have a lot of restrictions on photography. This policy was changed a few years ago (from memory) and photography is now fine as long as not commercial.

  1. I’ve pretty much come to the same conclusion myself. Having purchased an X5 equipped DJI Inspire 1 Pro a year or so ago, most of the interesting locations are now off-limit to drone photography. The N.T. is a good example as they own some of the best bits of coastline in Cornwall. I am seriously thinking of selling my investment as I do not think the situation will improve in the future – if anything even more restrictions are likely…

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