What to Watch Out for When Filming with a Drone?

More and more often, drones are used in professional video productions. Using this technique, images and emotions are created which, until now, could only be realized with high production costs and immense effort. However, a lot of legal requirements need to be considered for every drone production. Our production manager and director Stefanie Behr spoke with Christian Breuer, managing director at our partner firm All About Video GmbH.

Drohnen-Dreh Bavaria-Filmstudios 2016

(Copyright: Tom Streubel, 2016)

What are the legal requirements of a drone production?

Breuer: That depends on how the drone is used. You have to distinguish:

  • whether the drone is used for sport or recreation
  • or whether it is used for other purposes like a video or photo production for commercial purposes.

The specifications vary from country to country, depending on the weight of the drone and other factors. To make it not too complicated, let’s focus on the commercial use of a drone in Germany and a weight of up to 5 kg (without an internal combustion engine). Such a drone is quite common in professional video productions. We have used it for our last film for Bavaria Film for example. I won’t be able to talk about every detail, but I would like to point out at least some of the more important aspects.

First of all, you’ve got to get permission for using the airspace from the individual state. For most of the federal states, for example Bavaria, a general permission for camera drones of up to 5 kg (without internal combustion engine) can be obtained. This is valid for up to 2 years and can be extended after that. A drone may only be used up to an altitude of 100 m above ground and may only be flown within sight of the drone’s operator.

It’s forbidden to use drones over crowds, during disasters or in disaster areas, over areas where police and other authorities / security agencies work, in air traffic control areas and restricted areas. This also applies to law enforcement institutions, industrial plants, power generation / distribution and military compounds, unless these authorities and organizations have expressly authorized the use. Drones are also prohibited in all areas where police ​​aircraft and rescue services operate. In these cases, as well as in the vicinity of airfields and airports, a radius of at least 1.5 km applies.

The owners of the land, from which you carry out the take-offs and landings, must also agree. No personal rights or copyrights may be infringed whilst using drones. If you’re planning to use the drone within a town, you must inform the relevant police authority in advance, which has the right to forbid the use.

Drohnen-Dreh SAP Sailing Team Germany 2015

In general, when using a drone, you must ensure safe operation. Neither public safety nor order, nor people, animals or objects may be endangered or disturbed. At the start of the production, you must be informed about weather conditions and airspace limitations.

What drone models are on the market and which model suits which situation?

Breuer: For our film for Bavaria Film Interactive, we used an Inspire 1 Pro including the Zenmuse X5R camera from DJI. The Inspire 1 Pro including the high-quality X5R camera offers a very good price-performance ratio and delivers numerous options for most commercial video productions.

The “R” in “X5R” refers to recordings in “RAW” and thus offers even more possibilities in postproduction – especially in regards to color correction and color grading. But there are also drones, that can transport independent cameras. This can be an advantage depending on where you plan to use it. For example, in regards to the selection of different high-quality lenses and additional camera settings. However, these drones often weigh more than 5 kg combined with flexible cameras and lenses, and are therefore subject to other requirements, which we won’t discuss in detail here.

Drohnen-Dreh Bavaria-Filmstudios 2016

(Copyright: Tom Streubel, 2016)

How, where and against what do you need to be insured?

Breuer: The legislator demands a liability insurance. In Germany, there are some providers who have a drone liability insurance in their portfolio. It is more difficult if you want to insure the drone as a device. And after all, the cost of a professional drone is quite high. In order to protect yourself against the risk of a crash, a special liability insurance is required (“all-risk insurance”). However, as many drones crash regularly, there are only a few providers that offer such an insurance.

When does it not make sense to use a drone?

Breuer: There are situations where the use of drones is not possible or too risky. For example, we did not allow the drone to fly through the entrance and into a Bavaria film studio. Instead, we replaced the drone flight with a Gimbal rig. In this case a camera on a rig (eg DJI Ronin) is moved by a camera operator. The Gimbal itself has built-in stabilizers and these ensure that the camera is hanging freely in its frame and that there is no wobbling or jerking. This allows the camera to “hover” in the room and creates a similar feeling to a drone flight. Especially if the locations and surroundings are not suitable, if you have to fly very close to the ground or close to buildings, a Gimbal rig is a very nice complementary piece of equipment or an alternative to the drone.

How much do I have to invest for filming with a drone?

Breuer: The cost of professional drone productions varies greatly and always depends on the project. It is therefore difficult to give out flat-rate figures. In principle, a drone team consists of two to three people. The drone operator who flies the drone and a spotter who makes sure that there is no danger. That allows the drone operator to concentrate solely on the flight. A camera operator is necessary for complex flights with special camera movements. While the drone operator concentrates on the maneuvers of the drone, the camera operator only takes care of the correct camera setting and movement. If the camera settings and movements are not too complex, the drone operator can also take over the task of the camera operator.

Drohnen-Dreh SAP Sailing Team Germany 2015