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Up in the air

Everything you need to know about drone photography, so you don’t have to wing it.

By Michaela Satterfield

To gain an edge over other photographers, take to the sky. Drone photography and videography allows us to see the world from a bird’s eye view without ever leaving the ground. Photograph landscapes, cities and wildlife from a breathtaking angle that inspires others to reach for the stars. Camera drones open a world of possibility, allowing you to keep your head in the clouds while your feet remain firmly planted on the ground. Local drone photographer and videographer Chandler Hummell said it best: “They’re really just a spectacular piece of technology,” he said. Get ready for takeoff.

Let’s clear the air

A drone is essentially a flying robot. Attach a camera to it, send it into the sky using a remote, and you’ll be flying high with photos and videos from a whole new perspective. This is the idea behind drone photography and videography. Robert Berner, a photographer from Dayton, Ohio, and visitor of Hilton Head Island, said most camera drones connect to your phone using an app so you can see what you’re photographing. Drones are aware of their surroundings, thanks to GPS technology. To hover steadily, they can lock into a specific GPS position to return to if they drift.

Photo by Chandler Hummell

Set the scene

The best places to fly your camera drone:

1. Open grass fields: These are ideal for beginners, Hummell said. You won’t have to worry about navigating trees or any of the challenges that come with flying over water.

2. Open water: Berner said this is one of his favorite places to fly, but it poses the risk of losing connection with your drone which could cause it to fall in the water. Hummell likes flying over the water as well and said it’s not as risky as it may seem. Since water reflects, you can actually get a better radio signal over the water. Just watch out for pelicans and ducks, he warned.

3. Through trees: Navigating trees can be tricky, to say the least. Berner said there are goggles you can buy that allow you to see what you are recording as if you were flying through the trees yourself, which can eliminate some of the issues. Hummell said you risk getting stuck in the trees, but tree shots are some of the best.

4. Oyster beds: Located between Bluffton and Pinckney Island, oyster beds are Hummell’s all-time favorite place to visit. “I regularly fly over those,” he said. “It’s just so other-worldly. You can’t really tell where it is.”

5. Mountains: Lower air density and plenty of obstacles mean flying through the mountains would be no small task, but Berner said he has always wanted to tackle it.

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Insider information

Here are all the tips and tricks you’ll need to get in the air.

1. You can fly high, but not too high. The height limit is 400 feet in the air.

2. Get licensed to fly. If your camera drone weighs more than 55 pounds, you’ll have to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration. As long as the drone weighs less than 55 pounds, you can use the automated registration system online at

3. In order to protect wildlife, it’s illegal to fly in wildlife refuges or national parks. Stick to public and state parks, where drone photography is typically allowed. It can vary by park district, so check first, just in case.

4. To protect privacy, it’s illegal to fly a drone on beaches within the town of Hilton Head.

5. Auto mode, which Hummell said is impressive, is a great place to start. Once you master that, you can switch to manual mode to control shutter speed and other settings like you would find on a normal camera.

6. Hummell’s best advice? “Don’t be afraid,” he said. The fear of losing your drone shouldn’t get in the way of sending it out and getting great shots. Hummell said it’s always worth the risk – advice coming from someone who has lost three drones.

Drone Gallery