When booking a drone shoot, should I use a solo operator or a dual crew?

Chris Bates and a drone crew member watch the Inspire 2 fly over a cliff face
It’s a question I am often asked by clients.
To get a better understanding, let’s look into the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Naturally, going with a dual-crew setup is more expensive as it involves two people.

With the pilot focusing purely on flying the drone, and the camera op concentrating purely on composing the shot and directing the pilot, it’s possible to achieve very dynamic shots and get the best out of what your drone and crew can offer.

If shooting a moving subject like a car or cyclist, you’ll always get better results with a dual crew, as the combination of drone height, position and speed, alongside panning and tilting camera to keep the subject in the frame or achieve the desired result, will always be better with two pairs of hands on the task.

Additionally, the camera op can change settings on the fly, for example, to deal with changing light conditions or shoot at a different frame rate. And of course, the flights are safer as the pilot has their eyes on the drone at all times.

The camera op can also be very useful when it comes to landing in a tricky area, as an experienced pair of hands can perform a catch landing.

Thames Oilport - Chris Bates and another drone operator wear safety vests and hard hats whilst they work with the rest of the crew. Chris reviews the camera feed and the operator flies the drone whilst a crew member directs the footage

It’s a question of safety, shot quality and subject matter.

Using a solo operator, the same person both flies the drone and controls the camera.

This can work well in certain scenarios and is a more cost-effective option so it can suit productions with lower budgets. For simple flights in open areas (for example, forward-moving shots of a country house in a countryside setting), it’s very much doable as there isn’t much camerawork required and minimal safety risks.

Based on safety, we would not recommend a solo setup in built-up areas or places with lots of people. We think of it as similar to texting whilst driving! The pilot can either be eyes-on with the drone, but not the monitor and therefore missing the shot, or could be looking at the monitor but not paying attention to any obstacles near the drone. Neither of these scenarios has an outcome that anyone wants during a shoot day!

Some drones have a feature that enables the camera to lock on to a moving subject, keeping it the centre of the frame while the pilot focuses on the flying. I have found this to be a useful aid in some scenarios but it’s not very reliable—the software can easily lose its target (eg. if it goes behind tree branches) and doesn’t allow for any creative flair in the camerawork.

Chris Bates solo operates a Mavic drone on a foggy day by a moutainside

We currently have an Operational Safety Case (OSC) being reviewed by the CAA, which when approved, will enable us to fly our drones with reduced separation distances to the normal 50m during flight, 30m during take-off and landing from people and property, not under the control of the pilot.

We are working towards 20m during flight, 10m during take-off and landing, which will make a huge difference in many of the places we need to fly.

For OSC jobs, it will be a requirement to use a dual crew in congested areas.

So there you have it!
that should be all the info you need to make an informed decision on crew numbers for your drone shoot.

If you have more questions, or if you’d like to discuss your project with us, give me a call on the number below, or drop us an email. We find that in early discussions, the phone is better than email for questions and answers, and enables me to give the client the best guidance for achieving their desired result.

Happy shooting…

Chris