How to Fly a Drone Like a Pro

How to Fly a Drone Like a Pro

Welcome to the only how to fly a drone guide that you will need!

This ultimate drone guide walks you through flight control basics, recommended settings, and the best flight maneuvers.

Getting a new drone is exciting as it provides a new outlet for creativity and to step up your content creation abilities. And let’s be honest, flying a drone is just cool! If you are feeling nervous about learning how to fly a drone, don’t worry because it’s completely normal.

Every drone pilot has similar stories about first-time scares, crashes, or close calls. Drones have come a long way, and learning how to fly a drone has become much easier due to intelligent flight modes and obstacle avoidance systems. 

In this guide on how to fly a drone like a pro, we’ll cover: 

  • Drone Flight Controls & Basics 

  • Understanding Your Drone & Important Settings

  • Pre-Flight Checklist & Best Practices 

  • How to Fly a Drone Like a Pro: Best Flight Maneuvers

Note: The topics in this guide relating to controller functions and settings are based on DJI drones, the most popular drones on the market.

Drone Flight Controls & Beginner Basics

Most drone controllers share a similar layout and functionality, with two control sticks as the main input for flying the drone. The types of controllers vary from basic controllers that dock to a smartphone or smart versions with integrated displays and software. 

There are four main movements to understand when learning how to fly a drone: 

  • Roll 
  • Pitch 
  • Yaw
  • Throttle 

Note: For this guide, the left stick controls the yaw and throttle, and the right stick controls pitch and roll. 

DJI Flight Controller

Roll is a drone’s ability to move from left to right; this flight maneuver is achieved by pushing the right stick directly to the left or right. The drone is not turning but simply moving in one direction or another. 

Pitch is responsible for moving the drone forwards or backward. By pushing the right stick forward, the drone will “pitch” forward. The rear of the drone will rise, propelling the drone to fly forward. 

To fly backward, you pull the stick back, which raises the front of the drone, causing it to “pitch” backward and to fly in reverse. 

Yaw controls the turning of the drone, either left or right, on its vertical axis. Yaw can be used on its own to pan into a specific direction or during flight alongside other flight controls. 

The Throttle is used to control the speed of the propellers, causing the drone to ascend or descend. The more pressure applied to the left stick will result in a faster rate of speed in either direction. 

Some drones also come with a beginner mode which is great for first-time flyers learning how to fly a drone. In this mode, the speed, sensitivity, and operation are reduced to keep the drone from making sudden movements from inexperienced pilots. When this mode is turned off, the controls become much more sensitive and reactive to input from the sticks.

Understanding Your Drone & Important Settings

Before actually flying a drone, you should understand the settings and adjust them to optimize the drone for the best results. It may not be the most exciting thing, but confirming your settings will save you a headache later. The last thing anyone wants is to get back to the studio after a long day and end up with crappy footage. 

Note: This guide will not cover every setting, only the essential ones. Settings may vary from drone and manufacturer. 

Content should always tell a story, even if it’s a simple video. You want to take your audience along for a journey. When you’re recording, ask yourself, “what story am I trying to tell?” 

General Settings

The settings are accessed by clicking the three white dots in the upper right corner of the display. Under general settings, look for the ‘Video Cache’ section and ensure that ‘Cache During Video Shooting’ is turned on.

best camera drone settings

When learning how to fly a drone, it’s easy to forget the SD card with everything else going on. The video cache setting will back up a low-res version of the footage to your device. Even though it’s lower quality, it’s better than walking away empty-handed, and it can really save you. It’s also helpful if the drone becomes lost or severely damaged. 

Be sure to limit how much footage will be backed up to your device. You don’t want to save a large amount of footage as it will overwhelm your phone or smart controller. A safe bet is to set it only to save 2 GB. Doing so will provide you with some usable footage.

General Settings – Advanced

Making the smallest adjustments can make the difference between amateur and professional-looking drone footage. One method to achieve buttery smooth cinematics is customizing the gimbal speed and pitch. 

The Max Gimbal Speed determines how quickly the camera will move in a specific direction. For example, if you are performing a tilt and reveal shot, the drone camera will look towards the ground and tilt up for a grand reveal. The standard gimbal settings are quick, which you do not want. A good speed to set the gimbal to is 8; most people have theirs set to 15. 

The next setting to check is Gimbal Pitch Smoothness, which controls how quickly the gimbal responds. Again, you don’t want the gimbal to react hard to sudden inputs. It will result in jerky-looking footage; it’s always obvious when someone is learning how to fly a drone because they often make adjustments too quickly. A safe speed to choose is 15; 100 is the maximum for DJI drones.

Enable Upwards Gimbal Tilt to 30 Degrees is another setting you should turn on. It allows the gimbal to tilt further up and increases the field-of-view (FOV) for larger shots. 

Aircraft Battery Settings

Many drones are programmed with default battery settings that are excessively safe and reduce flight time. For example, if the low battery warning triggers 30% battery life, that’s a potential 7-8 minutes of flying time left.

Below are some recommended battery settings. 

  • Critically Low Battery Warning: 10%

  • Low Battery Warning: 15% – The drone will not trigger warnings to land soon until battery life has dropped to 15%.

Smart Return-to-Home is a safety feature that tells the drone to automatically return to the home point when the battery reaches a critically low status. Having this feature on can save your drone if you lose connection or can’t make it back to your location. 

One thing to be mindful of is where the current home point is set. This will be covered in more depth later in the guide.

Image Transmission Settings

The only setting to focus on here is choosing between Normal and HD Mode for the video resolution that will be recorded if you have the video cache settings turned on. Choosing HD mode will require more storage, but it’s recommended. 

Remote Controller Settings

Charging Mode allows your drone controller to charge your phone. Turning this on is extremely helpful when you need a charge while flying your drone. 

Button Customization is a feature that speeds up your workflow when piloting the drone and trying to get the perfect shot. On a DJI controller, there is a C1 and C2 button. 

The buttons can open the following functions:

  • Turn on/off Head LEDs

  • Center- Weighted Metering 

  • AE Lock/Unlock

  • Advanced Camera Settings

  • Camera Foward/Down

  • Gimbal Follow/FPV Mode

A great use of this is to have C1 control the camera forward and down for faster movements when trying to see what’s below you. Even with the reduced gimbal speeds set in the previous settings, the C1 control will bypass that and quickly move the gimbal. 

Another example would be to have the C2 button open your camera settings. Doing so allows quick access to your settings when you need to adjust something quickly without clicking on the display to get to the settings menu. 

Visual Navigation Systems

best camera drone advanced settings

Modern drones are great for anyone learning how to fly a drone because of the obstacle avoidance features. 90% of the time, it’s a good idea to turn on and take advantage of Visual Obstacle Avoidance. When enabled, the sensors around the drone detect objects and stop the drone before it crashes. 

There are some situations where you would want to turn it off:

  • Flying intentionally close to objects for an action-packed shot. 

  • Flying near or operating under a structure like a gazebo, parking garage, etc. 

  • Flying under/through trees

  • Flying through buildings or other enclosed spaces. (This has become very popular with FPV drones).

Some of the best shots are flying dangerously close to objects. Enabling obstacle avoidance in any of the above situations would cause the drone to stop suddenly, sometimes doing more harm than good. In simple terms, the drone would freak out. 

Visual Navigation Systems – Advanced Settings

The Visual Positioning System (VPS) uses the same visual sensors for navigation when flying indoors or in environments without a stable GPS connection. Let’s look at some essential settings to enable: 

  • Enable Vision Positioning: The downward VPS provides accurate, stable hovering without GPS and supports Landing Protection and other systems. 

Landing Protection checks the landing area and determines if it’s suitable for landing. It slows the drone down and allows it to land safely. In this mode, the drone will not land on uneven areas, grassy fields, crop fields, etc. Keep this in mind when choosing a landing location. 

  • Return-To-Home Obstacle Check: When ambient lighting conditions are sufficient, the drone will automatically ascend to avoid obstacles during an RTH flight, even if obstacle avoidance is turned off. 

Main Controller Settings

DJI Return to Home settings
  • Home Point Settings: There are two choices when setting the home point. Option one is the physical location you took off from, and two is setting your controller as the home point. 

With option one, if you are on a moving boat, the home point will still be set from the initial take-off location. Meaning it’s probably going to end up crashing into the ocean. (Or if the home point was under a tree canopy, the drone would try to land in the trees.

  • Option 2 will be a moving home point because the controller is set as the home point. As long as the controller is with you, that is where the drone will return if RTH is triggered. This is the best option to select to avoid RTH mishaps. 

You can also set a new home point of the drone’s current location by clicking the icon that looks like a kite. If the drone is low on battery and not near you, this is a great option to have the drone land in its current location.

  • RTH at Current Altitude: Default safety setting (leave this checked to on). 

  • Multiple Flight Modes: (DJI Drones) – This setting allows you to change between flight modes from your controller during flight quickly. 

Flight Modes:

S (Sport) – In this mode, the drone can fly up to its highest rated speed, and the aircraft’s agility is improves. Drone footage is typically not as smooth or cinematic in Sport Mode. 

Note: Obstacle Avoidance will automatically disable itself in this mode. 

P (Positioning) – In this mode, the drone is in its normal flight mode with reduced speeds and supports functions such as Intelligent Flight Modes and Obstacle Avoidance. Use P-Mode 90% of the time for stable shots and a decent amount of speed. 

T(Tripod) – In this mode, the speed is significantly reduced, and flight control sensitivity is also reduced to help fine-tune compositions smoothly; obstacle Avoidance is enabled in this mode. 

  • Return-to-Home Altitude: This is the height at which the drone will ascend and fly when RTH is triggered. Be aware of your surroundings, and be sure to have the altitude set at a height that will clear any obstacles in the surrounding area. 

  • Beginner Mode: Only keep enabled if you are a beginner learning how to fly a drone. 

  • Set Max Flight Altitude: This setting will allow you to adjust the max altitude at which the drone can fly. 

Note: Many countries have restricted drones from flying above 400 feet above ground level (AGL). Setting the flight altitude above 120 meters will prompt a warning notifying you that you have exceeded what is legally allowed. It will enable you to do so, but always abide by the drone regulations where ever you are flying. 

  • Enable Max Distance: This controls how far your drone can fly away from the controller. Maxing out the distance (8000m) can save you if you need to move away from something quickly. You don’t want to be limited by a geofence. 

  • Turn on Head LEDs: The red lights are great for safety and navigation. In low-light conditions, the red light will sometimes appear in your footage. So you may want to toggle off this option if it interferes with your shots. 

  • Stop Motor Control: This is typically only for emergencies or to kill the motors once the drone lands if you are not using or are unable to use the automatic landing function. 

Push both sticks to the bottom inner or outer corners to perform this. Doing this also works if the drone is on the ground and the motors will not shut down or if you prefer to land manually. 

Pre-Flight Checklist & Best Practices

Learn How To Fly-a Drone

Before taking off, always run through a pre-flight checklist to make sure your drone is performing at its best. 

  • Most important, DON’T FORGET to put an SD card in the drone! 

  • Inspect the drone for dents, cracks, or defects that could affect flight performance.

  • Check the weather forecast. 

  • Ensure that batteries are charged and are free of damage or swelling. 

  • Confirm you are running the latest firmware version on the drone and flight application. 

  • Make sure the take-off areas are safe and clear of obstacles and people. 

  • Confirm your preferred camera settings and equip the drone with additional equipment if needed (i.e., ND Filters).   

How to Fly a Drone Like a Pro: Best Flight Maneuvers

Forward Pitch Reveal:

  • Pitch the gimbal down and start gently pushing forward on the left stick;

  • Then, begin to very lightly apply some pitch to create a beautiful reveal shot.

Reverse Pitch Reveal:

Reverse Pitch Reveal:

  • Pitch the gimbal up and start gently pushing forward on the left stick;

  • Then, begin to pitch the camera toward the ground to get a stunning action shot.

Backward Reveal:

  • Pitch gimbal towards the ground;

  • Then, pull the drone back using the right stick while simultaneously ascending at the same time by pushing up on the left stick. 

This method creates a grand reveal as the drone flies up and backward to reveal the landscape/subject.

Flying Forward:

  • Fly straight for a long distance by simply pushing forward on the left stick. 

While it might not be the most exciting shot, it’s simple and effective. 

Orbit Shot:

  • Use a center point and line it up with the subject you want to orbit;

  • Now, move the right stick to the right and the left stick to the left.

Orbit with a Pitch:

This maneuver controls three things at once: the left and right sticks and the pitch wheel. 

  • Perform the rotation as described in the orbit shot;

  • Now introduce the pitching motion from the wheel once you feel lined up with the subject. 

Birds Eye View:

  • Pitch the gimbal down where you are looking only at the ground;

  • Fly forward for as long as you like, and that’s it!

Flying at this angle creates a unique perspective and a great storytelling tool. You can also do this maneuver in reverse and descend to the ground. You can also add a slight amount of rotation for a more dynamic shot for the fly-up. 

Don’t have a drone yet? Check out the Top 5 Travel Drones of 2022.

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I hope you found this guide helpful in learning how to fly a drone. If you’re ready to take your career to new heights (literally), then check out my brand new 10 Day Creator Challenge here!

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