Photography, Drones and the Law: What You Need to Know

December 6, 2017

By Greg Scoblete

While drones are quickly establishing themselves as must-have photographic tools, the laws governing their use are far from settled.

At the recent PhotoPlus Expo show, we spoke with Mickey H. Osterreicher, a lawyer who serves as General Counsel of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), to clear the air (if you will) about what photographers need to know about drones.

Unfortunately, drones are subject not just to federal regulations but state and local regulations as well--and as Osterreicher explains, those vary widely and defy easy generalization. (Fun fact, in Texas you can't take a photo of someone from higher than 8 feet without their consent!)

That said, there are some broad-brush tips that photographers should keep in mind before they fly:

  • You need to have FAA Part 107 Certification to operate your drone commercially. To get said certification you'll need to pass a 2-hour multiple choice exam and you need a 70 to pass. It costs $150.
  • Local laws can vary significantly with respect to what you can photograph with a drone, so when in doubt, check in with local authorities.
  • If you want to photograph a news event, you need to ensure the FAA hasn't issued a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) around the area. DJI's Go App is usually updated in real-time with these restrictions but other drones may not. When in doubt, check in with local law enforcement.