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Filming Over Crowds – The Great Debate

Derrick Threatt



flying over crowds

[By Sally French – Drone Coalition] Hi Drone Girl,

My son and his cousin started a droning business in Michigan about a year ago. Recently they were asked to drone a festival in our town, and they readily accepted needing the exposure. I have a question…have you ever filmed a festival or in an area with large crowds. How do you launch your drone? Do you cordon off an area or have a launch pad? We’re worried about the thousands of people milling around the area and the danger of the blades of the drone.

Thank you,

P.S. the boys company is insured.


Hey Laura,

This is a great question, and I’m glad you have safety first in mind! Take the exposure, and give exposure to a safe drone flying practices while you’re at it.

I have filmed in large crowds, and it’s tricky! People love to come up to you and talk to you about what you’re doing, and while it’s easy to want to be friendly and have a chat, you also need to focus. For example, I once photographed a crowd with a drone flying over Crissy Broadcast in The Presidio for The San Francisco Chronicle.

Crissy Broadcast event at Crissy Field in San Francisco, Calif. Photo/Sally French

Luckily at this event, there weren’t too many people, so I was able to stand away from people in a grassy area to launch, without having to cordon off an area. Most drone injuries happen during takeoff and landing, so it’s important that you don’t do these steps near other people. If your event is going to be wall to wall people, you’ll definitely want to cordon off an area where you can launch.

It’s great that you’ll have what sounds like two people there. One should be piloting with their eyes on the drone the whole time, and one should be the spotter looking out for other things in the sky (or coming at you on the ground too). You may even want a third person to control the drone’s camera, depending on what kind of gear you’re using. The great thing about cordoning off an area is you don’t have to worry about people coming up and asking questions while you’re in flight.

As for flying over crowds, it’s tricky!  The FAA recommends not flying over people, but if it’s over public property for non-commercial use, you have a right to. If you have any slightest doubt about your piloting abilities, don’t fly over people. If you are 100% confident, then I think I feel comfortable advising you to go for it.

One of my favorite drone videos ever from when I first started reporting on drones was from The Drone Dudes. They fly all over the crowd, but that’s obviously risky. Use your judgment.

And of course, happy flying!


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