There are a lot of good articles out there about traveling with your drone (like this one from Drone Enthusiast) and I don't have much to add to that discussion, bottom line is lipo batteries are dangerous so be careful. Before you travel, you can check the latest drone related travel issues at this TSA link. This article is going to be about flying and filming in Hawaii specifically because I have gotten lots of emails about this subject over the years.
So you want to bring your drone to Hawaii..
What a great idea! The natural beauty here makes it a great place to get incredible pictures and video. I also think you will find flying here more challenging than other locations, especially for those of you far from the ocean where you do not get trade winds or fly over the water. Here are a few pointers and things to think about while on your trip. If you find this useful, please consider sharing the article or leaving a comment. And please send me your content and I will put it into a blog post!
Worry about when to film, not where
I say this because conditions change fast here and things look completely different from the air depending on the light you have available. Sunrise and sunset will give you the most contrast in the sky while bright noon sun will light up the reefs below the water. Wind is another element to keep a close eye on because when there is not a puff of wind and its full sunlight, the shots flying over the water will look spectacular. Smooth, calm ocean always seems to look better. If you are trying to get artistic and can not get a break from the wind, black and white pictures of windy ocean tends to look good (at least to my eye).
Check your landmarks
This is aerial photography 101 but I can't stress it enough, when you first take off take the time to yaw around and get some landmarks near your landing spot. The beauty around you will draw you farther and farther away like a Sirens song and the wind will eat your battery. So, check your landmarks and do not push your machine to do things you haven't done before with it while in a new hostile environment! Push your limits on your home turf before you get here and then set some limits within what you know is possible and make them conservative. Having to replace a new Phantom, Mavic, or Inspire will make your trip more expensive than it needs to be.
When I first started filming at Jaws, there was a time when it was time to come back home. The surf breaks about half a mile out to sea and I followed strict rules about flight times and headed back with some reserves in the tank. As I got closer to the cliff, I got lost. I had no idea where I had taken off from because I did not check my landmarks. Luckily I made some friends while I was flying and they spotted it and that helped me figure out where I was. I made one mistake and if I had made two by not following strict rules about flight times I would have lost my drone. Do not make two mistakes!
Fly into the wind first
Drones have gotten pretty smart but they are not smart enough to consider the wind if you happen to go a half mile or more downwind on a windy day. If you are just going up to fly around and see what you can find, pay attention to the wind and fly into the wind first. Flying into a 10-20mph breeze will eat up significantly more battery power than cruising downwind.
Checklist of cool Hawaii shots
Dealing with locals
Sometimes you will get people who get vocal about your flying at particular spots and I have found it best to just be polite and respect their wishes. My favorite time to fly is early in the morning and I usually look for take off spots that are a bit out of the way to avoid this issue. I have found people here to be almost entirely kind and nice, but occasionally you get someone in a bad mood. This has happened to me one time here and could have easily been avoided by finding a better take off spot. I usually try and talk to the people around me and let them know ill be flying and gauging their interest level. I like to offer people drone shots of their family and friends on the beach too, its a good ice breaker for those long days at beach. I have met some really cool people doing this.
Technically a drone is considered an aircraft and therefore must be 100 yards away from whales and other protected animals. I have not heard of anyone getting cited from the DLNR but you will want to be cautious of this. I find this a bit ironic because observing whales from a drone allows the actual boat to be far away from the animals while I have personally been on whale watching tours where the boat drivers are moving the boat around very close to mothers with babies. I stand firm that drone whale watching is possibly the best way to do it - for their safety.
Surfers are cranky, windsurfers are stoked
When you are filming surfers, know that waves typically come in sets with several minutes between rides. Try and fly away when there are no waves instead of buzzing directly over the surfers head. If you don't, you might end up with a few middle fingers or guys trying to splash you. While the same surfer might be salty in the water, if you approach him with an awesome picture or video of one of his rides, he will come around really fast. Trust me, it happens all the time. That same cranky guy in the water will turn into a drone photography convert the second you show him an awesome clip of himself!
I have found windsurfers to be exceptionally stoked to be filmed. The hard part is figuring out who the best guys are and then focusing on them because they will be the ones doing the big aerials and giant slashes. Always share your content with them because they will love it.
Send me your Hawaii video for the blog
Want me to put your Hawaii video in a blog post or interested in writing about your personal experiences flying in Hawaii? I would love to include either of those in a future post.