Drones: some notes, thoughts, observations, uses

I bought a Phantom 3 Advanced drone in December 2015. It is a truly remarkable piece of highly advanced technology, combining computing power, radio communication, multi-functional graphic displays, highly powered but very small electric motors and advanced lithium battery technologies.

Most important to me, the Phantom gave me the power to place a camera within a three dimensional space rather than the two dimensions to which I, and most other photographers, are usually limited. It literally gave me another dimension in my choice of where to place my camera.

The Phantom failed to fly in April 2019. It had previously given me trouble and the correspondence I'd had with the retailer, Mongrel Gear, had given me the impression that in this situation, with the particular failure, repair would be unlikely to be possible.

I bought a new drone, a Mavic Mini, also a DJI model, and also from Mongrel Gear, in February 2020.

This page discusses drones in general; I have written notes specific to the DJI Phantom and Mavic Mini on another page.

Page created 2016/10/13, last edited 2022/02/10
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Serpentine River, Mandurah, Western Australia
War Memorial
Mandurah War Memorial, Western Australia
The photo on the right was taken a few days after I bought my first drone. It attracted interest from passers-by. I'm the one in the foreground on the right here, the walker with his dog stopped to chat. Unfortunately, keeping up even a light conversation does not aid the concentration required to fly the drone and take photos, especially when you are learning.

Learning to fly a drone can probably best be compared to learning to drive a car. It requires full concentration at the beginning. After a relatively short time I found I got into, for want of better words, a 'frame of mind' specific to drone-flying, and when I stopped flying, I had to switch back to my normal 'frame of mind'.

With longer practice, the switching from drone flying to normal functioning became more automatic and unnoticed.

The second photo on the right was taken in the seaside city of Mandurah, Western Australia. Mandurah is on very flat ground; a drone gives a view-point that cannot be obtained by climbing a hill – there are no hills.



What subjects have I used a drone to photograph?

Also see Drones in conservation parks in Australia

A large installation on flat ground

Sundrop Farm

Above is Sundrop Farm, Port Augusta. It is a giant tomato-growing operation in a hot dry part of South Australia that uses solar power (in the foreground) to take the salt out of seawater and to heat or cool the greenhouses (in the background).

The land is quite flat, so one can see very little from the ground, but a drone allows you to place a camera exactly where you want it.

An elevated view of something one could not normally get close to

Wind farm

Hallett Hill Wind Farm in South Australia is on farming/grazing land. My drone was flown from a nearby public road and allowed me to get a perspective close to one of the turbines with some of the others in the background.

It was a fairly calm day; the turbines were hardly moving.

A solar PV farm, from a drone and from the ground

Bungala Solar Farm, Stage 1, under construction
Bungalla Solar Farm
Stitch of several Phantom drone images, 2018/05/10

Bungalla Solar Farm
Bungala solar farm, photo taken from ground level, 2018/05/10

Irrigation channels near Hay

Irrigation channel
This, compared to the next photo taken from my Phantom drone, shows the value of a drone in providing an idea of a large feature on flat ground.

The Hay Plain would have to be one of the flattest and extensive plains that I know of. The observer/photographer on the ground is very limited in what he can see and photograph.

Irrigation channels
About 40km west of Hay, on the great plain of the Murrumbidgee, in an area too dry to grow cereal crops, we came across these unlined irrigation channels. We saw no irrigated areas from the ground; it was only after looking at some photos taken from my Phantom drone at perhaps 100m altitude that I saw some irrigated paddocks in the distance (one is just visible on the far right of the image).

The losses due to evaporation and soakage from these very long channels must be enormous; the losses due to the inefficient flood-irrigation used at the ends of the channels would probably be even greater.

In late 2016 the (Liberal-National Coalition) Federal government was intending to increase the amount of water that can legally be taken from the Murray-Darling river system and reduce the amount reserved for the environment.

Perhaps if the huge waste in the current irrigation practices, such as to be seen here, was cut out, we would have enough water for both irrigators and environment?

Click on (or touch) the image to see it in more detail.

Travelling irrigator

A travelling irrigator west of Hay

I took this photo on 2017/03/20.

It was on the previous trip that I took the photos above. I thought that the water in the irrigation chanels would have been used for flood irrigation, which is a very inefficient way of using water to grow plants.

This drone photo shows a more efficient method. The machine in the foreground pumps water from the ditch through the pipeline and out through sprinklers; it slowly moves along the channel, watering as it goes.

I didn't know that the travelling irrigator followed an irrigation channel until I flew my drone.

Click (or tap) on the image to view full size; use back-arrow to come back.

Impact of a nearby fire

Brooks Lookout, Clare, South Australia
Near Brooks Lookout
Photo date 2020/02/14
The photo on the right and the one below was taken 10 months after the area was burned in a bushfire.

In this photo my Mavic Mini was looking from above and to the east of Brooks Lookout near Clare in South Australia toward Blyth and the Condowie Plain.

Brooks Lookout, Clare, South Australia
Brooks Lookout
Photo date 2020/02/14
This photo was of Brooks Lookout itself. The fire came within a few hundred metres of our property. Another fire a couple of years earlier came within two kilometres in a different direction.

Bushfires in Australia are becoming more fierce, burning larger areas and producing more damage, and fire danger seasons are getting longer, all due to climate change.

Drones in conservation parks in Australia


WA parks

The relevant page seems to be Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Department of Parks and Wildlife, DPAW). From my reading of that page drones are allowed in land controlled by CALM (Conservation and Land Management) with a few provisos:
  • You must abide by the general CASA rules;
  • Flying is not allowed at Rottnest Island, Kings Park and Bold Park and Perth Zoo;
  • The relevant district office should be contacted prior to each RPA flight. There is a list of these on the above DPAW page;
I used a drone to get some photos of The Breakaways, a striking area of colourful hills in an arid area near Coober Pedy in South Australia.

Shortly after I flew my drone a woman came and told me that it was illegal to use a drone in a conservation park. I asked her what the justification for this was and she replied that it was to protect Aboriginal sacred sites, which might be visible from a drone while not from the places where walkers go.

The great advantage to photography that a drone gives in The Breakaways is that it can get above the level of the ridge-tops, there is no other way of doing so.

On 2016/09/19 I emailed the Department of Environment asking about this prohibition. I received a reply on 2016/09/28. The reason the writer gave was:

"The use of drones in parks is regulated to protect our native fauna, as well as the community. Flying a drone in a park can present a nuisance because of the impact on the privacy and enjoyment of visitors, but they can also disturb nesting birds such as osprey and other raptors. If these birds are disturbed, they may not return to their nests, resulting in the death of their chicks.

Permission to use a drone in a park may be given as part of an application to undertake an activity such [as] commercial photography or scientific research."
The spokesman for DoE did not mention Aboriginal sacred sites; if the banning of drones in conservation parks is at least partly to do with Aboriginal sacred sites then it greatly concerns me that everyone should have their freedoms limited based on the superstitions of a few.

Since writing this I have been contacted by someone who told me he had been told to stop using his drone at Kings Canyon National Park. The same justification about Aboriginal sacred sites was given. He said that this was absurd because helicopter flights over the canyon were frequent and they would be looking at the same sites.

Of course there are no ospreys in Australia's inland conservation parks.

Victimless crimes

Flying a drone in a conservation park or national park with reasonable care and consideration does no harm; if it is a crime then there is no victim. Can anything really be a crime if it has no victim?


In the Flinders Ranges national park one frequently hears helicopter of fixed-wing aircraft on sight-seeing flights. These aircraft would make a thousand times the noise of a drone. Surely noisy large aircraft cause far more annoyance than drones do.

Drones should be used responsibly and with consideration for other people and animals, but the total banning of drones in parks is an unjustifiable denial of freedom.

Advantage of drone photography in flat country

My Coober Pedy trip was in September 2016; it has confirmed to me the value of drones for landscape photography.

The photos that were taken with my drone would have been impossible to get any other way, short of hiring a helicopter. I believe that they have added a lot more interest to my Coober Pedy page than would otherwise have been.

As of 2016/09/24 there were 65 photos on the Coober Pedy page; 13 of those were drone images, the others were taken with a Canon EOS 350D digital SLR camera. While I thought that 52% of the DSLR photos were worth displaying in high definition, I used 84% of the drone photos at high definition.

Drone laws in Australia

Mitre Peak, a prominent smaller outlier of Mount Arapiles.
Mitre peak
This photo was taken during a visit to Victoria in 2021.
Some Australian laws regarding the flying of drones are quite reasonable and should be obeyed. For example:
  • You must not fly your drone higher than 120 metres above ground level;
  • You must keep your drone at least 30 metres away from other people;
  • You must only fly one drone at a time;
  • you must not operate your drone in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person or property;
  • You must not fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway. This could include situations such as a car crash, police operations, a fire or firefighting efforts or search and rescue.
Other laws are not justified, and I believe, would often be disregarded by drone operators.

I've written about the law against flying in conservation parks elsewhere on this page.

The law that says that you must keep your drone in sight is foolish, impractical and too limiting. It states that "You must keep your drone within visual line-of-sight. This means always being able to see the drone with your own eyes".

  • A small drone such as the Mavic Mini is difficult to see beyond a couple hundred metres - beyond a hundred metres in some lighting conditions - yet can often be quite safely flown at a distance up to at least a kilometre;
  • If one is in an area where there are a few trees it can be quite impractical to keep one's drone in site all the time.
The law that states "You must only fly during the day and you must not fly through cloud or fog" can at least sometimes be quite safely broken. For example, beautiful views can be obtained by flying above a ground mist. And, while I have not done it, I don't see how flying with care at night could endanger anyone or anything.

I would think that my drone would have been too far away for me to see it when it took a number of photos shown on this page. I believe that no-one and nothing was endangered by my use of it to take the photos.

Laws that are unnecessarily strict, unjustified, and likely to often be disregarded by responsible people are foolish laws and should be rescinded.