Game of drones

January 1st, 2016 11:55 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

Photographer Tom Vaughan, seen operating one of his drones.

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They’re the must-have Christmas gift for the photography fan who has everything else, but they come in different shapes, sizes and prices, and fall under strict regulation

ALTHOUGH they have been for sale for many years, today’s more accessible prices for drones mean they will be appearing under several trees – and perhaps a few of them in West Cork – this Christmas.

Drones have long had valuable uses for armies, security forces and corporate photographers.

But in more recent years they have crossed over from the professional world into the leisure one.

If you’re thinking of splashing out on a drone this Christmas, whether for yourself, or as a gift, it’s best to arm yourself with some basic advice first.

‘You really should check out the regulations overseeing drones first,’ says long-time drone user Tom Vaughan. ‘I’ve been using them since I was a kid, and more recently for my job,’ adds the Ballydehob-based camera expert.

Basically, if you are using your new drone for recreation, it comes under the same rules as model aircraft. But if you are using it for work, it needs a licence – because it is treated as unmanned flying aircraft.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) regulates the use drones in Ireland, and regardless of what use you are putting it to, it must be not further away than 500m in your line of sight, or in unpopulated areas up to a maximum of 400 feet above ground level (120 metres).

RPAS shall not be operated within 150m of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the aircraft operator; during take-off and landing, the aircraft must not be flown within 50m of any person, unless that person is under the control of the aircraft operator. There are also rules regarding built-up areas, and flying close to airports, of course.

Regulations aside, there is much fun to be had with drones, and a huge variety of them available to  buy. From small drones, priced at anything from €50 to €100, which are really remote controlled flying toys, to the more advanced ones, which can range in price from €600 to €20,000 and beyond.

If you want a camera on your drone, you’ll probably pay from about €600 upwards, depending on the weight, size and quality of camera. On this, Tom has very good advice for novices:  ‘If you are a beginner, I would really advise you get a toy one first, for about €50 and get used to flying it around the house. 

‘They are not really that different, in the way they fly, from the more expensive ones. And the difference is that with the expensive ones, you are flying a lot of money around. It’s a bit like your first car – you can expect to have some scrapes and tips with it at first.’

Tom has spent several thousand euro on his own drones, which he uses for commercial photography, aerial shots for sale, and also for commissions from estate agents and other professionals.

But he was well experienced in drone flying before he started to invest in the big money equipment. ‘I guess I had been flying small helicopters and remote controlled aircraft since I was a child, so it wasn’t until much later that I started using drones with cameras,’ he says, explaining that the marriage of his fascination with flying and photography merged into an inevitable fascination with drones.

You can get a camera mounted on a drone for about €300 or €500 now, but the more money you spend, the higher quality the camera. Tom also says to bear in mind you have to spend a fair bit on accessories, too. 

You will need to have battery equipment, a good solid camera case, and a tablet to control it. 

‘If you are interested in photography, or filming you probably need to be proficient at Photoshop too, as you need to spend a bit of time editing the photos,’ he says.

‘The horizon will probably need to be levelled in the photos, because unless it is a very calm day, you will find it hard to keep the drone straight and steady,’ he points out.

As regards the range of the drone, even the cheaper ones should give you sufficient range between the controller and the machine to get good aerial shots, if that is what you are aiming for.

One of the most important things to bear in mind is that if you do have an accident, there are relatively few places in Ireland that will repair drones. You may have to send them to Dublin or abroad, if the damage is serious enough.

And again, that’s an expensive business.

‘Some people do a lot of patching up and DIY when they crash theirs,’ says Tom,  ‘but anything that involves the “brain” of the computer will probably need more expert work.’

There are also safety issues, of course, but Tom says that in all his years of experience, he has never heard of anyone being seriously injured by a falling drone. 

‘They don’t tend to fall out of the sky, even the expensive ones are not that heavy that they would do serious damage if they hit someone.’ Having said that, it’s best to refer to the IAA website to get a good handle on the regulations before investing, he adds. New rules have just come into force in Ireland, requiring all drones over 1kg to be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).


To see Tom’s stunning aerial photography of West Cork by drone, go to for further info on regulation, visit 

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