How to work out the best time to fly a drone [Ultimate Guide]

When deciding whether or not to fly my drone, I often consider several factors. Firstly I make sure that I can fly legally (this means not flying my drone at night) and that the weather conditions will allow me to capture the best photos and videos during my flight. A little-known and underreported factor of finding the best time to fly a drone comes down to your state of mind.

Finding the best time to fly a drone combines current weather conditions, time of day, and state of mind. The best time to fly a drone is when there is no bad weather predicted, and you can fly your drone in Golden or blue hours for drone photography.

Your state of mind has a very big impact on whether or not your flight is enjoyable.

The best time to fly a drone is when you are capable of being present, and you feel resilient enough to tackle the inevitable problems and issues that arise during your flight.

In this article, we will go over all of these aspects in detail so that you can decide whether now is the best time to fly your drone.

Is the ‘best time’ a legal time?

No matter what the time of day, you should always make sure that you are flying on the right side of the law.

Best time to fly a drone

Staying legal and up-to-date with all of the latest drone laws and regulations will enable you to escape prosecution should you fly your drone illegally. There is nothing worse than flying your drone whilst combating the anxiety that comes along with breaking the law.

Be sure to stick to all local laws and regulations and stay away from flying your drone at illegal times. For most Western countries and jurisdictions, you cannot fly your drone at night.

It’s illegal to fly at night

Should you want to fly your drone at night, you need to get all the appropriate extensions to your drone licence and authorisations from your local flight authority.

Flying your drone at night can result in some incredible footage – particularly of cityscapes with their source of city illumination.

Even though you may not fly on official nighttime, you can get relatively good shots about one hour before sunset – this is known as the Golden hour.

Golden hour is where the sun is just about to set on the horizon, and the whole scene is lit up with a warm yellow glow from the sun setting. You can get some incredible “nighttime” shots by flying right up to the official sunset time.

Be sure to lend your drone just before sunset, and you’ll be able to stay on the right side of the law.

If you want to know more about whether or not the police can confiscate your drone check out my examples from real-life issues and incidents.

Can police confiscate your drone [EXAMPLES]

What is the best time of day to fly a drone?

The best time to fly a drone depends on the flight mission and what you want to achieve during that time. Here are a few examples of outcomes from drone flights and the best times to consider flying.

  • Inspection – if you are inspecting infrastructure or buildings flying in the middle of the day will minimise shadows and allow you to get high definition and well-illuminated photos of the infrastructure.
  • Photography – drone photography is most spectacular at golden hour and blue hour. These times are one hour before and after sunrise and sunset.
  • Wildlife monitoring – you should fly your drone at the time of day, which allows you to see the wildlife easily, and it typically lines up with when they are most active.
  • Real estate photography – real estate photography can be taken when the light is most favourable for showing off certain façades of the building. This time will depend on which direction the home and garden are facing.
  • Drone racing – low wind conditions with good visibility is the best combination of times for flying your drone is through an outdoor obstacle course.

When deciding what the best time is for your drone flight, consider the outcome and the position of the sun and wind conditions before launching. Planning with these aspects in mind will make your drone flight go much smoother.

For photography = Golden hour and blue hour

The best time of day to fly a drone for photography purposes is typically when the object of the photograph is illuminated evenly and softly. For drone photos of people, making sure that it is a cloudy day can often create the perfect soft lighting.

Landscape photography and videography will always look better at golden and blue hours.

Golden hour

Golden hour occurs when the sun is between 6° below and 6° above the horizon. The Golden hour begins with civil dawn in the morning and ends with desk in the evening.

Best time to fly a drone

When the sun sits just above the horizon, the raise impacts the earth’s atmosphere at a low angle and travel through much more atmospheric particles and water droplets before reaching your camera lens.

The extra interaction with dust, water droplets, and other pollutants makes the light softer and adds an orange and red hue. The blue and violet wavelengths of the light are scattered and less likely to get to the drone camera lens.

Blue hour

Blue hour is the time of day just before sunrise and after sunset. You should not fly your drone at these times unless you have a valid license to do so.

The blue hour can last for much longer than an hour and depends on your latitude and time of the year. Importantly, it is when the sun is dipped below the horizon and is a blue hue.

The transition between the blue hour and golden hour can be incredible because of the range of colours you can capture in a single shot.

Consider using a neutral density altar to ensure a long exposure time and play about your shutter speed and ISO settings to brighten up your photographs and videos.

Best time to fly a drone – Conditions

there are also many other considerations to consider when you are considering the best time to fly your drone. Arguably, the most important considerations are not the time of day but are things like the wind speed, forecast, and UV index.

As a drone pilot, you quickly become familiar with local weather patterns and read your local meteorology communications reports.

If you want to know more about deciding if it is a good day to fly a drone, you can check out my other article, where I go through everything you need to know so you can ensure a good drone flight.

Is it a good day to fly a drone? - Drone flying Pro

Low wind

the first thing I check before heading out on my drone mission is the wind speed. My current drone model allows me to fly between a wind speed of 8 m/s and 10.5 m/s. The appropriate wind speed for your drone will depend on the make and model.

Ultimately, the power of the motors and the power and acceleration capabilities will determine this top windspeed.

Anything above a force seven wind, around 17 to 20 m/s (38–45 mph), is far too strong to fly a drone in.

As a general rule, commercially available drones, such as the DJI Mavic and Phantom series, should not be flown in gusts exceeding two-thirds of the model’s maximum flight speed.

No rain forecast

I always make sure that the rain forecast is clear.

I have been caught in the rain once before, and it certainly showed me how quickly the weather could change – particularly on a windy day.

Rain is the drones kryptonite, and ingress of rainwater into the vents of the drone and electronics can quickly cause electric shorts and kill your drone.

Best time to fly a drone

Snow can also quickly melt as the drone is heating up during the flight and become quite dangerous to your flight.

Pay particular attention to forecasts two hours on either side of your predicted drone flight to ensure that the weather will not change for the worse and leave you with an expensive nonoperational drone paperweight.

Low UV index

being a drone pilot inevitably means being out in the elements. Besides rain, the next most damaging aspect of the flight mission is the UV index.

On a range of 0 to 11 or higher, the UV index estimates the amount of UV radiation from the sun. If the UV index is expected to be higher than typical, you may receive a specific UV Alert if you reside in a very sunny section of the world.

A high UV index won’t necessarily lead me to cancel my drone flight, but it should enter into my choice about how much protection to bring with me into the field. When the UV index is high, and the temperature is over 35° C, I determine it’s too hot and uncomfortable to fly my drone outside. I have two batteries that can easily last 45 minutes of flight time. This battery life is long enough to result in a serious sunburn.

Some of the best weather apps for drone pilots include:

  • Windy.com – this wind app makes it very intuitive to determine whether or not it is safe to fly your drone. The overlay of colours and particles makes it perfect for understanding the wind direction and intensity.
  • Radarscope – this wind app is available on the Google Play and Apple store. The attractive and easy to read pictures means that it is very quick to determine whether or not you need to cancel your flight.
  • MyRadar Weather Radar – this weather app has over 50 million downloads. It has proven itself to be one of the most powerful and accurate radars and weather prediction apps on the market. You can visualise temperatures, get weather alerts, look at rain forecasts, and have many aviation features that drone pilots may be interested in.

Checking the weather before you head out should become routine and a habit.

Best time to fly a drone – other considerations

Interestingly, I have found that the most variable aspect of finding the best time to fly a drone is my state of mind and whether or not I feel rushed when flying.

Ensuring that you have plenty of time to carry out your flight whilst also taking into account the centre and pack up time seems to be one of the best ways to ensure a calm and safe flight.

Do you have 30 minutes?

I do not fly my drone unless I have 30 minutes of free time. My current drone model – the DJI Mavic air – flies for approximately 20 minutes.

In 30 minutes, I can choose and set up my landing spot whilst also having enough time to fully explore the area using the full battery capacity and return to my takeoff spot safely.

Anything less than 30 minutes feels like a rush.

Also, I have found that if I am travelling with anyone, I feel an obligation to fly quickly and rush through my plan. I understand that watching someone fly a drone is not nearly as exciting as flying a drone yourself. Being mindful of others and finding a dedicated space and time where they are not waiting for you will also allow you to relax much more during the drone flight.

Your state of mind

Sometimes, my mind is not conducive to a relaxing and productive drone flight.

I always have a better experience when I feel patient and calm. If I do not feel patient and calm, I find myself easily frustrated when dealing with the problems that inevitably pop up during the drone flight.

Taking a moment just before my flight to check in with myself and do some simple breathing exercises helps me stay present and clear my mind from any issues that I am thinking about from the day.

One element that affects my state of mind is how hungry I feel. Being hungry does not help me stay relaxed and calm, and occasionally I feel frustrated and impatient without realising that hunger drives those feelings.

I now take snacks like bananas and nuts to eat while I am setting up. The small snack will enable me to stave off hunger.

The final word – the best time to fly a drone

This article has been over everything you need to consider when deciding the best time to fly a drone.

Remember, it is not just the time of day which dictates the best time. Your flight mission, what you want to achieve, the weather, and your state of mind will all play a role in determining the best time to fly a drone.

Taking a moment to check your state of mind to ensure that you have the patience and resilience to deal with any issues that pop up during your drone flight will also ensure that you are in the best condition possible for tackling the inevitable issues that pop up throughout your flight.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones. His favourite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!