The best times of day to fly a drone [EXPERT ADVICE]

It can be very exciting to fly your drone no matter what time of the day you may feel the inspiration. However, you must consider whether or not it is the best time of day to fly your drone, considering your flight mission. If you are going out for a simple joyride to improve your skills – the weather and conditions will determine whether or not it is the best time to fly. On the other hand, if you have a particular flight mission, you may want to wait until the conditions and light are more favourable for a successful flight mission.

The best time of day to fly a drone is typically in the early morning and just before sunset. Weather conditions, state of mind, and your intended outcome for the flight will also help determine the best time of day to fly your drone.

We often want to capture some of the best photography and videography with our drones. A common recommendation is to wait for golden hour and blue hour to obtain the best shorts for your drone photography.

Best times of day for drone photography

the best time of day for drone photography is typically when the object of the photograph is illuminated evenly and softly. There are two times when this happens naturally throughout the day.

Golden hour and blue hour.

Landscape photography will always look better at the golden and blue hours, and it is a time that I have found to be most conducive to good photographs and videos.

If you want to find out the best times to take legendary photos, check out the app Photopills.

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

Photopills is your photography planning app, and it helps you plan your photos ahead of time, so you are always in the right place at the right time to capture the best possible photo.

This app is well worth the low price for planning your next drone photo shoot. It has been described as the photographer is a Swiss Army knife, and it saves plenty of time and frustration when you are out on location.

After Sunrise

Just after sunrise is one of the most desirable times to shoot aerial photos and videos. I have never been much of an early riser, but I will happily get up just before sunrise if I get the opportunity to capture the start of the new day.

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

The sun casts a cinematic golden light that provides a maximum contrast with shadows in the landscape and geography just after sunrise. It perfectly highlights the environment’s contours, making for stunning high contrast shots.

Golden hour is the perfect after Sunrise time for capturing your photos and videos.

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.

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.

Top tip for golden hour photo: set the camera settings and exposure for varying light conditions. The incident light and ambient light can very quickly change at these times, and you must set up your camera to capture the full array of light values you will encounter. Auto settings can help overcome some of these issues.

Before Sunset

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

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

Top tip for capturing photos and videos on the blue hour: Consider using a neutral density altar to ensure a long exposure—play about your shutter speed and ISO settings to brighten up your photographs and videos.

Avoid midday filming unless…

Many drone photographers advise that high noon can be very harsh on your drone and the photos you capture.

Many recommend flying before 10 AM and then after 3 PM to avoid the worst times.

If your only outcome and objective are to capture good quality photos to show off a particular location, this is good advice. However, if you are practising all you are inspecting a particular asset or area, flying in midday may be the best option if it perfectly illuminates your item of interest.

Photographers like to have good contrast in their photos, but you need the photo’s subject to be illuminated evenly and strongly for an inspection. Midday may be perfect for capturing the best no shadow photograph.

Another time when recording at midday may be beneficial is if it is overcast and you capture photos with people in them. The softbox effect caused by clouds can be beneficial in eliminating any people in your photos.

Considerations for the best time of day to fly a drone

There are many other important considerations to make when you fly your drone. The most important considerations are not just the time of day but things like the wind speed, forecast, and UV index.

Drone pilots also need to be in the right headspace and mindset for flying their drones comfortably and legally. Many drone pilots fail to consider one important consideration is their mindset.

Will your flight be legal?

One of the most important things to consider before you even take the drone out of its travel case is if your drone can be flown legally when you want to.

Even though flying your drone at night can result in some awesome footage, it may be illegal where you are currently living.

Many hobby pilot licenses require you to fly between sunrise and sunset.

Check with your local authorities and always fly within the local laws.

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

If you want to know more about taking drone pictures at night, check out my other article – click here where I go through everything you need to know including the legalities and settings for your drone.

Can drones take pictures at night

Flight mission objectives

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 the best time 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.

What is the weather doing?

The best time of day to fly your drone always corresponds with having low wind, no rain, and a low UV index so the pilot can comfortably stay out in the open to fly their drone.

Wind

I check before heading out on my drone mission is the wind speed. My current drone model allows me to fly between 8 m/s and 10.5 m/s.

The maximum wind that your drone can fly in depends very much on the make and model. Many drone manufacturers offer this information in the specification and technical data sheet so that you can stay safe.

As a general rule, the commercially available drone should not be flown in wind gusts that exceed two-thirds of their maximum flight speed.

Flying in higher winds can be achieved by keeping the drone close to the takeoff and landing spot and not flying aggressively into the wind, which will run the battery down very quickly.

Rain

Rain is very damaging to a drone, and once it gets into the events and the electronics, it can quickly cause irreparable damage to your drone.

Snow can also be an issue as the warm components of the drone can melt the snow quickly, turning it into water.

A top tip is to pay attention to forecast two hours on either side of your planned drone flight to ensure that the weather will not change and leave you with a massive headache when your drone becomes damaged.

UV Index

Being a drone pilot means standing outside in the elements.

I fly my drone in Australia, and I do not fly when the UV index is very high. The UV index is displayed between a range of zero or 11. If the UV index is expected to be higher than typical, you may receive a UV alert, in which case you should not fly your drone that day.

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.

Do you have a spare 45 minutes?

Rushing is a very bad point to start your drone mission.

The best time of day to fly a drone is when you have a full 45 minutes spare where you do not have to be anywhere else in particular.

My best drone flights are when I can run down a couple of batteries fully and troubleshoot any issues that may arise during that time.

Also, I have found that if I am travelling with anyone, I feel an obligation to fly quickly.

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.

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 setting up. The small snack will enable me to stave off hunger.

Summary

Even though most people say that the best time of the day to fly your drone is golden hour and blue hour – this is only true if you are a serious photographer looking for the best landscape shots.

Consider a much wider range of considerations such as the wind, rain, UV index, flight mission, and your state of mind to work out when your best time of day would be.

You must enjoy all of your drone flights, and not forcing any particular flight will help keep you and your drone safe for your next drone adventure.

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!