Preparing the world for
a future with drones

The DronePrep Team is heading to FOCUS 2021

We are joining filmmakers, producers, writers and drone videographers at the FOCUS 2021 international production show in London. After a virtual edition in 2020, the event returns in a hybrid format on 7-8th December.


DronePrep is heading to FOCUS on 7th December at the Business Design Centre London. The two-day event will host exhibitors from across the creative screen industries: film, TV, advertising, games and animation. The event offers attendees a chance to meet with content makers, film commissions, production services and locations providers.

Why are we going?

The DronePrep team will be joining the Bristol Film Office, who have implemented a proactive drone policy for filming on Bristol City Council land. The introduction of the policy also allows hobbyist pilots to fly recreationally in four locations across the city.

Opening up new locations for flying isn’t just about hobby flight. The DronePrep team support the introduction of sensible, safe policies for commercial flight, which includes the use of drones for filming. With aerial videography on the rise, it’s important that both public and private landowners are prepared.

“Drones are becoming more and more popular in professional filmmaking. Sadly, getting permission to take off and land can be a headache for pilots. So, smaller production companies don’t always have the time or expertise to go through bylaws and track down landowners. We are working with local authorities and film offices to simplify applications and create clear policies for pilots.”


– Keith Osborne, Land Partnership Manager

Are you going to FOCUS too?

Get in touch and say hello to the team: [email protected]

You can learn more about the event by clicking here.

Filming with drones

Are you a drone filmmaker? We are adding new policies to the DronePrep Map for all drone videographers looking for the best spots. Check out The DronePrep Map for more.

DronePrep Map

Spotlight On: Sam Gillespie, Over The Top Drones

We spoke to Sam Gillespie [@samgfilms], filmmaker and director of Over The Top Drones, about the trials and tribulations of commercial drone filming & photography. With a background in photography, Sam moved into the world of filmmaking and took the leap to aerial work after obtaining his PfCO in 2018. Having worked on everything from construction to motorsport to marathons, Sam had some great tips for anyone looking to get started as a paid pilot.

Sam Gillespie

Image by Daniel Arkell

How did you get involved in drone work?

I left a corporate job in 2017 to pursue my passion for photography. That very quickly morphed into video work and then, over three years ago, I decided I wanted to start offering aerial drone filming and photography commercially. I’d been flying recreationally for about a year at that point, and in 2018 I did the PfCO training. Drone work initially started off as a bit of an “add-on” to my video production business at the time, but it’s become one of the offerings I’m best known for.

Sam Gillespie

What kind of drone work do you do now?

There are essentially two types of drone jobs I carry out. The first is acting as a drone operator/supplier on large-scale productions where we will either fly the Inspire 2 (with dedicated camera operator) or carry out the filming with a Mavic-series drone plus spotter/observer. Files are offloaded or sent to the client and that’s where our involvement ends. The second is the full-package, start-to-finish work with clients where we’ll carry out all the pre- and post-production, etc. As for the industries, it’s been everything from construction to property companies and automotive… the beauty of aerial drone filming is its versatility across sectors.

And which area do you enjoy the most?

The automotive stuff is always pretty fun. Challenging, but fun chasing cars/bikes at full speed. And it always looks cool in the showreel!

How much time do you spend flying, versus planning and post-production?

Not enough I don’t think! Of course, living in the UK, a lot of what we do is weather dependant. We had a job back in February that we had to push back three or four times because of the rain, wind and snow on different days.

When I started out, pre-flight planning would take quite a long time, but once you’ve done a few commercial jobs, you know what you’re looking for. One tip I’d give to people starting out: don’t be afraid to pick up the phone. I’ve done jobs at the end of one of Heathrow’s runways. I called up on the Monday and had permission ready to go for the shoot day on Wednesday. These things can often take much longer though, so it’s often a case of managing the client’s expectations of what is possible at short notice.

I’ve been able to secure Operational Safety Case, or “OSC”, permissions for Over The Top Drones which means we can not only operate at reduced distances (on take-off/landing and in-flight) but also at 600ft (subject to various conditions being met as part of those permissions from the CAA). This opens a lot of doors in terms of where we can operate in congested areas, but the pre-production time on these jobs is of course typically much longer due to the increased risk and all the mitigations that need to be put in place.

What advice would you offer pilots starting out?

I’d say work on getting a killer body of work. A lot of people do the training, then they’re wondering why the phone isn’t ringing, but you’ve got to work on building that network. Every time you take a great shot, post in online, show everyone you know. Every time you meet someone, tell them “I’m into drones”, people always find it interesting as it’s still pretty novel. And maybe the people who see your post or hear your stories don’t need a drone operator today, but six months down the line when they do, they’ll remember you and you might get a call or message.

Sam Gillespie

I’d also recommend focusing on shooting the kind of work you want to do. By that I mean, if you’re just shooting roof surveys, it’s going to be hard to do travel photography, because your clients are going to want to see it in your portfolio. When I wanted to break into the construction industry, I approached a small local company and got some great footage of them with heavy-lift cranes which I was able to show as an example to one of the UK’s largest construction companies. I’m sure that’s what got me the job.

How do you think the industry has changed?

I think the barriers to entry are lower now. You can pick up a Mini 2, fly in a city with just an A2CofC. Camera quality is so good nowadays also, for less than £1,000 you can be getting stunning, 4K quality video.

Sam Gillespie

Are you using The DronePrep Map?

I am. I use a few different applications for pre-flight planning, one of which is DronePrep. What’s great with DronePrep is that if you’re really struggling to find somewhere to take off, you can quickly find landowner contact information on the map. I’ve used that in the past to get in touch with landowners near me, it’s a very useful service. Another good feature is just how quickly you can get latitude and longitude positions if you need to run a NOTAM search. And being able to see all the local landmarks that you might want to consider when planning a flight – schools, police stations, that kind of thing.

And looking to the future?

Drones are here to stay and I’m hoping that people’s hesitancy towards them is going to diminish with time. I’m sure the number of people working in the industry is going to skyrocket – not trying to make a pun there! – and I hope there will be a better environment for both recreational and commercial operators.

A lot of operators are going to have to update their fleets when the class marks come in to operate in congested areas or at big events. The rule changes have been a lot for us to get our heads round, and I’m probably in the same camp as a lot of pilots who are still operating under legacy permissions from the old PfCO. So that means at the start of 2023 things are going to change again, and we’re going to need to go down the GVC route.

As for the work itself, you can see people are starting to use drones for all sorts, like 3D-mapping of buildings, or to help inform decisions on renovations. However, I’m firmly on the creative side of things and much prefer shooting moving objects!

Sam Gillespie

Image by Tom Kahler

Follow Sam on Instagram and see more of his work on his website:

Zero to 400, Part 4: Tackling the A2 CofC

Zero to 400

Zero to 400 is a record of my journey from casual observer to (hopefully) confident drone pilot. This isn’t a detailed guide to legislation, and I’m certainly no expert on the ever-changing world of drones. I hope these posts can serve as a guide to the novice pilot and answer the basic questions from anyone interested in drones.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

After getting to grips with the Drone Code, receiving a Flyer ID, and learning about drone qualifications, I finally did a bit of flying.

With the Flyer ID, I can only fly within the A1 and A3 subcategories. We talked about that in the last post – if you missed it, you can read it here.

I’d quite like to fly in the A2 subcategory also. A2 gives me a bit more flexibility: I can fly a larger drone, closer to people and in urban areas. Because we use the DJI Mavic 2 for work flights, in all sorts of locations, I decided to look into it.

The A2 CofC

To fly in the A2 subcategory, I need to get an extra qualification. This is called the A2 Certificate of Competence (or, A2 CofC for short).

There are lots of different course providers for the A2 CofC, but the format is usually the same. There is a short training course, followed by an exam. Most of the courses are online – I’m not sure if this is a Covid thing.

Before completing the exam, you need to have received a Flyer ID and have carried out some practical flying.

Enrolling in a Course

For my A2 CofC, I used Consortiq, who run the training in partnership with Leaping Wing. The course is delivered via a 3-hour online training course, followed by the exam.

Before the course, I was sent joining information and a link to the Leaping Wing online learning portal.

I was asked to work through some of the learning content ahead of the course. This was posted to me in a handy training book.

Being the terrible student that I am, I forgot about the course and waited until the night before to pick up the book.

On the day of the course, we were invited to join via Google Meet. I was surprised to find it was only a small group – two of us were taking the exam, two were course trainers.

Course Content

Three hours can fly by quickly when it’s well-planned. I was pleased with how interactive the course was – it felt like more of a conversation than a lecture. The trainers talked us through each module, discussed the regulation changes and asked us to relate to our own practical experiences. There were lots of questions and discussions throughout.

The modules covered areas such as meteorology, battery types and flight planning. Some of the information was similar to the Flyer ID. Some of it was more technical, like battery load capacities and weather fronts. There were a few topics I wasn’t well-versed in, but nothing too complicated.

A2 CofC

Doing the Exam

At the end of the 3-hour course, we reviewed what we had learned and were given a quick break before the exam. Like the Flyer ID, it’s a multiple-choice test done online. As we were working from home, we were asked to keep mics and cameras on during the test. I guess that’s to check we weren’t trying to cheat!

Although we had over an hour to complete the exam, I think both of us were finished within 30 minutes.

The course prepared us for the exam well and I found just two or three questions where I was second-guessing myself. In the end, I passed with just one question incorrect.

After the exam, I was sent the A2 CofC certificate by email. It looks a bit like the Flyer ID, with a CAA logo and QR code on it.


Final Thoughts

The A2 CofC is a course I believe is worth doing. The content was informative, the format was straightforward and the exam wasn’t too challenging. I’d definitely recommend it to other pilots, especially those like me who don’t have a strong aviation background.

After the course, I spoke to Michael Surcombe, Director of Leaping Wing, who delivered the training.

“The A2 Certificate of Competency is a great option for anyone looking to fly drones, especially if they are starting out with a new business. Before we had the A2, the barriers to entry were needlessly high for people intending to fly lighter drones.

Should drone flyers take the A2 at all? Definitely, at least if they are going to be flying anything bigger than pocket drones. WIthout an A2 qualification, you’re really limited as to where you can fly legally (think ‘big open field’). There’s also a real danger you’re inadvertently going to fly somewhere which is going to get you into trouble. Interestingly, I’ve had people come to me for the A2 certificate who probably didn’t need to from a legal perspective. However, they want to be sure they are flying safely and legally. The A2 CofC is the perfect way to achieve that.

One thing I’m REALLY passionate about is that we make the course as relevant to people’s flying as we can. We follow a core CAA curriculum, with our course partners Consortiq. That means we cover weather, technical knowledge and operating limitations/procedures. But I also cover as much as I can on how to get the best results from your drone. Areas such as camera setup and efficient planning. Quite a few people also ask for a flight training session, just so they don’t have to spend hours on YouTube working things out!

In short, I think the A2 course is revolutionising the drone world. It’s making it easier than ever before for people to equip themselves with the skills to fly safely and build a business!”

– Michael Surcombe, Leaping Wing

You can find out more about drone regulations by clicking here.

We used Consortiq and Leaping Wing for the course. Check out the link below for more information:

Landowner Permission

Even with a good understanding of the regulations, it’s important to check for bylaws or local restrictions when you fly your drone. Check out The DronePrep Map for everything you need to plan flights safely.

DronePrep Map

DronePrep is attending the Farm Business Innovation Show 2021

Land Partnership Manager Keith Osborne is heading to Birmingham this week to check out how drones and other technologies are helping landowners with diversification. Find us at the Farm Business Innovation Show 2021.

Farm Business Innovation

The Farm Business Innovation show is one of the UK’s largest events for agricultural innovation. It’s a fantastic opportunity for landowners and businesses to see the latest in technology and innovation for the rural sectors.

The event features exhibitors from all areas of rural commerce. It offers visitors a chance to learn about their options for diversifying. This year’s speakers are promoting everything from weddings to glamping pods to renewable energy.

DronePrep works with landowners to improve access to low-level airspace. As part of this, we are working to open new locations for both recreational and commercial drone use. Farmers and rural estates are beginning to see the enormous benefits that responsible drone flight can bring.

Keith will be meeting with landowners and discussing the advantages of Drone Access Policies.

With ever-growing financial pressures on agricultural landowners, it’s important to understand the opportunities for diversification and find solutions to managing drone use on rural estates. Drones offer a wealth of options for the innovative landowner; everything from land surveying and inspection, to leasing for drone R&D, to opening flying fields for hobbyist pilots. We’re working with several large estate owners who are doing just that.”


– Keith Osborne, Land Partnership Manager

To find out more about how DronePrep is helping landowners and read about the benefits of Drone Access Policies, click here.

The Farm Business Innovation Show will be held on the 10th & 11th November at the NEC in Birmingham. Tickets are free to visitors – check out the website below.

The DronePrep Platform

Are you a landowner looking for a better way to manage drone access? Click here to read about how we are working with landowners across the UK to communicate policies. 

DronePrep Map

The Big Ladder exclusive early access to DJI Mavic 3

Chris Gorman, The Big Ladder Photographer, is given early access to the DJI Mavic 3.

A month ago, I was asked by DJI if I would like to road test the much anticipated Mavic 3 Drone. Here are my findings…


As a photographer, the first thing to catch my eye is, of course, the completely redesigned Hassleblad camera. Essentially there are 2 cameras. One is a fixed 24mm lens with a sensor size of 4/3 20mp, the other is a zoom of up to 160mm with a 12mp sensor…

It should be noted that the zoom cannot be used in Raw mode only jpeg. Video-wise, the Cine version comes with the much-rumoured Apple Pro res format, as well as other video formats and frame rate options – more than the Mavic 2 Pro. These also include 4k at 60fps and 5K a 50fps.

I have been lucky enough to be supplied with the Mavic 3 cine version. This drone comes with the much awaited next generation smart controller. And a whole new operational layout

On first flight, the drone is noticeably quieter than Mavic 2 Pro. Though the real difference is in how agile and more responsive the drone feels. It also seems to handle breezy conditions better than the MP2. The drone literally sits anchored in one place.

As a photographer, my initial tests have centred on the performance of the stills camera. I was mostly keen to test the camera in low light, as with a larger image sensor it was likely to produce much improved results. I can confirm that this is the case. Far more detail in the blacks (when shot in raw mode). Video is also far more tolerant of higher ISO’s with some of my test footage shot at 3200iso with far less noise than the Mavic 2 pro.

The game-changing aspect of this drone for many photographers will, however, be the zoom. I found it simply astonishing, zooming to an equivalent of 160mm. This will be superb for those carrying out building inspections and also for media photographers in those situations where you are restricted on how close to the subject the drone can be. The zoom switches between both optical and digital during the zoom (I believe a firmware update is due to make this process smoother).

The most noticeable part of the drone design is that the new battery lasts some 46 minutes… or 40 minutes in strong winds. This again is a game-changer, no need for quite so many batteries and you will be able to keep the drone in the air for double the time. The battery compartment is also part of the change, the battery now inserts from the rear of the drone and not the top.

On the new smart controller, the menu system is far easier to navigate with a sliding system to scroll around menus, much like an iPad.

Obstacle avoidance has been given a huge redesign with “fisheye” sensors on all corners that will definitely help in those close situations.

As I continue to test I will post my results on my website and social media, but all in all a huge upgrade, especially for movie-makers.

Insta: @bigladderphotographer

Facebook @bigladder

Night images of London and Brighton are both Raw images taken at 800iso.