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GCIP 168 - Digital Imaging with Drones
An introduction to using drones or unmanned vehicles for digital imaging. This hands-on course covers building, operating, and outfitting for still and video imaging and image capture.




Lesson Videos 

Why do we have a class on Digital Imaging with Drones?

  1. "The global market for nonmilitary drones has already ballooned into a $2.5 billion industry, one that’s growing 15% to 20% annually." Fortune, October 8, 2014.
  2. "Drones have the unique ability to fly lower than manned aircraft and higher than cranes and other ground-based vehicles can reach. They offer everyone from film producers to civil engineers to open-air mining operations to individual photographers a wholly new perspective on the world below. Using multispectral sensors, they can capture data impossible for the human eye to see—like gas leaking from a pipeline and food crops suffering from lack of nitrogen—faster and at greater volume than has ever been possible in the past. Tapping into the ever-increasing power of the cloud, they can quickly produce high-resolution 3-D maps of vast geographic areas."
  3. "The drone industry in the San Diego area, most of which is clustered in the northern part of San Diego County, has doubled in five years, according to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC). It’s expected to double again in the next seven." San Diego, Hub of the U.S. Drone Industry.

Are drones legal in the USA? On June 21, 2016 the FAA issued the new SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT RULE (PART 107).

Remote Pilot –Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide.

Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

Workflow for Planning Photogrammetry Based Missions (Video/Photography missions can start at step 5.):

  1. Calculate the area to fly: https://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-area-calculator-tool.htm
  2. Calculate an approximation in meters x meters (for use in MapsMadeEasy Point Estimator Tool) or feet by feet based on data from DaftLogic. (Use calculator to get the square root of the square area)
  3. Go to MapsMadeEasy.com use in “Tools” the point estimator (does not work in Apple Safari as of 2/2020).
  4. Put in all the parameters in the point estimator to get an idea of what ground resolution (cm/pixel), flight time, number of images taken, etc. to estimate what the mission will require. You can use that information to help you create a bid.
  5. Use Skyvector.com to check airspace or to refer to any Chart Supplements that may provide additional detail.
  6. Use AirMap.com to check more details for the flight. Click the “Plan a Flight” button. Also Know Before You Fly.
  7. Depending on the airspace restrictions, you may need to use an app or site like Kittyhawk.io to request permission (sometimes at least 48 hrs. in advance, but usually on site within a couple minutes) via the FAA's Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC)
  8. Check to see if there are any city drone laws or regulations governing the use or limatations of drones in the area(s) you plan to fly.
    1. San Clemente example:
      1. Local ordinance for Unmanned Aircraft.
      2. List of No Fly Zone areas.
      3. Map of No Fly Zones.
    2. San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and Nature Center example:
      1. SEC. 41.130. WALKWAYS, BICYCLES, WHEELED AND MOTORIZED DEVICES. No person shall engage in any of the following conduct in a County park: (c) Use or operate any motorized model plane, model boat, model vehicle, drone, or unmanned aircraft system except in an area specifically designated by the Department for that use and with written authorization from the Department subject to all applicable State and Federal laws and regulations.
      2. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) in State Parks of California.
      3. Brochure showing map where drone use is restricted.
      4. Student wanted to fly at Seaside Beach and film surfing. End result – this is permitted based on the beach and parking lot being to the west and outside of the reserve boundry.
    3. Lake Calavera Open Space Preserve example:
  9. On the day you plan to fly, check the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) or Meteorological Aviation Reports (METAR) weather observations and forecasts. (Ex. for McClellan-Palomar Airport: KCRQ). You may want to also refer to UAV Forecast.
    1. This key for the TAF and METAR should help you learn to read and decode the reports.
    2. The Aviation Weather Services Circular 00-45H breaks down the format of the METAR in section 3.1. The TAF format is explained in section 5.13.
    3. The Aviation Weather Advisory Circular 00-6B has heaps of information that will help prepare pilots for the Part 107 Exam.
  10. Check Notice To Airmen (NOTAMS) at 1800WXBrief.com
  11. Preflight Checklist
  12. Safety First!

FAA UAS Registration Update regarding Wildfires: "There are lots of great places to fly your drones, but over or near a wildfire isn’t one of them. In fact, drone operators who interfere with wildfire suppression efforts are subject to civil penalties of up to $27,500 and possible criminal prosecution. Here’s why it’s important: Aerial firefighting aircraft, such as airtankers and helicopters, fly at very low altitudes, just a couple hundred feet above the ground and in the same airspace as hobby and recreational drones. This creates the potential for a mid-air collision that could seriously injure or kill wildland firefighters in the air or on the ground. As a result of unlawful drone operations near fires this year, fire managers have temporarily grounded all aerial firefighting aircraft on several occasions for safety reasons. Shutting down firefighting operations could cause wildfires to become larger and can threaten lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources. The bottom line is “If You Fly, We Can’t." Please fly responsibly – keep your drone away from wildfires."

Prospective drone operators should familiarlize themselves with the information and guidance on Know Before You Buy to fly safely and responsibly

Currently Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) are being used to provide digital imaging in these industries among others:
Real Estate Sales: The National Association of Realtors has decided it's time to formally legitimize the use of drones to help market a property. Chicago Tribune.

Sports Photography

Wildlife conservation and Photography

Humanitarian aid, disaster relief and search and rescue: DHL will begin testing a drone to deliver medicines to the small German island of Juist in the North Sea about 12 kilometers north of the European mainland. The “DHL parcelcopter” can carry up to 1.2 kilograms at a speed of up to 18 meters per second, and requires a restricted flight area to protect it and other aviation users. In October, 2014 insurance company USAA sought permission to use drones to help determine damage at disaster sites.

Aid in Firefighting and Law Enforcement: State Police in Michigan want to use it for search and rescue missions, barricaded gunmen, and even natural disaster damage assessments. Drones also help find lost people, photograph accident scenes and conduct surveillance.

Film and Television: Only six exemptions have been granted as of now.

Pipeline, Oil Rig, Electrical Tower and other infrastructure inspection

Survey and mapping: Example

Environmental management

Agriculture and Farming: New sensors and data analytics are taking precision agriculture beyond simply monitoring crops for stress. The Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Oregon State University has used unmanned aerial vehicles to photograph potato crops for monitoring purposes for the past two summers. This work was done under a permit for research testing from the FAA.

Mining: using drone technology to detect potential landslides and inspect safety infrastructure, as well as to keep a more accurate eye on how much mineral is being extracted.

Energy: pipeline and flare stack inspection, monitoring gravel-extraction activities to stay within environmental guidelines, inspecting for faulty solar panels, etc.

Construction: Drones make it simple for construction companies to monitor progress and supply stockpiles on a day-to-day basis.



WiFi broadcasting


Data analytics

The required texts for the course is:

  1. Smith, Colin. The Photographer's Guide to Drones. Rocky Nook Publishing, 2016. ISBN: 9781457189661

Recommended Reading:

  1. Issod, Craig. Getting Started with Hobby Quadcopters and Drones: Learn about, buy and fly these amazing aerial vehicles. 1st ed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. ISBN: 978-1490968971
  2. Protogerellis, Alex. The beginner's guide to Fpv. 1st ed. lulu.com, 2014.ISBN: 978-1300820000
  3. Commercial UAV News
  4. FAA's UAS related information

STEM Calendar



Assignment 1: Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) budget
What is the purpose of the system you want to purchase?

What will it carry?

Which camera(s) do you plan on flying aboard the UAV?

Required flight time?


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Assistant Professor Mark Bealo
Palomar College Graphic Communications
1140 West Mission Road • San Marcos, CA 92069
760.744.1150 ext. 2958