Hiring Responsibly: We Compare CAA Drone Operator Vs Drone Hobbyist

Access to high-quality drones for aerial photography and video production has become a lot more affordable in recent years with a wide range of equipment made by companies like DJI and Autel to suit everything from the smallest to very large budgets.

This has led to a huge uptake in hobbyist drone flying, but should you ask a friend to capture your drone footage for a production, or hire a professional Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) licensed and insured drone operator? Let’s explore the pros and cons that are involved in making your decision.

Professional drone photo of Lord Street, Southport

Can drone hobbyists legally produce commercial drone work?

The short answer to that is yes, but that’s not always been the case.

Until fairly recently, all commercial drone operators had to have a CAA qualification or license known as Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) — and doing any commercial work without that was illegal.

When the rules changed at the end of 2020, new certifications were introduced meaning that now there is no limitation on who can produce commercial work with a drone. The new rules bring more emphasis on the types of drone that can be used in different locations and circumstances, and safety is always paramount in relation to other aircraft and people and property on the ground.

Without going into too much detail in this article, some of the considerations for safe and legal drone operations are as follows:

Weight of the drone

Drones weighing less than 250g can be flown with very few restrictions, and people with more advanced qualifications can increase this weight limit up to 500g.

Uninvolved people

Again, drones weighing less than 250g can be flown close to, and even briefly passing over uninvolved people, but not crowds of people. However, if you are working on a production with actors and they have been briefed about the use of drones and safety measures are in place, then you can fly closer with heavier, higher quality drones.

Safe air space

Keeping away from airports is a must, unless you have specific permission from the relevant Air Traffic Control. Flying within the controlled airspace of an airport (usually around a 5km radius of the longest runway) is quite common for professional operators and if the location of your video or photo shoot falls within this area, it would be highly advisable to hire a licensed professional.

So who should you hire?… Your drone friend or the licensed pro?

Well, now that you understand some of the basic legal framework, that’s really down to you, but here are a few more factors you should consider before making a decision.…


Licensed professional drone operators will often have a range of equipment for use in different circumstances, ranging from sub 250g, drones for use in highly congested and difficult areas, to mid range and professional level drones that are capable of producing photos and videos good enough for TV and film production, as well as licensing, and in some circumstances, advanced CAA permissions to film with bigger drones in riskier locations.

There are some excellent hobbyist, drone photographers and videographers around, I know that because I’ve seen their work in some of the Facebook groups that are out there. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the wide range of equipment and safety training that professionals can call upon.

Post production

It’s no secret that getting the best from your drone photography and video requires some advanced and often expensive computer software and hardware. The drone is a tool for capturing the images, but adding the special effects and enhancements often involves computerised tools that are part of the package you pay for when you hire a licensed professional.

That’s not to say that your hobbyist drone owner either can’t afford or operate advanced digital graphics gear. But for example, here at upshot photos, we have more than 30 years’ experience using industry standard tools like Adobe Creative Cloud to make sure everything we deliver. It looks as sharp and stunning as we can make it.

So which will you choose?

At the end of the day, I was once a drone hobbyist, and when people saw what I was producing with my flying cameras, they asked me to do commercial work which required me to be licensed and insured and that’s how I set this business up.

I doubt I was the first and I’m certain I won’t be the last, but doing this safely and professionally to a high standard requires a time and financial investment that isn’t always affordable for hobbyist drone operators.