How to Make a Cheap DIY Photography Drone

Drones are expensive, but balloons are cheap. That’s the moral of this video by BBC Earth Unplugged: if you don’t have a professional-grade drone, all you need are some balloons, a helium tank, some fishing wire, and a wide-open field:

The camera itself—a smartphone—is strapped into the cut-off top of a two-liter plastic bottle. That way, if the unit drops, the camera stays secure. The blueprints look like this:

blueprints for DIY drone

Then, using fishing wire, you can simply tie several helium-filled balloons to the apparatus—enough to keep it afloat while tied to the end of a fishing pole. The end result will look pretty silly, but no matter—you’ll have a functioning sort-of drone.

how to make your own drone

Set the camera to automatically snap photos every 10 seconds or so, and you’d be surprised how well the device actually works—from a bird’s-eye view only.

bird's eye view shots

If you want a rig that actually shoots forward, though, instead of straight down, then you’ll need a slight rig variation. Using binder clips and more fishing wire, you can rig together something like this, with your camera dangling from the bottom and facing outward:


The BBC team switch to a GoPro here to capture a wider angle of a particular bridge. As you can see, their results are a complete success:

british architecture photography

This is a fun—and, at least, legal—way to accurately replicate drone photography. While you should take extra care with your camera, you’ll be surprised by the results.

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One response to “How to Make a Cheap DIY Photography Drone”

  1. Tom says:

    Definitely interesting way to replace a drone or quadcopter for the job. And also to abide the laws. While I certainly agree that this could work, I do have some thoughts about possible problems that may occur. For example, what if some bird randomly flies by? It will certainly not see the wire and it will probably break it. This means that your phone/camera will be blown away by the wind to an unknown location. Then you just lost a camera. That is why wireless control is needed. Also in different weather conditions it will work differently.
    On the other hand, it raised the issue of how drones are actually defined. You have a lot of ways to define the word drone and people will always find a way to bypass the laws. I am pretty sure this will stop the flyers only temporarily. But in the end – definitely props for coming up with such an inovative idea :)

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