image from an aerial survey with a drone

A Comprehensive Guide to Drone Surveying: The Ultimate Guide

Welcome to Drone Surveying: The Ultimate Guide, where cutting-edge technology meets traditional land surveying techniques to revolutionize the way we capture and analyze geospatial data. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting your own UAV mapping business, this comprehensive guide will provide you with the essential knowledge and tools to elevate your drone surveying skills to new heights.

Short Summary

Drone Surveying: An Overview

image from an aerial survey with a drone

image from an aerial survey with a drone

Drone surveying, an innovative application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is rapidly transforming various industries including:

By harnessing the power of drone technology, high-definition cameras, and advanced positioning techniques like photogrammetry, professionals can create detailed 3D models and accurate topographic maps from multiple overlapping aerial images using drone photogrammetry data.

The versatility of drone surveying has led to diverse applications, including:

These examples showcase the numerous benefits of land surveying with drones.

Benefits of Drone Surveying

Drone creating a point cloud using slam lidar

Drone creating a point cloud using slam lidar

The adoption of drone surveying has been fueled by its numerous advantages over traditional land surveying methods. Some of these advantages include:

These advantages make drone surveying a preferred method for many industries.

Drone surveying offers several environmental benefits, including:

Essential Equipment for Drone Surveying

Site survey with a drone in a heavily wooded area

Site survey with a drone in a heavily wooded area

To embark on a successful drone surveying mission, it’s crucial to have the right equipment. This includes selecting the appropriate drone, camera, and GPS systems to ensure optimal data quality and precise positioning. Additionally, having a reliable drone and base station setup can further enhance the accuracy and efficiency of your surveying process.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into each component to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the factors to consider when assembling your drone surveying setup.

Selecting the Right Drone

When selecting a drone for surveying, consider factors such as payload capacity, flight time, and stability. The size of the survey area, the type of camera required, and your budget will impact your choice of drone. It’s important to select a drone that can handle the weight of the camera, have sufficient battery life to cover the entire survey area and maintain stability during flight to ensure high-quality image capture.

In addition to these factors, you should also consider the drone’s flight performance, such as its maximum speed, altitude, and wind resistance. A drone with excellent flight performance will not only improve the efficiency of your surveying missions but also enable you to operate in diverse environments and weather conditions.

Choosing an Appropriate Camera

The camera is a crucial component of your drone surveying setup. When selecting a camera, consider factors such as:

A high-resolution camera with a large sensor size and a high-quality lens will yield sharper, more accurate images, which are essential for successful photogrammetry projects.

It’s also important to ensure that your camera is compatible with your drone and any additional equipment, such as a gimbal, which can help stabilize the camera during flight. Proper equipment and software compatibility will ensure a smooth and efficient drone photogrammetry mission, resulting in optimal data quality and precise positioning.

GPS Systems and Positioning Techniques

GPS is paramount for precise geolocation and positioning in drone surveying. Drone photogrammetry precise positioning techniques, such as Post-Processed Kinematic (PPK) and Real-Time Kinematic (RTK), can enhance the quality and precision of photogrammetry outputs, like orthomosaics, point clouds, and 3D models. Ground control points can further improve the accuracy of these outputs. Correction data is transmitted from a base station to the drone during flight, enabling real-time centimetre-level accuracy. These techniques provide improved navigational accuracy for the drone.

Incorporating GPS systems and positioning techniques into your drone surveying setup will not only improve the accuracy of your geospatial data but also provide more reliable and consistent measurements. By investing in the right GPS equipment and mastering positioning techniques, you’ll be well on your way to executing successful drone photogrammetry missions.

Flight Planning and Preparation

A drone flying over a land surveying project with a double grid flight pattern

A drone flying over a land surveying project with a double grid flight pattern

Proper flight planning and preparation are crucial for a successful drone surveying mission. This involves:

  1. Defining your objectives and area of interest

  2. Creating an effective flight plan

  3. Conducting a pre-flight checklist to ensure all systems are functioning optimally

In the following sections, we’ll guide you through each step of the planning and preparation process to help you execute a safe and efficient drone surveying mission.

Defining Objectives and Areas of Interest

Before embarking on a drone surveying mission, it’s essential to clearly define your objectives and identify the target area for the survey. Your objectives could include generating a topographic map, creating a 3D model of a construction site, or tracking environmental changes over time. Defining clear goals will help you plan your survey more efficiently and ensure that the collected data meets your project requirements.

Once you have established your objectives, determine the area of interest for your mission. Consider the size of the area, the terrain, and any potential obstacles that may be encountered during the drone flight. This information will help you design a flight plan that maximizes data collection efficiency while minimizing risks and potential issues.

Creating an Effective Flight Plan

Designing a flight plan that maximizes efficiency, safety, and data quality is crucial for a successful drone surveying mission. When creating a flight plan, consider factors such as image overlap, ground sampling distance (GSD), and flight altitude. These factors will impact the resolution and quality of the images captured, as well as the coverage of the survey area.

Automated flight planning tools, such as Pix4Dcapture, DroneDeploy, and Litchi, can help streamline the planning process and ensure optimal flight paths for your mission. By carefully crafting your flight plan and utilizing the appropriate tools, you can minimize the risk of issues during the drone flight and ensure the capture of accurate and high-quality data.

Pre-Flight Checklist

Before launching your drone for a surveying mission, it’s essential to perform a pre-flight checklist to ensure a safe and successful flight. This includes checking the drone’s battery charge, ensuring the propellers are properly secured, and calibrating the compass and IMU on land.

Additionally, assess the weather conditions, and potential flight hazards, and verify that your drone is operating within any applicable airspace restrictions. By conducting a thorough pre-flight checklist, you can minimize the risk of issues during your drone photogrammetry mission and increase the likelihood of capturing high-quality and precise data.

Conducting the Drone Survey

Drone 3d model of construction site for progress monitoring and topographical verification survey purposes

Drone 3d model of construction site for progress monitoring and topographical verification survey purposes

Now that you have planned and prepared for your drone surveying mission, it’s time to execute the flight. In the following sections, we’ll outline the steps for safely launching, monitoring and capturing high-quality images during your drone survey.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to conducting successful drone operations, including drone surveying missions.

Launching the Drone Safely

To ensure a safe and successful drone launch, follow these steps:

  1. Find a suitable launch area that is free of obstacles and hazards.

  2. Ensure that the area is large enough for the drone to take off and land easily and that the drone is positioned correctly for takeoff.

  3. Before launching, double-check the drone’s battery charge, propeller attachment, and camera settings to ensure they are optimal for the mission.

Once you have verified all systems are functioning properly, it’s time to launch the drone. Gradually increase the throttle and allow the drone to lift off smoothly. Maintain visual contact with the drone during the ascent, and ensure it is stable before proceeding with your mission.

Monitoring the Drone During Flight

Actively monitoring the drone during flight is essential for ensuring safety, efficiency, and data quality. Keep an eye on the drone’s position, altitude, and battery life to ensure it remains on the pre-planned flight path and within the designated grid pattern. Be prepared to take manual control of the drone if necessary, in the event of a malfunction or unexpected weather conditions.

It’s also important to monitor the live video feed during the drone flight to verify that the images being captured are of adequate quality for photogrammetry processing. By actively monitoring the drone during flight, you can reduce risks, guarantee the acquisition of high-quality data, and ensure a successful flight.

Capturing High-Quality Images

The quality of images is essential for drone photogrammetry projects to be successful. Without good images, the project can not yield results. To achieve this, ensure your camera settings are optimized for the mission, such as using a fast shutter speed to minimize motion blur caused by drone movement or wind. In addition, maintain the appropriate altitude to ensure optimal ground sampling distance (GSD) and image quality.

Utilize a gimbal for stabilization during flight, as it can effectively reduce camera shake and vibration, resulting in improved image quality for orthomosaic generation. By applying these techniques, you can guarantee the capture of sharp and detailed images, which are essential for accurate and consistent measurements in your drone photogrammetry projects.

Post-Flight Procedures and Data Processing

Successful drone photogrammetry flight processed into a 3d model for use in a topographical survey and measured building survey

After completing your drone surveying mission, it’s time to land the drone safely, conduct a post-flight checklist, and verify your captured data has been captured correctly. You are then ready to move on to post-processing the collected information using various post-processing techniques. These can include:

In the following sections, we’ll guide you through each step of the detailed post-processing and data processing to help you make the most of the valuable information you’ve gathered.

Landing the Drone Safely

Completing a successful photogrammetry mission requires a safe landing of the drone. This is an essential final step. To land the drone, follow these steps:

  1. Reduce the throttle gradually.

  2. Guide the drone towards the landing area.

  3. Ensure the landing area is free of obstacles and hazards.

  4. Maintain visual contact with the drone during the descent to make any necessary trajectory adjustments.

Once the drone has touched down on a level and stable surface, turn off the power and remove the battery to prevent any potential accidents or damage to the drone. By following these guidelines, you can ensure a safe and successful landing after completing your drone photogrammetry mission.

Post-Flight Checklist

After landing the drone safely, it’s essential to conduct a post-flight checklist to ensure equipment and data quality. Here are the steps to follow.

  1. Evaluate the drone for any physical damage.

  2. Review the data captured during the flight.

  3. Check the battery and other components of the drone.

  4. Verify the drone’s flight logs to ensure all necessary data has been recorded and the flight path was accurately followed.

By conducting a thorough post-flight checklist, you can identify any potential issues that may have occurred during the mission and ensure that the collected data is accurate and complete. This will help guarantee the success of your drone photogrammetry projects and optimize the overall efficiency of your operations.

Processing Drone Survey Data

Once you have completed the post-flight procedures, it’s time to process the drone survey data. Here are the steps to follow.

  1. Transfer the collected images from the drone’s memory card to a computer or other suitable storage device.

  2. Ensure that your computer has enough storage space to handle the large image files typically generated during drone photogrammetry missions.

  3. Create backups of your data to guard against data loss or damage.

Next, import the point cloud data into photogrammetry or GIS software for processing. Popular options include Pix4D, Agisoft Metashape, and Global Mapper, although none of these are cost-effective nor suitable for what we need. These software tools can help streamline geospatial data processing, allowing you to generate accurate and detailed outputs such as orthomosaics, digital elevation models, digital terrain models and 3D models. By utilizing the appropriate data processing resources, you can make the most of the valuable information gathered during your drone surveying missions.

Analyzing and Utilizing Drone Survey Data

With your drone survey data processed, it’s time to analyze and utilize the information to achieve your project objectives. In the following sections, we’ll explore methods for creating topographic maps, generating 3D models, and monitoring changes over time using the data collected during your drone surveying missions.

By mastering these techniques, you can enhance your drone survey business and provide valuable insights to your clients and stakeholders.

Creating Topographic Maps

Topographic maps are a powerful tool for land planning, engineering, and environmental analysis. By creating topographic maps from drone survey data, you can provide a detailed and accurate representation of the terrain, including elevation changes, contour lines, and other essential features. To create a topographic map, import the processed point cloud data into GIS or photogrammetry software, such as QGIS or ArcGIS.

Once the data is imported, follow these steps to create an accurate topographic map.

  1. Generate the contours.

  2. Post-process the orthomosaics.

  3. Refine the map by adding labels, symbols, and other relevant information to enhance its readability and usefulness.

Creating topographic maps from drone survey data can offer immense value in land planning, engineering and environmental analysis. This insight can be utilized to help make informed decisions and improve project outcomes.

Generating 3D Models

3D models derived from drone survey data can serve as a powerful visualization tool for stakeholders, clients, and decision-makers. They provide a more comprehensive understanding of the spatial attributes of a project or site, allowing for better communication and collaboration. To generate a 3D model from drone survey data, import the processed point cloud data into 3D modelling software, such as SketchUp, Autodesk Revit, or Blender.

Once the data is imported, use the software tools to create a detailed and accurate 3D model of the area. Refine the model by adding textures, colours, and other relevant features to enhance its realism and usefulness. By generating 3D models from drone survey data, you can improve project visualization, communication, and collaboration for a wide range of applications, from construction progress monitoring to environmental analysis.

Monitoring Changes Over Time

Drone surveying provides a unique opportunity to monitor changes in landscapes, construction progress, and environmental conditions over time. By conducting regular drone surveying missions, you can track alterations and identify trends, which can be valuable for various applications, such as coastal erosion monitoring, construction progress tracking, and habitat change analysis.

To effectively monitor changes over time, establish a consistent data collection and analysis methodology. This includes using the same equipment, flight paths, and data processing techniques for each survey. By maintaining consistency in your drone surveying missions, you can enhance the value of the information gathered and provide meaningful insights into the changes occurring in your area of interest.

Expanding Your Drone Survey Business

As your drone survey business grows, it’s essential to continually adapt and expand your service offerings to meet the evolving needs of your clients and the industry. This can include offering additional services, such as aerial photography, lidar scanning, and thermal imaging, to complement your existing drone surveying services. By diversifying your service offerings, you can attract new clients and increase the overall value of your drone survey business.

To market your drone survey business, develop a comprehensive marketing strategy that includes building a website, creating engaging content, and utilizing social media platforms to connect with prospective clients and showcase your expertise. Additionally, consider attending industry events, networking with other professionals, and offering discounts or free services to acquire new clients and build a strong reputation in the drone surveying industry.

Operating a drone survey business comes with legal and regulatory responsibilities that must be addressed to ensure compliance and safety. Familiarize yourself with local drone regulations, airspace restrictions, and certification requirements to guarantee adherence to all applicable rules and guidelines. In addition, be mindful of privacy considerations when conducting drone surveying, such as obtaining consent from property owners and ensuring that collected data is not distributed without authorization.

By staying up-to-date on legal and regulatory considerations, you can minimize the risk of fines, penalties, or damage to your reputation. Moreover, demonstrating a strong commitment to compliance and safety will enhance your credibility and trustworthiness among clients and stakeholders, further contributing to the growth and success of your drone survey business.


In conclusion, drone surveying is a powerful tool that combines cutting-edge technology with traditional land surveying techniques, unlocking new possibilities for data collection and analysis. By following the guidelines and best practices outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can elevate your drone survey skills, grow your business, and provide valuable insights to your clients and stakeholders. Embrace the potential of drone surveying and soar to new heights in your professional endeavours.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is the best drone survey company?

After reviewing the Top Drone Mapping Companies, it is clear that SkySight is the best choice for drone survey services. They offer high-quality, affordable solutions with excellent customer support.

What is the best drone for drone survey?

For drone surveying, the best option is the DJI Matrice 350 RTK, as it offers top-tier mapping and surveying performance. It also has a long flight time and reliable navigation, making it an excellent choice for anyone looking for a professional-grade drone.

The Matrice 350 RTK is equipped with a powerful flight controller, a triple redundant IMU, and a range of sensors that provide precise positioning and navigation. It also has a range of advanced features, such as obstacle avoidance and automated features.

How do you complete a drone survey?

To complete a drone survey, images of the ground are taken from multiple vantage points and processed to create orthomosaics and 3D models, which can then be used to measure accurate distances, surfaces, and volumes.

These images and models can be used for a variety of applications, such as surveying land, monitoring construction sites, and creating detailed maps. They can also be used to detect changes in the environment over time.

What are the main applications of drone surveying?

Drone surveying can be a valuable skill for those looking to start their own UAV mapping business, and has various applications in industries such as land surveying, construction, mining, agriculture and environmental management.

It can be used to create detailed maps of large areas, as well as to monitor changes in the environment over time. It can also be used to inspect infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, and to monitor the progress of construction projects.

The use of drones for surveying is prohibited.

How does drone photogrammetry work?

Drone photogrammetry uses drones and high-definition cameras to capture aerial imagery, which is then processed with software to produce accurate 3D models and topographic maps.

Safer, quicker & cheaper

David Walker McInstCES AssocRICS avatar