Twenty Eight of the Fifty Drone Photography of the Year Winning Photos Would be Illegal Under Australian Regulations

  • Sportsmen Under the Sun By Senrong Hu

So, the 50 finalists in this year’s drone photography awards have been announced and there are some awesome shots in there. However, as I was flicking through the gallery, I was struck by how many of those images would be illegal if taken in Australia, which has some of the most burdensome anti-drone red-tape in the world.

So I went through them all and considered them alongside CASA’s drone regulations and here’s what I found. By my reckoning, 28 of the 50 images would definitely be illegal if taken here, but most of them are in contravention of one rule or another here in the biggest nanny-state in the world.

Mother and Calf By Anders Carlson

Mother and Calf By Anders Carlson

In the definitely illegal in Australia category, most of the shots fall foul of the rules governing flying drones over people. Photos 7, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 37, 45 and 48 all contrarvene section 2.3.7 of the standard operating conditions which state that the RPA (drone) should not be operated, “any closer than 30 m from people not associated with the flight”. Just so we’re clear about this, that’s 30m horizontally away from them, so all those shots directly above – they’d be illegal if shot here.


  • Photographs 7, 43, 45, 47 and 48 also contrarvene section 2.3.7 of the standard operating conditions which state that the RPA (drone) should not be operated over buildings such that at if the drone failed, it would, “pose an unreasonable risk to the property of somebody who is in the area but is not connected with the operation”.
  • Photographs 38 and 40 are in contravention of rules governing marine mammal approach distances. Drones are prohibited from getting within 300m of whales and other marine mammals and could attract a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Photograph 42 is in contravention of section 2.3.7 of the standard operating conditions which state that the RPA (drone) should not be operated, “in the area of a public safety operation.”
  • Photograph 44 is in contravention of section 2.3.7 of the standard operating conditions which state that the RPA (drone) should be operated, “during daytime only.”

My personal favourite is photography 48 which looks like it falls foul of at least four of the RPAS regulations here in Australia, specifically those releated to buildings, roads, people and, since it’s clearly over 120m up, height too.

Navagio By Srdjan Vujmilovic

Navagio By Srdjan Vujmilovic

In addition to all of the above, it’s worth noting that pretty much all of the shots in the nature and wildlife categories would probably be in contravention of rules governing the use of drones in parks and reserves. Most states (with the stand-out exception of the Queensland and Western Australia parks authorities) either completely ban the use of drones in parks (Victoria, I’m looking at you) or require a beaurocratic applications procedure which may or may not be approved depending on which park official’s desk your application lands on.  Drones are completely banned (with scientific exemptions) in Commonwealth Parks.

And that’s not all, since drones are banned from taking off on council land in many locations (Ballarat, Leichhardt, Waverly, Port Adelaide Enfield, Onkaparinga, Holdfast Bay and West Torrens being just a couple of examples) in Australia, most of the urban shots would not be legally possible in Australia.

So there you go – enjoy the amazing aerial photography in this globally recognised photography competition, but don’t be expecting many future winners to be coming out of Australia. What’s the situation like in your country?

By |2018-11-10T18:10:36+00:00November 10th, 2018|The Low-Down|4 Comments


  1. Dave November 10, 2018 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    All your legality quotes though assume the user is not ReOC certified with a CASA exemption (or marine exception) to take the shots. If they are all just sub 2kg no licence then yep, totally agree!

    • Andy Hutchinson November 10, 2018 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      Maybe for a couple of them, but ReOC certification doesn’t permit direct overflight of people, only a reduction to 15m. Or overflight of buildings, busy beaches or sporting events. Yes, you can get night certified and yes, there’s the ludicrous ‘scientific’ exemption for whales – but it’s all red tape and it’s only a small percentage of people who bother getting licenced.

  2. Phil November 10, 2018 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    Hi Andy,

    I do agree, the red tape is frustrating! As a WA-based drone photographer, I was stoked to hear that they have at least relaxed on the use of drones in some state parks. However, the ongoing legality around shooting wildlife is a joke, especially without any empirical evidence to suggest that a drone is in any way going to hurt something like a whale! I do wonder if some comps even check the exif data at times. Anyway, thanks for the post and hopefully some logic will rule in the future, and we will see other states follow WA park authorities.


    • Andy Hutchinson November 10, 2018 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks mate. Fingers crossed sanity arrives at national parks in all of the states. 🙂

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