Drone mapping 101: A beginner's guide to aerial mapping

Written by
Brooke Hahn
September 18, 2023

If you're a beginner drone pilot with a passion for exploring the endless possibilities of aerial photography and mapping, you're in for an exciting journey! Drone mapping, also known as aerial mapping, is a fascinating field that allows you to capture stunning images and create detailed maps from above.

10 steps to aerial mapping for beginners

In this beginner's guide, we'll take you through the essential steps to get started with drone mapping.

1. Choose the right drone

Before you embark on your mapping adventure, it's crucial to select the right drone. Look for a drone with a high-quality camera, GPS capabilities, and a stable flight platform. Popular choices for mapping include the DJI Phantom series and the Mavic series.

2. Understand the basics of aerial mapping

Aerial mapping involves capturing a series of overlapping images from different altitudes and angles. These images are then stitched together using software like Birdi to create a detailed map or 3D model of the area. It's essential to understand the basics of flight planning, camera settings, and image overlap to ensure accurate results.

3. Plan your flight

Successful mapping begins with careful flight planning. Identify the area you want to map and determine the altitude, flight path, and image overlap needed for your project. Birdi is drone agnostic, which means you can use any flight planning software to capture your flight, before uploading your data into Birdi for processing. (If you're not sure which flight planning software to choose, we recommend Dronelink).

4. Camera settings

Configure your drone's camera settings for optimal image capture. Use manual settings to control exposure, focus, and ISO settings. Capturing images in RAW format can provide greater flexibility during post-processing.

5. Achieve adequate overlap

Image overlap is super important for accurate mapping! Aim for at least a 60-70% front overlap and 30-40% side overlap between images. This overlap ensures that your processing software can match and align images accurately.

6. Conduct the mapping flight

Once you've planned your flight and adjusted your camera settings, it's time to take to the skies. Execute your flight plan, making sure to maintain a consistent altitude and speed. Monitor the drone's battery level and return home well before it reaches critical levels.

7. Data upload and processing

After your mapping flight, your next step is to upload your drone-captured data and process it into your map. If you're using Birdi, you can create a mission and then upload the imagery (make sure you upload only your mapping images to a mapping objective. If you've taken other types of imagery that aren't for creating a map, upload these into a separate objective). With Birdi, you can request PAYG processing and the outputs you need as and when you need it. Once you've requested processing, be patient during this step as it can take some time depending on the size of your project.

8. Analyse and share your results

Once your map or 3D model is generated, it's time to analyse and share your findings. You can use the data for various purposes, such as land surveying, agriculture, construction, or environmental monitoring. Share your maps with clients or stakeholders to provide valuable insights.

9. Continue learning and exploring

Drone mapping is a skill that improves with practice! Continuously explore new techniques, software updates, and applications for your drone mapping projects. Stay up-to-date with regulations and fly responsibly, respecting the privacy and safety of others.

10. Seek community and resources

Everything is better with like-minded others! Join online drone pilot communities, forums, and social media groups to connect with other mapping enthusiasts. These communities can offer valuable insights, tips, and support as you continue your drone mapping journey.

Drone mapping is an exciting and rewarding field that offers endless possibilities for both recreational and professional drone pilots. With the right equipment, knowledge, and dedication, you can create stunning maps and 3D models that provide valuable insights and contribute to a variety of industries. So, grab your drone, plan your flight, and take off in the world of aerial mapping!

Brooke Hahn
Brooke has been involved in SaaS startups for the past 10 years. From marketing to leadership to customer success, she has worked across the breadth of teams and been pivotal in every company's strategy and success.