Drone photography in Australia: what are the rules


Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time to capture the best drone photo. An aerial perspective offers something unique, but you should always be aware of the rules and regulations about where you can and can’t fly your drone in Australia.


© Robert Irwin – ‘Bushfire’ – Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Awards – Natural History Museum, London


In the line of fire

 Robert Irwin’s spectacular drone photo is this year’s winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award. The dramatic drone photo (seen left) captures a far-north Queensland bushfire, but immediately sparked discussion about whether it was captured legally.


While Robert’s photo was captured legally, in Australia there are many rules and regulations which govern where you can and can’t fly a drone. They can vary by state and territory and may depend on whether you have a licence to fly or not. Following the rules is important to ensure privacy and safety are maintained. 


© Robert Irwin – ‘Bushfire’ – Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Awards – Natural History Museum, London


What are the rules?

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is the regulator for drone use in Australia. Their Know Your Drone service should be your first point of reference for when and where you can fly your drone.

 I have provided a summary of the rules below, but for the most up to date information, please refer directly to the CASA websites.

What are the rules about flying drones?

Some rules include:

  • You must only fly during the day and keep your drone within visual line-of-sight. 
  • You must not fly your drone higher than 120 meters (400ft) above the ground. 
  • You must keep your drone at least 30 meters away from other people.
  • You must keep at least 5.5 km away from airports (any airport, seaplane base or area where aircraft or helicopter take off & land) & give way to all other type of aircraft.

Each state and local government may have its own additional rules about when and where you can fly your drone. There are too many to list here, but some key ones to be aware of are:

  • National parks and reserves – for example flying a drone is strictly prohibited in national parks or reserves in South Australia without a commercial or research permit.
  • Sydney Harbour is off limits
  • Flying near where emergency operations are underway (eg. a bush fire) is prohibited
  • Marine wildlife:

The NSW Government for example, states you must not fly a drone within 100 m of marine mammals such as whales and dolphins



What about drones and privacy laws?

CASA’s authority is in drones, not privacy. Instead, each state will have its own authority body which covers privacy laws associated with drone photography. There is also the Privacy Act 1988 which covers photography and videography captured by government agencies and certain organisations (more info). 

In summary, it comes down to respecting personal privacy by not recording or photographing people without their consent.



Useful Resources


Can I fly there?

A mobile app developed by the Australian government to be used by drone operators to find no fly zones and inform them on important operating information


A great CASA approved app for people operating drones that quickly shows users where they can fly, where potential hazards are located and where no fly zones are located. Users can even update what type of operator they are and the maps and information will update accordingly

National Parks and Wildlife Service

Each State has their own branch of the National Parks and Wildlife Service that has a webpage detailing the regulations around operating drones in national parks

Weather Apps/Websites

Websites like the Bureau of Meteorology and Windy.com are great for monitoring weather conditions wherever you are, paying special attention to wind speed and percipitation information


It’s not worth breaking the rules

Remember the Gatwick airport incident of 2018? Just days before Christmas, the airport was forced to close and ground all flights for 33 hours because a rogue drone was spotted in the area. In the end, no one was found responsible or charged, but it highlighted the risk drones pose to the aviation industry and the disruption they can cause.


In Australia, CASA has rolled out drone-tracking technology at major metropolitan airports. 

“We can identify where drones are, where the controller is, often get the serial number of the drone, and that will allow us to then pinpoint people who are breaking the rules and issue the appropriate penalties”

(ref: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-20/drone-killing-technology-outlawed-despite-risk-at-airports/10705786)

And if you do the wrong thing, fines can be in excess of $10,000. If a matter goes to court, a court can impose a jail sentence of up to five years.



  • Drones are great fun and you can capture some really great content with them.
  • But there are rules and regulations in place to ensure everyones safety and privacy.
  • CASA is the Australian authority and their Know Your Drone website is a great resource to learn about the rules.
  • Be aware that most national and marine parks have restrictions for drones.
  • When taking photos, be sensible and respect people’s privacy by asking them permission first.
  • If you do the wrong thing, you could be fined or even jailed.


Written by:

Laura Tolson

Co-Founder of Lateral Vision

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