Drone sales revenue topped $4.5 billion in 2016, according to Business Insider, and is expected to surpass $12 billion by 2021. The top industry using drones in the U.S.? Photography.
This makes aerial photography an exciting arena offering great opportunities for photographers like you. With enthusiasm for aerial photos growing by the moment, it's the ideal time to take a deep dive into this realm of your photography expertise.
Not sure how to begin honing your aerial photography skills? We're going to get you on the path to creating beautiful, attention-grabbing images with our 10 tips for mastering aerial photography.
1 – Learn the Laws and Regulations
Nothing can take away that amazing feeling of catching an incredible shot quicker than getting slapped with a hefty fine from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Even if you've flown drones before, you should become familiar with the laws and regulations.
The FAA website is an easy place to start. You'll find helpful drone safety tips, along with a wealth of information on rules and regulations. As the drone industry grows, these laws will likely change. Take the time to read up on them every couple of months.
2 – Master Your Flying Technique
You may have played around with a drone for fun with your friends or kids, but now you're going to be flying a drone with a specific intent. Mastering the right flying techniques will pay off dividends in the end. Having acute control of your aircraft will allow you to capture the awesome aerial photography images you're after.
Practicing different flight patterns will also be beneficial. Once you master the different maneuvers, you can use them to improve your photography. Typical flight patterns include:
- Straight lines
- Figure 8
Spend time on skills that will enable you to expertly maneuver and position your drone. Practicing can also help prepare you to manage any unexpected situations. Once you're comfortable with your flying technique, you can focus on and enjoy chasing that perfect shot.
3 – Invest in the Right Aerial Photography Equipment
In addition to having all the essential photography gear, aerial photographers are now shopping for their perfect drone. And while drones aren't cheap, they're much more affordable than your casual plane or helicopter ride for capturing surreal aerial photographs.
If you're on a tighter budget, there are plenty of top-notch options priced under $500. Do plenty of research and read reviews. Know someone with a model you're interested in? Take advantage and try it out before you take the plunge and buy your own.
For photographers looking for an especially exciting challenge, there's always the option of building your own drone. Just like buying, this process requires much research and patience. Whether you buy or build, you'll be proud to have a reliable aircraft as you build your portfolio of aerial images. When you're ready, you can invest in additional accessories especially helpful for aerial photography, like ND filters.
4 – Get Familiar with Your Drone
Begin by learning as much as you can about battery maintenance. Invest in a quality battery and follow a suitable plan to care and maintain it. You'll want to learn how to charge and properly dispose of and replace your battery.
Once your battery needs are taken care of, you should focus on details like balancing the propellers on your aircraft. You probably want to avoid blurred and “wobble” effects in your photos. Ensuring optimal propeller balance can help. Unbalanced propellers can even cause damage to other parts of your drone over time.
You should also know the different gimbal modes available on your drone. These include:
- Follow mode
- Free mode
- Follow me mode
- Point of interest mode
Becoming familiar with gimbal mode, speed, and tuning options is essential to honing your aerial photography craft.
You may benefit from learning more about your camera, too. Familiarize yourself with the various settings available. Knowing the ideal focus, mode, exposure bracket, and resolution to use in certain situations can do wonders for your photography skills.
5 – Study Your New Craft
No matter how seasoned a photographer you are, you should take time to learn about the concepts unique to aerial photography. Just exploring the basic concepts can help set you up for success.
Start by learning about or reacquainting yourself with concepts like:
- Focal length
- Stereoscopic coverage
- Fiducial marks
Improving your spatial awareness will aid in your aerial photography, too. Focus on sharpening awareness of yourself and objects as they relate to the world and space around you.
6 – Think About Lighting and Shadows
Even with your new knowledge, still pay homage to basic photography concepts. When you were first developing your photography skills, it's likely you spent a lot of time studying ideal lightning. Don't let the excitement of taking on aerial photography with a drone cause you to forget about that essential knowledge.
Take into consideration the unique positioning of the sun. This will differ a bit from traditional photography because you'll now be shooting from new angles and heights. You'll also want to pay attention to whether your drone's propellers are casting shadows on your lens.
7 – Scout Your Location
As mentioned earlier, you should only fly your drone in areas where it's allowed. Use common sense and stay away from airports and helipads. Ask permission if you are looking to fly over privately-owned land.
Utilize simple tools like Google Maps or explore websites like Dronestegram to help you source the best locations for capturing the most incredible aerial photography images. Getting to know other drone-flying photographers is also a great way to discover the best locations to fly and shoot photos.
When you're ready to shoot in a new spot, take time to explore and experiment. The ideal altitude for flying your drone and capturing images will depend on the unique location you've chosen. Remember to consider lighting and sun position in each new location, too.
8 – Plan Ahead and Be Prepared for Anything
Of course, you're going to know when and where you'll be shooting your photos. We're here to remind you to plan the details.
Look at the weather predictions in the days and hours leading up to your aerial photography session. While most photographers know you don't need perfect weather, you must consider possible damage to your drone.
Cloud cover could make for some gorgeous photographs. On the other hand, a thunderstorm can cause expensive damage to your aircraft.
If you want to get an amazing shot at a specific time, like at peak sunset, plan with your maximum flight times in mind. Make note of how long your drone can fly before its battery drains. You don't want to be stuck changing a battery when you could have been capturing stunning photos at just the right time.
Know whether you're going to need to make multiple passes around your target object. Consider maximum flight time and the distance from flight start location to the target location. Plan for the time of daylighting, too.
Make sure everyone on your team understands your plan. Turn off cell phones when you're ready to fly and start shooting to avoid any radio interference. Remain aware of your surroundings. Fly considerately and safely.
First, be sure to stock up on extra parts and equipment. Get organized and carry a pack with extra propellers, batteries, and any other important components.
Even with all your practicing, you may still be faced with an unexpected crash and damage. Sometimes things just break or malfunction. If you're prepared with replacement pieces, you can carry on with your session with minimal disruption or time wasted.
Do an equipment check before you head out. Once you're on location and ready to shoot, balance your propellers and make sure they are properly fitted. Making a checklist for yourself is always beneficial.
9 – Take Advantage of Photo Processing Options
Even with the best location, ideal timing, and a perfectly executed plan, your resulting images could benefit from post-processing. You've put all this hard work into getting these beautiful images, so why not make them as outstanding as possible? Aerial photography is a growing and competitive business and you'll want your images to be the best.
If you haven't already, now is the time to learn tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Master these tools and take advantage of their full capabilities. Color correction, bracketing, and motion blur are just a few editing techniques that can take your images to the next level
10 – Aim for Constant Growth and Improvement
Aerial photography is an art. Like any art, it leaves room for constant experimentation and enhancement. We've set you up with the basics here, but the more you practice, the more you can build your skills and sharpen your talent.
Don't be afraid to ask others in the photography community for guidance and tips. Seek out classes or local photography clubs, and join social media communities.
You may eventually find yourself confident enough to transition your hobby to a profession. You can find photography jobs as a side gig or make photography your main source of income. No matter your goals, keep at it. Let us know what you think in the comments below.