It's only natural for a photographer, amateur or professional, to want to try drone photography.
Whether you're a nature-lover, music video director, or abstract enthusiast, a drone can be a powerful tool. But, just buying a drone and strapping a camera on it is not enough.
First of all, you have to know how to fly a quadcopter. If you didn't know, that's what the standard model of drone is called. Drones aren't hard to fly, it just takes practice and patience to prevent blowing them up.
If you're interested in taking your photography to the next level: the sky; keep reading for key drone photography tips.
By the end of this guide, you should have the confidence and know-how to become a master aerial photographer.
Purchase the Right Drone
Don't have a drone yet, but don't know how to spend? Well, even if you already bought one, let's look at some popular picks with drone photography. First off, yes, you can mount a DSLR to a drone, but not on a budget.
Unless you plan on investing thousands of dollars into a drone that can handle that type of mount, your best bet is to get a drone that already has a camera. Drone cameras are very capable of producing professional shots.
The general consensus is that DJI gives you the best value for a drone that is lightweight, has a good camera, and a lot of support. The DJI Phantom 4 is a great starter drone, coming in at under $800. There's also the Pro and Pro+ versions, which have a more powerful camera on board (20MP vs 12MP).
Even with 12 megapixels, you're going to get fantastic shots out of these drones. Aerial photos are way more forgiving with light and artifact problems than ground photos. Besides, post-processing will be there to clean it up.
If this drone photography path leads down a career path, then you might want to invest in some insurance. Personal property and liability insurance can be bought for drones, aka UAVs. Wedding photographers, for example, would be required to have this in order to protect yourself from costly mistakes.
if you learn to pilot your drone with some proficiency, the likelihood that you'll damage property or hurt someone is very rare. Usually, in the case of a wedding or event, when a drone goes off course, it's due to sudden gusts of wind or drone malfunction.
These variables can be mitigated if you're well-prepared and everything is running on schedule. Get some experience under your belt first as a wedding photographer before incorporating a drone in the mix.
Maximize Your Camera's Capabilities
Using drones for photography isn't as popular as using them for cinematography. The video drone is used for racing, security, movie-making, and spying on your neighbor's cookout. The camera on most drones is limited in sensor range, pixel resolution, and focal length.
With that said, there is plenty of potential for great shots, like these, you just have to play against the weaknesses. There are a couple of photographer tricks and tips that help you bring out the best in photo drones. Some of it is based on fundamentals of light, exposure, and timing.
Bracket Your Photos
Since getting proper exposure on a drone camera can be difficult, you have to cheat with some computer magic. Brackets are great and if you haven't done them before, read this guide. Basically, your drone camera will take three shots of various exposures and with a photo editor, you can combine them for a balanced shot.
Many photographers do this on all their drone shots for insurance. You can catch different details you might have missed on the first shot.
Filters Aren't Just for Instagram
Lens filters are a godsend for drone photography. You're stuck with one aperture, so your choice of shutter speeds are limited here. By using various filters, you can force longer shutter speeds and reduce interference.
This is a lifesaver for getting those iconic clear skies and crisp horizons. Filters are a requirement if you're going to be doing any beach photography. The water reflections can really get noisy on a drone camera.
Location can make the difference between a dull and unremarkable drone photo and one that looks like an intricate painting. This new perspective requires an uninhibited look at photography, but don't forget your principles. For inspiration on locations that are naturally photogenic, check out Google Maps.
It sounds like a silly idea, but you'll be surprised at how many land formations there are that can inspire you. Even the concrete jungle of man-made buildings can provide unique and interesting compositions.
Lines and Curves
Let's go back to the basics. When you're feeling overwhelmed by wide-angle shots capturing large swaths of land, try a new approach. When you're scouting for a good shot, try to focus on dividing lines or curves that change the framing.
By centering your drone on a shot that allows the eye to flow from one side to the other, your photos become much more memorable. Don't get caught in the void of mediocre drone shots that just look like surveillance photos.
Contrast and Color
Because you're so high above, sometimes it's easy for shots to be too green or too blue, for obvious reasons. You can make these colors really pop if you position high contrasting colors in your frame. A good example is catching the dark brown of a tree trunk with the bright, vivid blue sky in the background.
In low light conditions, vivid contrasts can really save you from losing your subject or focus of the photo.
Another way to avoid disinterest or lack of focus is to capture patterns. Nature is a sea of repeating growth and cycles. Man-made objects, houses, streets, and etc. are great exercises for using drones for photography.
This will help you get used to hovering at different elevations to get that perfect shot. Suburbia is a popular spot for finding all these aesthetically neat and repetitious compositions.
Tell Your Story
Don't let the technicalities of drone photography control your art. A lot of what makes photography great is intuitive, well-timed, and intentional framing. Your lens is your pen, it can tell a different story every time someone looks at it.
Take a picture of a sailboat out to sea. Your drone could capture it at the crest of a wave and the details can read differently to each person. The boat may not be in any danger, but the expansive shot may lead one to think they're lost at sea.
Balance, perspective, and timing allow your aerial photos to make imaginations run wild.
The world is filled with symmetry, patterns, contrasts, and spontaneous shots that make the viewer feel like they're peeking in nature's secret lives. Keep snapping photos as you settle on a shot, the before and after pictures can lay the groundwork for your next story.
Post-Processing Can Save You
We wrap this guide up with where all your pictures should end up. You better be taking all your photos in RAW format, otherwise, you'll lose the opportunity to uncover hidden gems. Much of your photos will need some editing because of the lack of aperture and weaker lens.
As we mentioned previously, taking all your shots in 3-shot brackets keeps colors accurate and lighting balanced. This is really easy to do in all the top photo editing programs. If you haven't had much experience with brackets or color-correction, it's a good idea to brush up on it before you start officially using drones for photography.
Post-processing as a wedding photographer should be standard practice. With a drone, you'll probably be spending a lot of time editing faces from those tight zooms. Otherwise, the wide-angle shots will be impressive on their own merits.
The Power of Drone Photography
The freedom offered by a drone for photography is hard to describe. Once you realize the potential it offers you in outdoor shots, lightbulbs will start going off. One minute you're taking a walk down a street, next you are taking notes on skylines, shapes of roofs, and vegetation.
That's why we fall in love with photography in the first place, the love of expressing ourselves through the lens.
With a drone, you'll definitely do a lot more exploring with the intent to capture views from every angle. Of course, there are restricted airspaces to adhere to, but for the most part, the sky is the limit!
If you're interested in more ways to improve your photography skills, tools, and sourcing of ideas, check out our blog.
We have veteran advice on photography dos, don'ts, trends, and reviews on new photographer equipment.
This is your source for success as a freelance photographer.