Drone Photography: 10 Tips for Amazing Aerial Photos & Video
Drone photography allows you to take photos and videos from hundreds of feet in the sky.
Capturing those high-definition, high-quality shots from above can bring a whole new view of the world to your fingertips.
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, or somewhere in between, drone photographers are capturing and posting their treasured shots all across the internet.
This guide is created to help you develop as a drone videographer and photographer, whether you are just starting as a hobbyist or hoping to become an expert drone operator.
We’ll be sharing drone photography tips for both video and stills, helping you to hone your skills & become a professional drone filmmaker and photographer.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
Learning to Fly
Hopefully, by now, you know how to fly. And not just power up and take off. Recording video while flying requires some multi-tasking. Now is not a good time to start learning how to maneuver your drone or what buttons to push on the drone controller. It would help if you were quite a skilled pilot before tackling how to record.
Before going any further, use this quick checklist to make sure you’re completely prepped:
- Buy a drone
- Learn how to fly it
- Get a camera (if yours didn’t come with one)
- Know how to use the camera
- Learn how to fly while using the camera at the same time
Sounds easy, but it’s not. It takes practice and skill to fly and record simultaneously.
So, try not to jump ahead of yourself. Instead, keep your feet on the ground thus that your drone can be safe in the air.
Get First-Person-View (FPV) System
FPVs let you see what the quadcopter is seeing in real-time.
It’s possible to record while flying without an FPV, but it can quickly morph into guesswork.
Being able to view firsthand what your drone is seeing at that moment can be much more stimulating and make capturing video much more effortless.
As the drone gets higher and further away from you, it will become more difficult to guess what is being recorded. An FPV will show you precisely what you’re filming as you fly over it.
Viewing your video in real-time lets, you adjust and compensate your settings as you fly. For example, if the props are in the corner of the camera, move the camera lens. You can tell if the lighting is poor as you fly, so put the sun behind you. If it’s too shaky, adjust the flight mode.
FPVs are not necessary for video recording. But, they make it much easier by giving you that view when the camera sees it. Then, you can immediately make instant adjustments to the camera, the flight path, and the drone’s stability.
Maintain a direct line of sight (DLOS) with your drone at all times. You only see what the camera sees. There are still blind spots. Watch out for other aircraft, trees, or any obstacles that could suddenly appear.
Shooting in the Right Flight Mode
A good pilot knows his drone in and out.
Be familiar with the flight modes (beginner, intermediate, and expert).
Start recording in beginner mode, then move up. Once you master each level, you’ll be amazed at the difference in the type of video you can get.
Flying in different modes affects the stabilization of the drone, which then affects the video quality. For example, hovering in GPS mode is different than flying manually. Sometimes flying in GPS mode causes more shakiness and less fluidity of movement. As a result, the footage will seem bumpy and over the place as the drone consistently tries to auto-correct its balance.
Shooting in manual mode (or regular mode) works very well. It’s simple, gives you all the control, and provides quite decent footage. However, if you’re up for more of a challenge, try flying in expert mode while performing a flip or a barrel roll. It can let you grab some incredible footage.
Close Up or Aerial?
Set your goal for each of your photo trips.
What is your target?
Is it mobile or stationary?
Would it be best captured from below or above?
Determine these answers beforehand, and it’ll be much easier to find that perfect opportunity to get the shot you want.
If a close-up is what you need, adjust the camera setting ahead of time. Please take a few practice shots and make sure the lens is right and it’s not blurry. If an aerial shot is on the agenda, know how high you have to fly the drone to get it. Drones have an altitude limit. Check the limitations of your aircraft to make sure that you can reach the altitude you need without crashing or losing power.
Keep in mind that if you’re flying outdoors, you will have to compensate for any wind that may blow the drone off course. Wide-angle lenses and prime lenses work well in windy conditions because they are shorter and help to stabilize the camera a little better.
Hovering for More Stability
Taking a shot from a moving vehicle is never easy.
There is a specific skill needed to achieve that which most people struggle with.
To reduce blurriness of a moving target is simple:
- Stop moving
- Fly the drone to a space where it has a good view of the target
- Then release the controls and hover in place
- It will free up your hands to adjust the camera settings, resolution, and whatnot
- Finally you’re ready to grab that shot
If the target below is moving, for example, your friends are going down a long and windy water slide, pick a location where the camera can get a panoramic view. Allow it to hover in place. Then, start recording as your friends take action. No shakiness, no multi-tasking of flying while trying to record. Just hover and shoot.
For video recording, while moving, fly the drone in a smooth path. Transition slowly from one angle to another to avoid sudden movements. The faster the drone flies, the faster the camera has to work to capture the footage. Try to elevate the drone slowly as you increase the tilt. It helps to capture video in a smooth and fluid curvature of flight.
Don’t forget to take the drone selfie – a.k.a, the “dronie”.
Again, hover mode works well here, too. Face the drone, so the camera is on you. Position it to about 10 feet above the ground. If your camera comes with an LCD screen, check the background to ensure what’s behind you is ultimately captured. Then, slowly lift up and away as you record yourself.
A Better Camera Means Better Pictures
All the angles in the world taken from the most expensive camera will not yield a decent photo if the camera is shoddy.
Figure out what kind of photos you want to take. Look at some examples of photos from different types of cameras and choose what works for you. Most flyers prefer GoPro cameras. They can run a bit on the expensive side, but they are definitely worth the investment.
A higher resolution camera will give a clear and more defined photo, and the colors will be much more vivid. On the other hand, a camera with a lower resolution will use lesser pixels and hence have less definition. So, a camera with a 1080p resolution will provide a better-quality photo than a 720p camera.
Never take just one photo of a specific target. Take multiple shots. You can sort through them later and delete the ones you don’t want. But, it is always better to have too many fabulous shots than only one good one.
Lighting is another main thing to consider when using your camera. The settings can be adjusted only to accommodate low light, evening hours, and noontime sun. Too much light can cause the camera to overcompensate, leaving you with dark objects in the front and super bright objects in the background. Please make sure the sun is behind the camera, or at least not shining directly in it.
For photos that are sharper and clearer, set the camera to use faster shutter speeds. It helps to minimize motion blur. Set your camera to a higher (faster) shutter speed to minimize the amount of time the light has to pass through the lens. The less time, the less blurring.
If you are trying your hand at night photography, you’ll need some external lighting accessories. It may be worth the money to buy a light for your drone if photos after sunset are your goal.
The most common camera for a drone is the GoPro. It has an entire slew of settings that offer more correction abilities than most other cameras. For example, it has light correction ability, color contrast and saturation, and lots of filters to choose from to correct imperfections from your photos.
A good drone photo editing software provides a lens distortion effect. After you’ve completed any editing and corrective coloring to the photos, apply this effect and it will correct the fish-eye distortion that GoPro cameras (and other drone cameras) have.
Invest in a Gimbal
A gimbal is used to stabilize the camera on your drone.
It can be nearly impossible to capture an un-blurred still photo during the shifting and tilting of flying. Camera gimbals absorb the turbulent motion of flying and keep the camera stable.
The more stable the camera, the better-quality photos and videos you can capture. Gimbals are an optional accessory that can be bought already attached to your drone, or you can get it separately.
Using a gimbal means you can use a lower resolution camera and a medium zoom lens. If your drone does not have a gimbal installed, you’ll be better off using a camera with a higher resolution and a wide zoom lens.
Not all propellers are created equal. This inequality of weight can cause an imbalance in the quadcopter. It produces the dreaded “jello effect.” Prevent the jello effect by getting a prop balancer. It will tell if your props are out of balance so you can correct them.
Wide-open spaces are not only safer for flying, but it gives a perfect unobstructed view of, well, everything. Sunsets, mountains, traffic snaking through the spaghetti highways will be visible if you’re flying in an ample open space.
Flying in-between trees or mountains will limit the view that the camera can capture. In this more restricted location, you’ll end up getting close-ups of your target. But the more restricted the view, the more complex the flying will become. You’ll have to have some supercharged piloting skills to weave in and out of a forest.
Pick a location where the weather will complement your goal. For example, don’t go to the beach during a rainstorm if you’re looking to capture a serene sunset. But, if you’re trying to catch a bolt of lightning shoot from the heavens, a rainstorm is what you need.
Climbing to the top of the Empire State building with zero visibility due to fog cover won’t help you get that excellent skyline view. However, correlating your goal with mother nature can save you a ton of time and help you get that perfect shot.
Windy conditions push the drone all over the sky. Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to lose control right after take-off when a rogue wind snatches your quad and tosses it into a treetop a mile away. Lightning and rain are times when flying is not highly recommended.
Privacy Regulations of Drone Photography
Taking any photos or videos can be considered an invasion of privacy. Guidelines, rules, and regulations apply to drones and photography and vary by state and city. Check out what rules are applicable in the area you’re flying in.
Some regulations restrict altitude, flying near crowds, or in private residential or military areas. You will find even regulations that prohibit drones from flying around specific famous landmarks unless you have written permission.
If you fly your aircraft over a large crowd and crash, someone in the crowd could sustain serious injuries. You will be held at fault and heavily penalized. Breaking the rules could result in some hefty fines. A few pilots have even had their drones confiscated and their camera cards deleted.
Aerial photography from first-person-view (FPV) gives you some spectacular sights that you cannot capture otherwise. Using a drone to fly to heights unheard of before while recording and taking photo stills is at your fingertips. With a drone and a camera, the possibilities are endless.
There are some risks involved and safety guidelines to obey. Still, they dim compared to the pleasure derived from flying, recording, and wowing your friends with your piloting skills and awesome videos.
We will be happy to hear your thoughts on drone photography tips as well!