Drone photography has been the fastest-growing photography trend in recent years.
Using drones you can get up high to photograph landscapes, cityscapes, real estate, and weddings. Or even yourself from very very far up.
We’ve got everything you need to know about drones in this complete guide.
What is Drone Photography?
Other than having commercial, agricultural and military uses, most of us use our drones as a hobby or for fun.
They allow us to photograph and video from an entirely new perspective.
UAVs (unmanned aircraft) or drones have had significant advances in technology, creating devices for every budget.
There are drones where a go pro camera can be attached. And there are others where they include a camera capable of shooting 4K video at a rate of 120 fps.
The quality will keep rising and the price will keep diving (pun not intended).
When it comes to using these drones, you will benefit from practice and flight exercises before you begin.
Even then, when you feel you are ready, you need to know the rules and regulations. These drones have the capacity to disrupt events, hit people or worse, an aircraft.
You will need to follow these legal issues before you start. You may even need to take a flight test to become registered.
Once you have passed all of the red tape, you will surely enjoy what a drone can offer you. Using your smartphone alongside your drones’ controller allows you to soar among the clouds.
Other accessories, such as a VR headset, will fully immerse you into the view you get from your drone. It will be easy to forget that it isn’t you flying.
Thankfully you can photograph and film the experience.
A checklist is important for all drone photographers.
This ensures that you get the most out of your flight, and aren’t traipsing through landscapes trying to find your drone after battery failure. Being aware of battery life ensures you’ll get beautiful drone shots.
Most issues with drones can be easily avoided if the operator takes the time to check all of the machines’ components.
This checklist is downloadable and printable and should be used before every flight.
(UAVs) or more commonly, drones, are not just for professional photographers and hobbyists. You can even use drones to carry items to hard to reach areas.
In the commercial world, huge machines hold very expensive video cameras. Not to mention they are used in the areas of agriculture and warfare.
These machines need to be operated safely. Keep the drone under 400 ft and stay away from power lines and airports.
Obey the guidelines and rules set by the local authority. Other ways to fly safely can be found in our article here.
There is no better app to use for your drone photography research than google maps. This gives you a hint of what an area will look like from above.
This is a good way to scout the surrounding areas. B4UFly is a way to see if an area is prohibited for drone activity.
It will show you the 5-mile radius of every airport you might come across. Drone deploy is a way to use your smartphone to navigate your drone.
This allows a second operator to fly the machine if need be. It also allows you to plot a course for it to follow. Neato!
Gear for Aerial Photography
When you decide that drone photography could be a great hobby for you, or you need it for work, there are things you need to consider. Especially if you want to buy a new drone.
The quality of the image is the most important factor when buying a drone. A higher megapixel image will be of greater quality.
Some drones have higher CMOS sensors, which allow better photographs in low-light conditions. Being able to shoot in raw is something you should invest in for amazing aerial shots.
The second most important factor is how well can the drone hover? If the drone is constantly moving up and down, your images will be blurry and unusable.
When searching for a drone for your photography, it helps to know the style that you want.
It is also good to know if you are going to photograph, film or do both. Higher end drone models can shoot 4k video at 120fps.
If you don’t need fancy features, it is better to spend your money on accessories for the model that would be perfect for you.
Read our article here on the best 11 drones that money can buy. Some are a lot of said money. Whether you’re after a DJI Phantom 4 Pro or a DJI Mavic Pro, we’ve got the drone for you.
Long exposures from drones at night-time are very easy. A quick press of a button will allow the machine to capture a sharp image, using its stabilization mechanisms.
During the day, you will face a problem. Even by lowering your ISO and increasing your shutter speed, your image will be overexposed.
This is where the ND filter comes in. It blocks the amount of light hitting the sensor, allowing you to photograph for a longer time.
They help to create a motion blur due to the longer shutter speed. This is great for time-lapse where you need more of a natural, active feel to moving objects.
Your photographs are only as good as your memory card. It takes a lot of time, effort and energy to get your drone in the air.
The last thing you want is to miss that crucial panoramic shot halfway through a series due to a bad buffer rate.
Your memory card is in charge of rendering and storing your images, so choose wisely.
A faster speed card can process the images quickly, allowing you to take more of them.
This might save you money if you are renting the devices. Overall, you have peace of mind, knowing your aerial images are all there.
It is important to keep your firmware updated. These downloadable files are created by the manufacturers of your drones to keep renewing the drone’s software.
You will need to find, download and install them yourself. These improvements can fix minor bugs or even add new features to your drone.
Here is a step-to-step guide on how to update the firmware for your DJI drone. There are also links to the files you need.
Every drone and its operator can benefit from accessories from time to time.
A lanyard is a great way to keep your controller close to you, even when you don’t need it. It lets your hands do something else.
Helipads are a great way to keep your drone as clean as humanly possible.
It is also a cool way to show off to your friends. By far the coolest way to use your drone is with a VR headset or AR glasses.
This really gives you an amazing experience of seeing what your drone camera sees.
For more great accessories to make your drone experience better, check our article here.
Setting Up Your Drone Before Takeoff
Your drone’s compass inertial measurement unit (IMU) lets you know where your drone is, at all times.
The computer gets constant information about your drone’s speed and direction and is able to pinpoint its location.
You might notice your drone flying erratically, or not hovering correctly. You will need to recalibrate this.
Depending on your model, you will need to follow our step-by-step guide. This, you can find in our article.
Keeping your drone’s gimbal calibrated correctly is very important. This makes sure that your drone’s camera is level and stabilized.
To start this process, your drone needs to be on a flat and level surface. By accessing the gimbal’s settings, you can find the auto calibration.
If you click this, the gimbal and camera will automatically calibrate. Beeps will let you know once it has finished.
Further calibration might be needed if this step is unsuccessful. You can find that information in our article.
The home point is a location where your drone will return to.
Usually, this is the place where the drone left off, but it can be changed to somewhere different.
A button can be pressed to recall your drone, without having to fly it back.
Also, your drone will attempt to return here when your drone battery reaches 10%. Might be worth packing an extra battery just in case.
You can read more information about the home point here.
Do you know what IMU is and why it’s an important setting to keep your eye on?
Are you taking advantage of your C1 and C2 buttons? Why can the ‘EV’ setting be helpful for setting exposure?
All of these questions are answered here, in our step-by-step guide to your controller.
Watching your drone fly away, as you feel helpless to stop it can ruin your photographic voyage.
There are ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen, keeping your passion for drone photography alive and fulfilled.
One of the most important ways to make sure you know the whereabouts of your drone is to set a Return To Home point.
This is the place the drone will automatically search for and land if any problems arise.
If you don’t keep an eye on your battery level, this is the go-to place for your drone when you reach 10%.
What we are saying is, without an RTH point, your drone could land anywhere.
Your drone may or may not be very expensive. Either way, it will ruin your drone photography if you’re suddenly left without one.
There is no point taking unnecessary risks, and reading our article will help you keep your drone safe.
Get into the habit of checking your sensors every time you fly. When the drone powers up and the DJI app is running, you can navigate to the MC Settings page.
Here you will find the sensor’s view. The compass readings need to sit between the values of 1400 and 1599.
You may need to recalibrate the device before starting your drone photography.
Flying Your Drone for Photography
Good photography is about showing people views of the world they would not otherwise see.
From new cultures to war zones, to distant landscapes and rare wildlife. Photography is a constant struggle to show the world in new, compelling ways.
Photographing the world from above offers us, humans, this unique perspective. When we do manage to fly, we see a glimpse of the fast disappearing land before the inevitable sea of white clouds.
We have little to no time to soak up those beautiful landscapes. Thankfully, a new ear of technology brought drone photography to the masses.
Consumer Drones are available, allowing us to photograph landscapes, weddings, cityscapes, and architecture from unseen heights.
For all of the basics, read our article here.
Making sure you know all of the controls means you know what to do to get your drone in the sky and start photographing.
You will also be comfortable if anything goes wrong. The controller is made up of two joysticks and a whole slew of buttons.
One joystick controls the flying device, the other moves the gimbal, and therefore your perspective. The buttons do a multitude of things.
Read our article here on how to get to grips with using the controller.
If you don’t know what to yaw, roll and pitch mean, let alone how to do them, this article is for you.
These are all terms on how to use your drone effectively. All drones use these basic movements to get around.
These help you capture the best images from many different perspectives. They also help your drone move towards the action or stay away from obstacles.
Read our article here on what these terms mean.
A pilot racks up hundreds of hours in a flight simulator before they get behind an actual wheel.
They practice with flying exercises first before jumping into the deep end. Flying exercises are to be used to build up your confidence.
They allow you to see what it feels like to fly the drone at a low altitude. So a bad landing will not damage your device.
Knowing how to use your drone effectively will stop any accidents and flyaways. Or at least minimize them.
It also ensures stunning images from your drone photography.
Shooting Drone Photography
Panoramas are a great way to show an entire landscape. What better way than to show the scenery from up in the air, where all 360° are available?
Simply get the drone in the air, and yaw the drone around, capturing as you go.
This is also a great way to show a subject that is a little too big for one single image.
These images need to be stitched together in post-processing to create that stunning panorama. Read on for all the information you need.
HDR or High Dynamic Range photography is the action of fusing together different exposure values.
This allows your final image to show details in the shadows and highlights.
If you ever wanted to photograph that perfect sunset, you will find the brightness of the sky darkens the landscape.
The sky looks great, but the landscape is missing that dynamic range.
This method of photographing a subject or scenario means all parts of the scene receive the attention they need.
Read more here on how to create stunning HDR images from your drone.
A time-lapse is the method of taking multiple images of a scene or subject and turning it into a video or gif.
These images are a great way to show movement in an otherwise still image.
What makes time-lapses different to a video is that a video is a constant view of the same scene.
A time-lapse can help blur out parts of an image that would otherwise be distracting.
Read here for the best information on creating time-lapses with your drone photography.
Normally, your drone is set up to photograph single-shots. For each image, you need to press the capture button.
This is great for that one, perfect shot of a building or scene from the sky.
In other circumstances, where there is a lot of movement, you will benefit from using a burst shooting mode.
This allows your camera to capture many images over a small period of time.
Now you have a few images that you can cull and select the best from the bunch. Perfect for those hard to capture moments where there is a lot of action.
Read here for more information.
One use of your drone is photographing creative, abstract images.
An idea that springs to mind is creating an inception style image. This is something that really makes you question reality.
This method is pretty heavy in post-production, but you need to ensure you have the right images first.
Read here for all the information you need to create this mind-bending photography technique.
No matter where you are filming, and what time of day, put your histogram on.
This will tell you the view of your camera in terms of highlights, shadows, blacks, and whites.
This gives you hints and helps in correcting your exposure to gain the most amount of detail in a correctly exposed image.
Your drone’s settings will need to change to best capture the light in morning or evening scenes.
Manual mode is necessary for windy condition. This will give you the most control over images that you need to capture quickly.
For more information, click here.
Landscapes are a great starting point for your drone photography. They are a great place to practice.
They stay where you want, as you maneuver around and over the scenery.
Here, you have time to tweak your exposures and pinpoint a perfect vantage point.
The choices of photographs depending on the scene. A bird’s eye view and low horizon shots will work perfectly.
Read our article for the best, in-depth guide to photographing landscapes with your drone.
Drone wedding photography is a new way to shoot this special day. It is a great way to show an outside wedding in a candid way.
You can even play around with the guests in a fun and light manner.
As a lot of wedding photography is very generic, this method gives you a fresh look at this special event.
With this, you can show the setting, the venue, and the surrounding landscape. Perfect for lasting memories.
Imagine the happy couple stepping out of the church, peppered with confetti from 100 people. Now imagine photographing it from above.
Real estate marketing is an area that can really benefit from drone photography. This allows you to show the building and its entire property from above.
Interesting angles can be used as a selling point. This is also a great way to show the surroundings.
What the neighbor’s property looks like, and what else is in the immediate area.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even use a hover or small drone to fly around the house.
This gives you a brilliant first-person perspective, allowing potential guests to move around the space.
Starting out with your drone photography will give you a sense of euphoria. And an idea that you can capture anything, at any height, and it will be amazing.
This will happen until that dreadful alarm sounds off, telling you that your drone has run out of battery, and you panic, trying to get it to land safely.
The biggest tip we can give you is to keep your drone close to the ground. Especially at the start, until you get to grips with the controls and unforgiving winds.
Keeping your expensive device close to the ground ensures a damage-free session.
You will have better control over the machine, and you won’t need to panic if something does go wrong.
This is just one tip out of 11. So read here for the other 10, making sure you don’t miss that crucial piece of advice.
Landscape photography is the most popular area of capturing with a drone. You are free to fly and capture at your own pace.
A simple top-down perspective is enough to show photographed scenes in a new light. An aerial viewpoint is new for us.
Sometimes, the landscape could really use an abstract touch. This is where our tips come in.
Compositions For Drone Photography
The great thing about modern drone photography is that most of them utilize a gimbal.
This is a device that sits on the underside of the drone, holding the camera.
This is where the stabilization comes from, as the gimbal keeps the camera level through all movement.
Both intentional and unintentional movement, such as windy weather.
The gimbal is what moves the camera and changes the perspective of the image.
These bird’s eye views of the landscape are just one of these fantastic perspectives.
The rule of thirds is a constant compositional tool throughout all fields of photography.
The concept is that the interesting part of the photograph should not be placed directly in the centre of the image.
By having the subject in one of the four intersections, the viewer’s eyes have to move to find it.
This gains interest and forces the viewer to look at the other parts of the image, not just the middle.
In landscape and horizon photography, one- or two-thirds should contain the sky. The other area housing the land. This is way more interesting than 50/50.
Other compositional rules for drone photography can be found in our extensive article.
Framing the images correctly shows intent and a concept, rather than a snapshot of an area.
Patterns can be a great way to show a landscape or a scene you are photographing.
This repetition is an eye-pleaser and the abstract quality makes the viewer think about the image.
Other rules, such as including people, are a great way to show a sense of scale.
By including people, we can really show off the size of the subject we are photographing.
Low horizon photography incorporates a low-flying altitude with a general landscape shot.
This stops you from only shooting high, and gives your drone photography some variety.
Some subjects will really benefit from this low angle as the importance is placed on a different part of the subject.
A direct, straight on view is never bad. The drone will allow you to photograph higher than your arms ever could.
Read here for more tips and examples.
Triangles are a phenomenon. They are complete, powerful patterns that are found everywhere.
Utilizing this shape in your drone photography is a strong compositional tool.
They can be obvious shapes in your photography. Or they can be a way to group together three subjects or points of interest in an image.
Read here for more information and inspiration. You might just need to change your perspective to see them.
Dynamic tension is a great way to show energy and movement in an image. This idea is almost the same as the triangle rule of composition, but opposite.
Instead of following the lines and paths of the shape together, these shapes lead outwards. They break up the conventional rules, by creating interest through tension.
Read more about this dynamic tension here, and apply it to your drone photography today.
Law & Rules
As soon as people could get their hands on drones, there have been countless articles about their misuse.
Some have flown very close to aircraft, which must be a daunting thing for the passengers.
This forced many governmental agencies to set up rules and regulations on how drone photography is to be conducted.
Don’t have your name in the Sunday post, follow these rules. If not for yourself, do it for others.
Here is our article looking at all the rules concerned. Some are general knowledge, others you might not know.
I can understand the excitement of using a new photography toy. Especially one that can fly and move around in the sky.
And it does this while photographing and videoing some of the most out of reach areas? Definitely awesome!
But don’t get ahead of yourself. The legal constraints of using drones may mean you need to follow special guidelines.
If you are photographing commercially, then you need to be legally authorized.
This is done by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) in the United Kingdom. Or FAA (Federal) in the United States.
Keeping your drone in sight is a must, so please don’t paint it blue, or any colour that hides it from the background.
Our article is where you can find the other four legal issues.
For the most in-depth information regarding the flight of UAVs (unmanned aircraft) or drones, go to this US governmental website.
They break down all of the types of photography you might be doing, and what you need to consider for each.
They also give you great tips and links to who you need to contact in obtaining permission.
For the most in-depth information regarding the flight of UAVs (unmanned aircraft) or drones, go to this UK governmental website.
They break down all of the types of photography you might be doing, and what you need to consider for each.
They also give you great tips and links to who you need to contact in obtaining permission.
Processing Your Drone Photography
Editing your drone photography can be done using a multitude of different applications, programs and post-processing software.
You can use these programs to add an array of different styles from many different tools.
Adding blue haze to your image, for example, can help to give your image a sense of distance and size.
This is an old trick from perspective painters and something you can use in your drone capturing.
In this article, you will find many post-processing uses to get the best from your drone photography.
To be able to create HDR images you need either 3/5/7 or any odd number of images.
These images need to have different exposure values.
A correct (or as close as possible) exposure is your base, and the others need to show an array of over and underexposed images.
HDR image programs stack these images together and pull detail from the shadows and highlights.
These are parts of the image that are either over or underexposed. Read more of the HDR information here.
Creating panoramic images might be one reason why you bought your drone in the first place.
Now you have all the images of your photographic journey loaded into Lightroom, this article gives you a step-by-step guide.
This program is intuitive when it comes to stitching these images together, but will need a little tweaking using the panorama merge preview.
This is where you use the boundary warp to fill the spaces created by the stacking.