Drone Photography 101: Tips and Techniques

Breathtaking photos of mountains and rivers, stunning landscape shots; all these are done through aerial photography. Drone aerial photography, to be exact. This kind of photography is currently trending all over the world, with amateur and professional photographers alike posting their shots on their social media pages and websites.

Aerial photography has been around for years, so some of you might be wondering what makes things different now that photographers are using drones? First of all, though, what is a drone?

Drone Photography 101
image by Eugene Kim

Drones: An Introduction

A drone is a small and unmanned aircraft, or a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). So, in essence, a drone is like a robot aircraft or a robot that flies. It works two ways, actually: it can be autonomously maneuvered by onboard computers, or it can be flown through a ground-based remote control.

Drones were originally used by the military, but over the years, manufacturers discovered an alternative use for them with the help of today’s advanced technology. Nowadays, drones are used by photographers to take breathtaking aerial shots and for generally wide or large sceneries.

There are two types of drones. The first one comes with a built-in camera. These drones have what is called “onboard cameras”, which are compact and small. These cameras, however, are often not of the best quality; not one that professional photographers might prefer. There are, however, high-end onboard cameras that come with a resolution as high as 1080p. The price can go up considerably though.

The main advantage of using a drone with an onboard camera is the fact that you can live stream video footage, which means it has an LCD where you can see footages in real-time. This makes your work easier because it will allow you to adjust shots accordingly, and without having to reshoot.

There are also drones that do not have cameras built into them. Instead of a built-in camera carried onboard, these drones use outboard cameras. These cameras are carried by – not built into – the drones. If you want an assurance of high quality shots, you’d want an outboard camera. A popular example for this would be the GoPro. You’ll need a mid-sized drone, though, if you want to shoot using a GoPro. For even higher quality photos and videos, go for larger-sized drones, as they’re the ones that can carry heavier types of outboard cameras.

Tips & Tricks For First Time Drone Flyers

No matter where you are in the world, there are rules and laws that you need to observe. So, before setting up to shoot with your drone, do some research and learn about any law about flying drones in the area, state or country you have chosen. Some guidelines specify particular flying height and areas that are private and should not be flown over with drones – like places that are populated or with large crowds. This will help you avoid getting your drone into areas where it might run into people or things – especially if it crashes. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

The next thing you should do is check your equipment. Just because you already have your drone and camera doesn’t mean you’re ready to roll. There are additional photography gear you need to have with you. Your needs, however, will depend on the type of drone that you have.

If your drone does not allow you to monitor the shoot on an LCD, you will need a video transmitter that allows the broadcast of video in real-time. There are a lot of analog video transmitters that you can choose from. The video transmitter will also help you get better control of the drone.

Other gear or equipment you might need include an RC remote, and a drone equipped with anti-gravity motors. You might also want to bring an extra GoPro or any outboard camera if you can.

Additionally, you should also thoroughly read your drone’s manual. Doing this will greatly help you manage your drone, and, of course, help you take good photos (because you know how to use your drone properly and efficiently).

Technical Tips & Techniques

In terms of technical tips and techniques, there are several major ones that you need to keep in mind.

First off, since your drone goes up high and challenges the wind, you’ll have to make sure to use shorter camera lens – wide angle and prime lenses are best. This will make your camera steadier. And when your camera is steadier, it doesn’t get into danger and “dance” around when the wind blows through the drone. Occasionally, though, you might need longer lenses, but you might want to avoid zoom lenses as you won’t be able to zoom in an out while it’s in the air.

In order to get good quality and sharp photos, go for fast shutter speeds. Make sure your camera’s contrast is at a high level as this will help eliminate or minimize haze.

Before setting off your drone to take photos, practice and play around with it first. Practice how to fly and land the drone – without the camera attached to it! This will help you learn how to adjust the altitude and the controls and practice a smooth landing. The more you know about your drone, the better you will be at using it.

Just like an usual photo shoot, plan ahead and visualize the shots you want to take. You can keep everything in your head, or you can come up with a storyboard showing the scenes you want to shoot. This will greatly help in maximizing the time that you have (drones have limited battery life; you’ll eventually have to stop to change the battery or charge it).

The best way to get a cinematic aerial shot is to bring the drone up and then let the camera tilt down. This will make your photos livelier and more breathtaking.

As drone photography is practically still in its baby stages, practice and research should be utmost concerns. Practice whenever you can and research or study whatever you can about using drones for photography. Join photo clubs and participate in discussions or seminars/workshops about drone photography. Form a group and practice flying your drones together. Join drone photography contests to help improve your skills. And, of course, invest on your equipment.

Best of all, have fun! Taking drone photographs of stunning vistas is a magical experience. Let this feeling envelop you and everything in your photo will reflect that wonderful positive feeling.

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