Twenty years ago, if you wanted to take a picture from the sky, you’d have to hire a helicopter and pilot. Then, fly to your desired location and reach out of the machine with your camera to get your shot.
Thanks to a decade of advancement in UAV technology, today anyone can make amazing photos from the sky. Drones have blown through all expectations in terms of availability, price and effectiveness.
You can order a camera-equipped drone online for $100 and two days later have it in the air – taking pictures and movies.
With so many options and choices to make, the first step is often the hardest. The following tips will help you with:
- Getting started on drone and camera operation
- How to choose your products
- Best practices that will get you off the line quicker
“It’s only when you’re flying above it that you realize how incredible the Earth really is.” – Philippe Perrin
Are you a Beginner in Aerial Photography?
You want to be a drone photographer? Great! But, you have to start somewhere. If you have never shot with a digital camera before, that’s step number one for you. Find yourself a decent camera and start shooting.
Starting on the ground will teach you what you need to expect when you send your drone out. It’s going to be a lot more difficult to learn photography with your camera 100 meters in the air.
Getting Started With Drones
Drones come in different shapes and sizes, but all of them share the same working principle.
The most popular design comes with four propellers arranged in a square. The faster a propeller spins, the more lift it generates, pulling it’s corner up.
The drone has on-board sensors like gyroscopes, accelerometers, and GPS. The signals are fed into the computer, and it can calculate its position and orientation. Then, it processes all the data and the pilot’s commands to give commands to the motors how fast to rotate each propeller.
It’s that simple on theory. However, to master even the simplest of maneuvers, you need to spend hours practicing and getting a feel how the controls affect the drone’s flight.
The environmental factors also heavily affect how your drone moves. Wind is your biggest worry. Sudden gusts may easily throw your drone a couple of meters away. Then, there are rain, fog, clouds and other things will interfere with the flight or quality of your photos.
It’s make your first few flights in an open field – somewhere, where you won’t end up smashing your drone or hurting somebody. But, you need build up your confidence flying the craft before taking it into a dense urban environment.
Choosing the Right Drone
First off, begin with the style of aerial photography you’re interested in. Is it one-off shots; face-paced action filming; birds eye view scenic tours… Each directions has specific requirements for your drone and camera.
We recommend to spend time on the Internet to research what you’ll need for aerial photography. Channels like That Drone Show and Drone Camps RC release tests, reviews, and compare different drones and accessories, so you don’t have to.
Some drones come with a variety of pre-programmed maneuvers, which can be executed with the touch of a button. They are great for doing flybys, orbits and aerial tours of the area.
More expensive models have autonomous tracking and collision avoidance programmes. These are especially good, if you’re the one riding the dirt bike and need your drone to follow and film. It can track the GPS of your phone or remote and maintain a specific distance and orientation. At the same time, it will aim the camera at you and film all your wicked stunts. Collision detection will allow it to alter its flight path to avoid hitting a tree or an electricity line.
Most drones are still limited by your eyesight. There are first person view modules, which can transmit a live feed to your phone or the controller, so you can see whatever the drone sees. The models with on-board cameras typically have them built-in.
Drones that can mount an external camera will typically rely on it to transmit the feed. Or you may be able to attach an independent accessory. This feature will greatly increase your success with aerial photography.
Built in or Mounted Camera
One of the biggest dilemmas when choosing a drone for aerial photography, is whether to buy one with a built in camera or one that can hold a mount for a DSLR or a GoPro.
Most experienced photographers will instinctively go for an independent drone and camera. Having all the extra options will give you more control and allow you to make better quality aerial photographs.
However, it’s both more expensive and more complicated to work with. A semi-professional setup can easily run into the thousand dollar budget. This can be a real obstacle for beginners who are just looking to explore aerial photography.
Drones with built-in cameras are generally cheaper. You can get one for a decent price and it will do just fine while you’re learning the ropes and building up your skill. It works for any budget and makes aerial photography accessible to anyone.
Many of them connect to your phone, so you can see and adjust the settings while the drone is up in the air. Having fewer options will allow you to focus on the subject of your aerial photo, not the settings of the camera.
However, depending on your needs and talent, you may quickly outgrow the capabilities of your camera drone.
A drone mounted GoPro is the golden mean. The camera is usable on it’s own and can shoot both stills and fast-paced action with good quality. It’s less potent than a DSLR, but will take better photos than most built-in drone cameras and still offer a degree of control.
Pricewise, a GoPro Hero goes for costs quite a bit, but you can get a good second hand unit for a much cheaper price. The carrier drone and all needed extras will set you back another few hundred dollars.
If you’re going for a mounted camera, check for a controllable gimbal on the mount. It’s worth the investment as it will make it easier to choose the exact photo angle, while hovering the drone level.
Top Tips for Stunning Aerial Imagery With Drones
We can’t share everything in this article, but the following tips will help you get started and generally make you more successful with aerial photography.
Study regular photography and filmmaking – Buy a 101 Photography book, join a local club, or enroll in an online course. There are plenty of sources where you can learn the theory. Things like level horizons, rule of thirds, patterns, leading lines and composition will draw out the true potential of your shots.
“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho
Shoot RAW and embrace post-processing – RAW mode allows modern cameras to collect plenty of information about the scene. Later, you can play with exposure, contrast, colours, etc to achieve the perfect balance. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are invaluable tools to any modern photographer.
Plan your aerial photography sessions – Even the best drones have around 30 minutes of flight time before the battery dies. If you don’t plan your shots in advance, you will burn through batteries without getting anything done.
Check the weather – Aerial photography in the outside world is critically dependent on the environmental factors. Is there sufficient sunlight, are the clouds interfering, is the wind low, any chance of rain ? There are plenty of important questions to ask and get an answer to before you pack your bag.
Pack extras – Extra batteries, extra accessories, extra sandwiches. The weather may change in 20 minutes while you’re en-route. The battery may die sooner than you expected.
Assume things will go wrong and you will need to spend more time to get the perfect short or collect good footage.
Know the rules
Most countries in Europe and Northern America have plenty of legislation regarding the use of drones for aerial photography. For example, no drones are allowed anywhere near airports and most governmental buildings. Make sure you’re not breaking any laws, or you may end up paying a fine or getting your drone shot out of the sky.