Discover amazing views and new perspectives with drones. From take-off to landing, learn how to get the most out of a drone’s camera to capture captivating aerial images.
Changing the aerial photography game.
Drones have revolutionised photography. Their rotor-driven quadcopter versatility gives access to unique perspectives and compositions that would have previously been impossible or far too expensive for the average photographer. Still, learning to pilot, paying for the drone and navigating legal regulations can be overwhelming. Explore these tips to learn what you need to succeed as a drone photographer.
It’s all about perspective.
With altitude on your side, you’ll discover transformed landscapes and awe-inspiring views from a bird’s-eye view that photographers without a drone can’t access.
One of the most popular drone techniques is to shoot straight down. This can result in powerful photographs, according to photographer Steve Schwindt. “You see the landscape for what it is. You can see patterns and formations you didn’t know were there.”
These aerial images have grown in popularity due to the relative affordability of drones. Before drones, a photographer’s only option for aerial photos was to hire an aircraft, which gets expensive fast. Drones have made aerial shots exponentially more accessible. “With drones, you can now get a multithousand-dollar shot for $1,200 plus a $150 pilot’s licence. They’ve given filmmakers and photographers perspective no one else can get,” photographer David Green explains.
“You can see patterns and formations you didn’t know were there.”
Make your photos stand out.
To make your photos stand out from the current influx of drone photos, you’ll need to be deliberate. “The best drone shots take advantage of the unique compositions you wouldn’t get [otherwise], while adhering to the principles for what makes a great photograph,” says Schwindt. Thoughtful composition and consideration of light will take a photo beyond the initial aerial-view “wow” factor and make it a quality photo in its own right. “You have to understand why you’re using it,” says videographer Dominic Duchesneau. “Ask yourself: ‘What is it doing to add to the story I’m trying to tell?’”
Try using Google Earth to scout your location so you can start planning what kind of photos you want to get. Look at other photographers’ work or photos taken at the same location. This can help you to visualise the scene before you take flight. You can also collect inspiration from Adobe Stock photographers working above the power lines.
Challenges of drone photography.
Drones are more affordable now, but you’ll still be shelling out a few hundred dollars for a decent entry-level drone from reputable brands like DJI and GoPro. “You have to pay to play,” says Green. It’s easy to get caught up in the tech specs and quality when buying a new drone, but remember there’s a drone for every budget. Honing your piloting skills and understanding your drone is often a better investment than spending a small fortune for a professional drone set-up.
Shooting with drones can require a professional photographer to compromise on image quality. A high-quality consumer drone camera, such as the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, will top out around 20 megapixels and has a smaller sensor than traditional DSLR cameras. “You may not have the same level of control as you would with a regular camera, depending on the set-up,” Schwindt says. But what you sacrifice in image quality, you gain in mobility. Take a lot of shots and sort through them in Adobe Lightroom post-processing to find the best photos.
Weather can be a challenge. Flying drones in high winds or cloudy conditions isn’t recommended. “I’ve gone out to shoot and it wasn’t raining on the ground, but it was cloudy and misty up where I was shooting. If you get condensation on the lens, your photos will be an unusable, foggy mess,” says Green. To get the best results, know your surroundings and err on the side of caution.
Becoming a drone pilot can seem daunting, but Green says drones aren’t hard to operate. Rather, the more important concerns are being safe and playing by the rules. “People don’t pay attention to safety; they think drones aren’t as serious as they really are,” says Green. Unsafe piloting can lead to big fines and can put people and environments at risk. In response to drones’ increasing popularity, the FAA has tightened up their regulations, making it even more important to know the rules. Watch out for crowds, respect others’ privacy and make sure you know where you can and cannot legally fly. Learn more about getting a pilot’s licence and the rules you must abide by here.
Also good to keep in mind, most drones have a battery life of 30 minutes or less. Make sure to plan your piloting sessions accordingly and pack extra batteries.
“The more hours you fly, the better you become.”
Make the most of your photography flight time.
Drone photography is about the thrill of discovering new perspectives. If you’re an experienced photographer, drones can open up a new world of possibilities for you to explore. If you’re new to the medium, drones are an incredible introduction to the power of photography. No matter what stage of the journey you’re in, Green’s advice rings true: “To be a better photographer, you’ve got to take more photos. The more hours you fly, the better you become.” Be patient with the learning process and enjoy the incredible scenes you can capture with your drone. Discover more tips from pros Ryan Longnecker and Tobias Hagg and keep your exploration rolling by reading about the past, present and future of drone photography.