Ten Tips To Help Improve Your Drone Photography
One of the coolest purchases that I have made for my photography is my drone. It really allowed me to see things in a new way. Sometimes you need a change in perspective to jump start you for a while. The drone certainly did that. Below I have listed ten quick tips to help you get off the ground with your drone. They are things that I found useful early on, and I still use today.
10. Stay safe and obey the laws – While drones are fun they are also potentially dangerous. Your first instinct may be to take your drone out and fly it without thinking about where you are. The first tip is to first stop and look at where you are flying. Can you even fly your drone there? I have come across places that I thought were in the middle of nowhere that actually are very near a small airport that I didn’t even know about. The laws are in place for a reason so make sure you know what they are, and obey them. The first bad drone crash will be the last one as they will probably all be banned.
9. Prepare your drone pre and post flight – This tip kind of goes hand in hand with the tip above. I put them at the top because I feel that they are the most important. Before flying somewhere new make sure that you props are in good shape and secure. Another important tip is to calibrate your drone. Not getting a proper calibration in can result in a flyaway or a crash. Before you have even left your house make sure that your batteries are all fully charged, and if possible you have a few backup batteries for the drone. One battery can give you a long flight, but multiple batteries can mean a fun day of flying. One quick post flight tip is that I always swap cards out. I take out the card that I used to make my images, and I immediately place a new card in the drone. This prevents you from getting out a ways with your drone and then realizing that you have forgotten a card. It also prevents the same scenario without having one on you. I have done both and it is not a fun feeling.
8. Shoot in RAW – I always shoot in RAW, but with the drone I feel that it is even more important. The megapixels of your drone vary from model to model, but they are not fantastic in any model. You want the most data that you can get for your images in post. Shooting in RAW makes that happen.
7. Think of all of your post-processing tools while in flight – You have a lot of tools at your disposal in the digital darkroom now. Early on in my flying days I was not using everything available to me. One way to increase the quality of your image is to get a little closer to your subject and make a panoramic. With the steady nature of the DJI crafts it is very easy to do. A slightly more advanced move is to make what I call a vertirama. This is where you stitch a photo made from vertical pans. Combining these two styles can make for an interesting photo.
6. Look Down – Maybe everyone does this right away, but I really love the straight down look on subjects. The drone is a way to make images that you cannot make from the ground. Just a slight elevation change can really make your subject look much different. Going straight over the top can really make the subject look different. I love this look of the lighthouse from straight over the top. The photo above and the one below where both made on the same trip. Shooting over the top gave me another photo with a vastly different look.
5. Be creative with your horizon – Here I placed the horizon in a spot that allowed me to use the sunrise as if it were the beam from the lighthouse. The photographing a tower or tall structure I like to place that above everything else in the photo to give it a sense of being higher than everything else.
4. Plan ahead with your photos, but be prepared to improvise – On my recent trip to Michigan City to photograph the lighthouse I had a composition in mind as I was walking up to the spot where I would take off from. Looking at the light I knew just what I thought that I wanted. I made that photo, but while in the air I saw things that I could never have seen from the ground. That really changed my ideas of what I could do. It is good to have a plan, but with a drone it is also good to be able to think on your feet.
3. Use light and shadow to your advantage – This is another tip that is good on the ground as well. It seems to be even more true in the are. Shadows can really look amazing from a couple of hundred feet up. Here you have the chance to really show just how much the sun (or lack of in some cases) affects the landscape.
2. Use a low ISO – One thing that I have noticed about the drones I have used and been around is that they don’t handle noise very well. I really try and keep my ISO as low as I can. Modern post processing software can do wonders with noise. I would still rather not have to run it through anything special to get rid of the noise. If I can be at ISO 100 (the lowest that I can go) I will be.
1. Let the drone work for you – One thing that I almost always do while in the air is to fly in aperture priority mode. You are already piloting a craft and looking for compositions. You don’t need too many more things on your mind. The modern camera is very smart, and more often than not it will nail the exposure for you. I also shoot in bracketed mode making 5 images just to make sure that I have the correct exposure. It leads to many more photos at the end of the day, but it allows you to keep your mind on what is really important while flying.