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.

The Sun Sets Over the Purdue Bell Tower

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. Continue reading “10 Tips For Better Drone Photos”

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My 17 Favorite Photos of 2017

It is really hard to narrow down all of the thousands of photos that I made in 2017 to just 17. The number is arbitrary because of the year. The good news is that with each year that passes I get to add another photo to my year end countdowns. This list is not a list of my best technical achievements. I would rather pick seventeen moments that I really liked from the year. Even doing that it is a hard list to put together.

17. Oh boy he is going to talk about his kids again! Of course this countdown starts with my little one. She is probably the person that is most photographed in my life. Here she has a great time trick or treating in downtown Lafayette. I love the smile and the sense of place of this photo. It is probably my favorite photo of her from last year.

16. On August 21st everyone turned their eyes to the sky. The sun would be eclipsed by the moon. With the sky looking cloudy in our area I made the quick decision to head north to where I saw clear skies. We found a country road that we could park on, and we watched the eclipse. Here my step daughter enjoys the moment. I could have set up gear and shot the actual eclipse, but this seemed more important to me at the time.

15. On our way home from Ocean City, Maryland this year my wife budgeted some time into our schedule to spend in Philadelphia near the Liberty Bell. If you know me then you know that I love American History. This is basically where American history started if you think about it. That is what I love about my wife. She knew I would love this, and she made sure that it happened.

14. The night before our Ocean City, Maryland trip I headed in the other direction to see Metallica play at Soldier Field. I love Metallica, and I had not seen them play live in quite some time. This was a great night listening to my favorite band. This photo also shows just how fluid these top 17 lists have been. This photo wasn’t even included in the Top 17 concert photos post, but it appears here. As I was making this post I realized how much I loved the colors. When viewed larger I think that it looks much better than it did in the thumbnail that I used to choose the concert posts.

13. This photo was made on the way to Indiana State. Here I saw a familiar barn that would allow me to create a starburst through. It was a no-brainer to pull off of the road to make this photo. When you can make colorful photos in the winter you do it.

12. Here is another photo made on the way to Indiana State. This was an early morning drive to cover one of the first football practices of the year. I left a little early on purpose so that I could make a sunrise photo somewhere along the way. I looked fruitlessly for a while. The mist in the air would have made for a good photo, but I couldn’t find anything interesting to put around it. Here I found a scene that looked okay, and then the deer showed up. It ran through the frame and made the photo. This is another photo that looks best larger. Click on the image to see it that way.  Continue reading “Top 17 Photos of 2017”

My Seventeen Favorite Drone Shots of 2017

If you had to pick one thing about my photography that changed in 2017 it had to be my usage of a drone. I got my drone shortly after the new year, and I knew that I would overuse it at the beginning. I made a special folder on my website with that in mind. When I started HDR photography I would HDR everything. I used HDR on dogs, beer bottles, and even a pizza. When you have a new toy you tend to play with it too much. That was the case of me with my drone this year. I made some good photos with it during the course of the year. I also made some terrible photos with it just to get out and fly. As the year calmed down a bit so did my usage of the drone. It has now become a tool in my bag to use. I have some ideas that I have been sitting on for a while now with the drone so maybe it needs to come out of my bag a little more this year than it did at the end of last year. Here are my seventeen favorite drone shots from 2017.

Bonus

This is the first shot that I made with my drone after I purchased it. It was a cold day and I wanted to go somewhere with few people in case I did something wrong. We went to the local park where I was able to fly my drone with nobody around me. This was the result of that trip. It will never win any awards, but it was the start of me finding what I liked to do with a drone.

17. One thing that the drone allowed me to do was to be somewhere else. I live in an area surrounded by houses and trees. When something amazing happens in the sky I have a very narrow view to look for it. With the drone I was able to go up and above everything else to find moments like the one above. The double rainbow photo is made by stitching together six separate shots. This taught me that I can use a lot of the techniques that I use on the ground in the air.

16. This is the home that I grew up in. At the end of the month the house will change hands to someone else, and they can bring up their family there. I love this house because it has so many memories in it. At some point though you have to let things go and let others make memories there too. I like that I was able to make a shot of it with my drone to get the lay of the land so to speak. As I put up my countdowns this week you will see more from here I would bet.

15. One of the fun things with the drone is to go overhead and find patterns. Here as I covered a yoga group on the Myers bridge I was able to go above everyone to make a cool shot. I wanted to see all of the colors of the mats. The straight down look was one that I really like. It is just a new way to look at life. You will see it much more before this countdown is over.

14. Here at the Indianapolis Museum of Art you can really see how the straight down view makes a huge difference. Those people running by the benches probably didn’t realize that they formed a skeleton. From overhead it is obvious. This year was all about experimenting with the drone to find what I liked about it, and what seemed to work. This was one of those days where I was just experimenting.  Continue reading “Top 17 Drone Shots of 2017”

Waters Collide At The St. Joseph Lighthouse

One thing that having a drone has done for me is given me a new view on the world. From ground level you can’t really see the different waters meeting. The light colored water of the St. Joseph River flows into Lake Michigan and creates a unique photo from up above. Using my quadcopter I was able to go up above the lighthouses to capture just how different the water from the two bodies are.

Finding A Unique Angle On The St. Joseph Lighthouse

At this point in the world I don’t know that there is a unique angle on anything. It seems that everyone has a phone or some other form of making a picture. For a short time I thought that the drone would help me get a unique angle on the world. What I found though is that everyone now has a drone. I liked this view of the lighthouse even if it may have been done by someone before. I am not sure that it has so for a time maybe this is just my photo.

Fun at the St. Joseph Lighthouse

Earlier this spring I went to the St. Joseph lighthouse with my friend Trevor Mahlmann. Right now he is in the middle of a project that will see him visit every lighthouse around Lake Michigan. You can see some of those photos on his website here. We heard about some big waves on the lake so we went up to watch them crash into the lighthouse. It was a fun day watching the power of nature when it is in full swing.

By Air and By Ground

Heading out to the lighthouse I knew that I wanted to fly my DJI Phantom 4 Pro over and around the lighthouses. It is a fun and easy way to get a different look for something that has been photographed so much. I also took my Canon 7D Mark II and my Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens to photograph it from the ground. Having a couple of different ideas for a site allows you to really make some different pictures and tell the whole story. I would have been happy with either the ground or the air shots, but I was very pleased to have all of them.

Heading Up North To Catch the Waves

Thursday on social media I was seeing photos and videos of Lake Michigan alive with activity with a north wind. My friend Trevor Mahlmann and myself went up to the St. Joseph lighthouse to see just how strong the waves were. If you are not familiar with Trevor he has a cool lighthouse project he is working on right now. You can view one of those posts here. I had an idea in mind heading up there for sure that could be pretty cool. The waves would have to be pretty high for it to come about though.

The Waves and Wind Were in Abundance

One thing that I noticed when I stepped out of the car near the pier was that the wind was very strong. It nearly blew my baseball cap off so I switched to a stocking cap to protect my head in the wind. The thing about these photos is that you cannot get them if the wind is not strong coming from the north. It was a good sign, and we knew that we would be in for a show. When you get out and see just what the wind and waves can do it really is something else. These were small waves compared to what an ocean can produce. I can only imagine watching some of those huge waves in action.

Taking the Drone For a Spin

The first thing that I did was to take my drone up and over the action. As I started to go out over Lake Michigan I decided to turn on Facebook live again. You can see that video here. I really like showing people some of the cool places I can go with this drone. It was not easy getting the drone out to the end of the pier. The strong wind made the drone work, and I wasted about half of my battery just getting out there. Once out there though I was able to take some time to have some fun with the scene. I was almost immediately rewarded with a nice wave as I set up my over the top shot. In fact I was not quite in position, but I think that it worked just fine. That photo is the one immediately above this paragraph. The shot at the top of the post was one that I had to wait on for a while. There is no rhyme or reason as to why the waves do what they do. They just suddenly make a big splash so to speak.

One other interesting thing about the photo above is the two distinct water sources. The very dark water is the water from the St. Joseph River. The lighter colored water at the top of the picture is Lake Michigan. I love it when I can find a place where two bodies of water meet. It makes things just a bit more interesting to me. Continue reading “Wind and Waves at the St. Joseph North Pier”

tiger statue

Throwback Photo

A couple of weeks ago when I found Instagram I decided that my old Blackberry photos would be destined for this throwback section of the blog. This was one of the first pictures that I thought of. In 2010 I made my second trip to Comerica Park. This one was a Labor Day affair against the White Sox. I was not using my Canon Rebel much at the time thinking that my camera phone was good enough. It was a foolish endeavor, but the past is the past. Now in this section I have an outlet to show some of those images. I really like this one of one of the tigers that guards the front gate. I wanted a view of the tiger that made it look foreboding.

Technical Data

This was taken with my Blackberry Storm. Over the course of this blog I have chronicled the way that this phone used to crash on me. The poor performance was the reason that I switched over to the iPhone. I tried something here by opening the picture up in Lightroom. I used an HDR preset to try and give the picture a bit more life. It is a bit overdone, but so are most phone pictures nowadays.

prince hal

Photo of the Day

I was going through some older pictures for a post tomorrow when I came across some of my pictures from the statue area at Comerica Park. I had some good ideas that day, but looking back now I wish that I had done something different. When I saw this photo of Tigers pitcher Hal Newhouser I knew that I had a winner. For some reason I seemed to do a lot right here. Looking at the statue in this picture I have one other idea I would like to try if I ever get back to the stadium, but I was very happy with this picture.

Technical Data

This was a picture that was screaming to be in black and white. I say that because in 2010 when I took the picture I really didn’t know how to meter yet, and my sky just did not look right. When you have screwed up the photo sometimes black and white will help save it. I opened up this file in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 to see what I could do to it. I really liked what the high structure (harsh) preset did to my image. I tweaked it a bit inside of Silver Efex Pro, and then sent the file back to Lightroom. Inside of Lightroom the first thing that I did was to adjust the temperature. I found that the right setting here really made this picture. From there I went about adjusting a few of the sliders in order to get the look that I was going for. In the end I think that I accomplished what I set out to do.

One other thing was necessary here. At the time my sensor was dirty as could be so any picture with the sky in it would be littered with dust spots. It seemed like too much to take care of, but now thanks to the tools in Lightroom it is easy. I used the spot removal brush to make my task easy. Just a few clicks and the spots were gone. I wish that I had a clean sensor at the time, but with today’s technology it is not that hard to get rid of them.

It’s a Drobo!

For a while now I have been looking for a solution to my picture storage problem. I have files on a couple of drives, and my computer was nearly full. I needed to find something that would help me get everything together as well as make accessing my images easier. I had been looking at the Drobo system for a while, but I thought the price was too high. As I researched other systems I kept coming back to the Drobo. It really was exactly what I needed. I purchased the Drobo 5N a week ago, and I have been using it since Monday. A picture like this one would not have been possible without it because the files were too hard to get to. I still have a few files to upload to the unit, but it has been a savior. My computer is free again, and my files are backed up and all in one place. I have been shooting RAW for about a year now, and the speed at which you use up data is amazing. I am only using two bays of the Drobo, but I have three more slots to expand in the future. So far I highly recommend it. I will keep you updated on how it works as time goes on.

Ricky Carmichael during his victory lap at Red Bud on July 1, 2007

Sports Photo of the Day

Since I am going to my first supercross in a while tonight I thought today’s sports picture could at least have a rider in it. I took this just after the main at Red Bud in 2007. Ricky Carmichael was one of the best if not the best rider that I have ever seen. I started watching racing during the reign of Jeremy McGrath. McGrath dominated the sport at the time. Who could be better than that? Ricky could. His nickname was the Goat. You would think that it was a bad thing, but it actually stood for Greatest of All Time. He really took over the sport, and the only thing that could slow him down was injury. In 2007 when this picture was taken Ricky was running a very limited outdoor schedule while pursuing a stock car career. The new up and comer was James Stewart who appeared to have Ricky bested on the day. That was not to be, and Ricky could walk away from Red Bud one last time as the champion. He stopped right in front of us to salute the crowd, and I was lucky enough to get this picture.

Technical Data

This shot is always one that I have liked, but the shadow on his face kept it from being great in my mind. I started off processing this photo by trying to get rid of that. As it turns out the only good way to avoid the shadow was to be in a different spot. Anything that I did in Lightroom looked too fake. I decided to try out a couple of filters in a couple of plug ins to see what they could do for me. By accident I stumbled across the Kryptonite filter in Perfect Effects 4 by On One Software. It really gave the photo a cool look that I really liked. I sent the photo back to Lightroom to do a couple of things to it. I really wanted some more texture on the bike so I used the brush in Lightroom and added some clarity to Ricky’s suit and the bike. I think that it makes it pop even more that way. From there though I was done. I think that I found a new preset that I really like, and made this picture one that could finally make the blog.