Drone Photography Tips: How to Take Your Aerial Photos to New Heights

Drone Photography Tips: How to Take Your Aerial Photos to New Heights

October 17, 2017


Photo by Skyline Studios

Whether you are new to photography, or a professional looking to take your photos to all new heights, drone technology now gives anyone the opportunity to take stunning aerial stills that were never before possible or as accessible. Now photographers that are looking to capture a new vantage point, no longer have to limit themselves to only ground-level, and with just the touch of a button can take their photographic endeavors to the skies.

However, simply having a drone to take aerial shots does not mean that every photo will turn out to be a masterpiece. Luckily, with some simple but essential tips and tricks, drone shots can be taken to a whole new level.

Tip #1: Plan Out your Shot

When it comes to taking a professional and high-quality aerial photo, the most essential part of the process starts before the drone is even launched. Before you fly, it is important to take care in selecting the location, focus, weather conditions, and the time of day of your shot. All of these elements will play a huge part in how you aerial shot ultimately turns out.

Scouting locations to shoot can be difficult with a regular camera, let alone a drone. A great tool to utilize in the planning process is Google Maps. With Google Maps specifically set in satellite view, drone pilots have an accessible and free tool that makes it easy to find potential shooting locations or interesting subjects for a drone shot. Looking for things like patterns, lines, symmetry, or generally interesting subjects to shoot are made easier to discover with Google Maps, and can help photographers discover areas they may have never knew existed.

Finally, when you are at your shooting location, it is important to observe the environment and be aware of the subject you are shooting, the lighting, background, overall composition, as well as visualize your flight plan to better determine what angles, distance, and height will work best. When you are finally at your shooting location and ready to launch your drone, all of the pre-planning should work to improve the quality, professionalism, and overall composition of your shot.

Bonus Tip: Looking at previous helicopter photos is a unique way to find new locations or shots you may not have thought of.

Tip #2: assess Weather Conditions and Time of Day

The time of day and weather conditions are an essential part of the planning process. The time of day can determine the lighting of your shot, while weather conditions will not only play a part in determining whether or not you can fly, but also the entire mood of your shot, depending on if its a sunny day with clear skies, an overcast cloudy day, a bright sunrise, or a dramatic sunset.

Photo by @defectivecompass_

UAV Forecast is a great tool for drone pilots to quickly determine the weather conditions in a potential shooting location. The App also enables drone operators to view any restricted areas or airports and mark a radius along the no-fly zones that can be set up in the App’s settings.

Tip #3: Follow basic photography rules

The same rules that apply in traditional photography should also apply to your aerial photos. When in the planning process, look for symmetry, patterns, lines, interesting shapes, or a main focal point. Focusing on these photography mainstays, as well as tried and true photography rules such as "The Rule of Thirds" should drastically improve the composition and overall attractivness of your photo. A quick way to improve your photos is to turn on the "Grid" in your drone's camera app settings to better frame your shot and enhance your photos overall composition.

In the photo below for example, the bridge is the main focus, while the greenery and the ocean are the secondary and third subjects. The Rule of Thirds ensures that photos have a main focal point, are balanced, and compositionaly attractive with no excess clutter or unneeded subjects or space. The line of the bridge and the symmetry of this shot also work to draw the viewers eye in, and make for a more overall appealing photo.

Photo by @edni.p

Tip #4: shooting in Manual Vs Auto

When it comes to shooting in Auto VS Manual the decision is better determined on the level of the drone pilot. For new flyers, shooting in Auto at first is generally recommended. In Auto Mode, flyers can better focus on piloting, experimenting with different angles, and the overall composition of the shot. If shooting in Auto Mode the drone will try to keep the Exposure value at 0 and then the user can compensate depending on the conditions and environment they are flying in. For more professional drone pilots and photographers, Manual Mode is the favourite as it gives users better control over their camera settings including ISO, Shutter Speed, Exposure, Aperture and more to further perfect the shot.

IIf you are looking for a good middle ground between Auto and Manual Mode another option is to select Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority in your camera settings menu. With either of these settings in place, users can adjust their camera's aperture or shutter speed manually, while having the camera automatically adjust the rest of the corresponding settings. This will give you more control over your camera, but will still help to automatically adjust other settings at the same time, thus providing users with a happy medium between Auto and Manual Mode.

Tip #5: Shoot all angles and Review Photos as you go

When you have finally finished planning your shot, assessing the weather conditions of the day, and have observed the environmental surroundings of your shoot upon arrival, it is time to launch your drone and take it to the skies. When shooting your photos, a simple but good tip is to experiment with different angles and review photos you are shooting as you take them to see what angles look the most attractive.


Photo by Skyline Studios

We recommend adjusting things such as the level of the horizon, focal point, tilt, and position of the drone and camera as you go to see what works best. When reviewing your photos be sure to adjust things such as focus, exposure, aperture, and shutter speed according to the environmental conditions and what you are shooting, especially if you are in Manual Mode.

Bonus Tip: Bring extra batteries with you on your shoot. With more time in the air, you have more freedom to perfect your shot and experiment with what angles and camera settings work best.

Tip#6: Shoot in RAW

Professional photographers will always stress the importance of shooting in RAW format to get the most detail and information out of a photo, which is particularly important in the post-editing process. In general, the average aerial drone camera will only be capable of shooting 12-megapixel stills. If compressed in JPEG format, the photo will lose even more information.

With all of the detail and information a photo keeps in RAW, editing things such as colour tones, contrast, exposure, light and more will be easier to manipulate then with the same photo in a JPEG format. Shooting in RAW will make the post-editing process much easier and ultimately make for a better photo.

Tip #7: USe Bracketing

Bracketing your photos is an easy way to ensure that drone photographers capture the exact shot they envision. Bracketing means that one shot will be taken with multiple different exposures including an overexposed photo and an underexposed photo. This is extremely beneficial as it enables drone pilots to get the exact amount of shadow, highlight, and overall amount of light they want out of a photo instead of only having one photo option with only one type of exposure to work with. The Auto Exposure Bracketing setting can be found in the drones camera settings menu.

Tip #8: Know when to use a filter

Filters used in the right way can enhance a photo, but if used in the wrong way can actually hurt a photo. A filter is generally the most beneficial when it comes to shooting aerial video. With still photography, they can be a nice accessory to have on hand but drone photographers can usually get by without them. If you are planning on using a filter, it is essential to know which filter to use in which conditions to ensure they are enhancing, and not hindering your shot. Below is a helpful chart that can give you a better idea of what filter is best used for specific shooting conditions.

Tip #9: Edit your photos

A step that should not be missed even if you are just starting out is to edit your shots. Every photo can be improved, and any photo can greatly benefit from editing, whether they be basic edits or more skilled ones. Editing style varies from photographer to photographer, along with what editing software you may be using including Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. It is important to remember that if you are just starting out, editing can take years to master, but with a simple straightening of the horizon, adjustment of the white balance, or adjustment of exposure and contrast, a huge and drastic improvement can be made to the overall look of a photo.

Though learning to edit can be a process, simple edits can make a huge impact. On the other end, over-editing can hinder a photo too. With time and practice, you will be better able to determine what editing needs to be done to a shot to take it to the next level.

ready to start shooting

Whether you are brand new to aerial photography or a professional drone photographer, we hope these simple tips and tricks help improve your photos and improve your overall aerial photography endeavors. The same as anything, learning to master any skillset can take time and practice, so get out there and explore the airways with these tips in mind and fly with confidence.