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A Guide To Drone Aerial Photography

You’d struggle to name a gadget that has risen quite as quickly as the drone, with construction, conservation and even sport being revolutionized by the gadget. However, no other industry has been as affected by drones as photography. Drone photos have allowed us to view the world from a perspective we haven’t been able to before.

Until the drone came along, aerial photography was reserved only for those lucky enough to be able to take their camera on a helicopter. Now, anyone with a camera drone can give it a go, but a lot more goes into capturing a magical aerial shot than you might think.

So, if you’ve mastered the art of drone-flying and want to know how you can bring your drone aerial photography to new heights (sorry for the pun), we’ve come up with 11 tips that’ll help you do just that!

1. Reconsider your drone of choice

Learning your trade with a relatively inexpensive drone is a sensible choice while you iron out the initial teething problems that can lead to your drone crashing. However, if you want to produce high-quality aerial photos, as you’d probably expect, you’ll want to invest in the tech to achieve this.

There are plenty of camera drones on the market, so it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, there are two main players in the camera drone industry – DJI and Parrot – so that narrows it down considerably!

The two main players from each drone giant are the Parrot Bebop 2 (£549.99) and the DJI Inspire 2 (£3,059). But which is the best professional drone camera? Looking from this angle alone, the answer is, without doubt, the DJI Inspire 2 – it’s used on huge Hollywood films across the world for a reason! However, if you’re only just embarking into the world of drone aerial photography, then the Bebop 2 is still a professional grade camera drone, and for under £600, you could do an awful lot worse!

2. Always pack spare batteries

This might seem basic, but often the most productive aerial photo shoots will last a whole day, and you won’t be able to take any jaw-dropping photos if your drone’s battery has died! Make sure the bag you’ve packed for the day always has spare batteries – the more, the better!

3. Find dividing lines

Some of the best abstract pieces of art owe their masterpiece to the help of dividing lines, and your drone aerial photography can certainly find inspiration in this.

Our landscape has dramatic, dividing lines everywhere, from train tracks to trails and roads. Find these lines and experiment with them – corner to corner, top to bottom, or left to right – and you’ll be surprised how unique it makes your photos look.

Drone aerial photography

4. Seek out symmetry and patterns

One of the main selling points of drone photography is that it can offer a unique point of view to something we thought we’d already seen a thousand times before. For example, the beach in the image below would look like a very ordinary beach scene from ground level. Then, suddenly, taking a photo from above turns it into one with a pleasing symmetry and pattern – you just never know what photographic gem could be awaiting you until you get up there!

Drone aerial photography

5. Contrasting colours are your best friend

The beauty of drone aerial photography is that it’s a lot easier to seek out fun and exciting colours in a landscape – on the ground you could be walking around for hours!

Bright and vivid hues look especially stunning from above, and the more the colours in your shot contrast, the more dramatic and awe-inspiring your shot will be. So, look for dark and light colours to pair up or different bright colours to group together – like the example below.

Drone aerial photography

6. Play around with shadows

As the main element of a photo, light plays a huge part in determining the mood, tone and the message of your image. Shadows have long played a major role in photography – the beauty being that the whole look of the photo can change depending on the time of day.

Shooting with a drone gives you a chance to see lights and shadows in a new and different way, especially when the sun is low. Take off and capture the dramatic early morning and before sunset shots, and you’ll see how shadows can completely transform a scene.

Drone aerial photography

7. Redefine the selfie

Want to capture yourself amid dramatic scenery? Selfie sticks are not only a bit cringeworthy, but they also don’t do the backdrop behind you justice.

That’s where, yet again, drones come in. Many camera drones have a special selfie mode, where just the wave of your arm can get it to take a photo of you. Try experimenting with different perspectives by laying on the ground in different positions – something as mediocre as a park bench or wall can give the illusion that you’re jumping from one building to another or that you’re floating altogether!

Drone aerial photography

8. Learn how to improvise

It goes without saying that you’ll have checked the weather forecast before embarking on a flight – you don’t want your drone to fall victim to gale force winds after all! However, there will be times when even the most careful planning can’t guarantee you’ll avoid an unexpected weather situation.

Don’t let this deter you though – it could present you with a unique opportunity you may not have otherwise had. For example, a sudden onset of fog might put someone who wasn’t expecting the unexpected off, but if you get creative and improvise the results could be better than the photo you initially set out for.

Drone aerial photography

9. Avoid shooting in midday light

If you know anything about photography, you’ve likely heard of the infamous ‘golden hour’ that refers to the period shortly after sunrise and before sunset. It’s widely regarded as the best time to take photos as it’s when the sun gives off a softer and redder light, which perfectly lends itself to dramatic and artistic images.

If you’re going on a drone shoot, you might not consider what time of the day you head out but, if you can, try and avoid midday. The direct and downward lighting that’s produced by high noon creates flat-looking photos which, as a photographer, you’ll want to avoid.

10. Familiarize yourself with your camera settings

As with the golden hour, if you’ve been doing your research on photography, you’ll have come across the exposure triangle at one point or another. It refers to a popular method that photographers use to connect the three main variables – aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity – that dictate how an image will look.

The triangle seems a little intimidating at first, but with a bit of practice, it’ll become second nature in no time! Here are the basics:

  • The shutter – This controls the sensor’s exposure time. So, a higher shutter speed setting means there’s less time for light to shine on the sensor, resulting in a darker but sharper captured object. A lower shutter speed setting means there’s more time for light to shine on the sensor, producing a brighter, but blurrier captured image.
  • The aperture – This controls the amount of light coming into the lens. A large aperture setting means more light is coming in, producing a brighter image and a more obvious soft out-of-focus background effect and a shallow depth of field. Whereas, a smaller aperture setting results in a darker but sharper image.
  • ISO – This is the sensitivity of the sensor towards the light. High ISO means more light is detected, producing a brighter image but with more noise (visual distortion). Less light is detected with a low ISO setting, producing a darker image with less noise.

It’ll take a fair bit of experimentation to get the hang of how the aspects of the exposure triangle work together to produce a certain effect. If you want to see it in action, check out this interactive exposure triangle, where you can experiment without even having to turn your drone on!

11. Don’t forget the post-production

It can be easy to think that once you’ve captured that winning shot, your job is done. Often, however, truly memorable photographs are a result of clever post-production as well as the image’s content to make it shine.

Whether it’s cropping part of the shot out, tweaking the saturation, or colour correcting a batch of photos, what’s done after shooting is often just as important as the actual process capturing the image in the first place.

With our top tips under your belt, the only thing left to do is to go and conquer the drone photography world! Don’t forget to share your drone photos with us on Twitter and Facebook – happy flying!

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