Drones are taking photography to a whole new level, and you need to keep up! Because of the dynamic nature of drone photography, quality photos are not merely about beautiful or compelling subjects anymore.
There are way more things to keep in mind and techniques to master than when you were tinkering with an ordinary camera. Regardless of whether you have a team working for you or are working alone, you have a large set of new tools and skills to grasp to excel in drone photography.
We put this guide together to equip you with the fundamental learnings of the trade. Bookmark this, and feel free to take a glimpse every now and then until you have fully mastered drone photography like a pro.
- 1. Find people who share your interest in drone photography.
- 2. Start by shooting in RAW.
- 3. Go pro with GoPro.
- 3. Choose an aspect ratio that works for you, and stick to it.
- 4. Work your way around lens distortion.
- 5. Know when to shoot in manual and in auto.
- 6. Protect your gear from the elements.
- 7. Shoot at the right ISO level.
- 8. Focus on lighting.
- 9. Mind the shaking.
- 10. Say no to prop shadow.
Although there are times when you would most likely prefer learning about techniques on your own, you will still find it useful and helpful to join communities of drone photographers. You can learn a lot from these people, ranging from the basics to techniques, advice, and even troubleshooting!
It does not necessarily have to be an exclusive or super elite drone photography group. You can begin by joining Facebook groups of drone photographers from around you or those with the same interests (for example, landscape, weddings, animals, and more).
Ultimately, the “best” community is one where you feel the most comfortable sharing learnings with. This is the community where the members do not hesitate to ask questions and give friendly advice when needed.
2. Start by shooting in RAW.
Many professional photographers swear by the power of shooting in RAW format. In case you are hearing this for the first time, take note that when you shoot in RAW file format, you are capturing all the data obtained by the sensor. This is immensely better than, say, shooting in JPEG, where image data are compressed and a lot of them get lost.
Moreover, when you shoot in RAW, you have more flexible when editing or correcting the final image. For example, exposure and color are easier and more precisely altered when working with a RAW image than with other file types.
RAW is even advised to be your format all the time when using a drone, which commonly has a low resolution. By using any other file format, you are not helping the final image at all.
3. Go pro with GoPro.
Forgive the pun. Kidding aside, though, many professional photographers use GoPro cameras because they are designed for use nearly anywhere. More importantly, they yield the best images if only you know how to bring out their full potential.
It takes hundreds of hours of study and practice, but if you are really driven toward mastering drone photography, you should have no problem at all. Once you get the hang of your GoPro, you can start playing around with such factors as color correction.
There are many applications you can use for this, and it helps if you know your GoPro’s settings. For example, you may want to experiment with white balance first as GoPro images and videos look warmer than those of other cameras. Then, you can tinker with the midtones, contrast, and color saturation.
If you notice, these are very basic settings that you encounter in all cameras and can modify even with basic software. If you are going for a special effect, you can always use filters or LUTs.
3. Choose an aspect ratio that works for you, and stick to it.
There is an ongoing debate about which format works best, and even the pros are divided on this. Some love the 16:9 ratio because it is what works best in production. Some prefer to go for 4:3. However, the most commonly used aspect ratio is 3:2.
If you have time, shoot a subject in different formats to see what works best. This is important especially if you work with different subjects (for example, landscape, animals, people, etc.). At the end of the day, it is about which ratio gives your subject justice and of course, what fits in with the rest of your portfolio.
4. Work your way around lens distortion.
The lens curvature of many cameras, such as GoPros, can affect the way your image looks. Most of these cameras have that so-called “fish eye” effect. You have to know how to fix that because it does not work for all subjects all the time.
Thank your lucky stars that numerous photo editing software have features that address just that. When fixing lens distortion, finish your other editing tasks first, such as color corrections, to avoid extended rendering times.
If done correctly, your photo should show no trace at all of the fish eye effect or any other product of lens distortion. If you compare the before and after shots, you will notice that the one without distortion looks way more professional than the before shot. It is one simple trick that does a lot for your picture.
5. Know when to shoot in manual and in auto.
Shooting in auto is frowned upon by many, but it does come with its own advantages. However, it still can’t be denied that shooting in manual gives you maximum flexibility over your final product. It lets you tinker with every little setting until you achieve the best shot.
Manual is especially helpful when you need to work with different shutter speeds and ISO levels. A normal camera will tell you if your photo is over- or underexposed. Unfortunately, not all drones have this feature. You can work your way around this limitation in two ways: histograms or shooting first in auto, then in manual, and comparing the two (provided you have the time, of course).
6. Protect your gear from the elements.
You may sometimes find yourself shooting in exceptionally cold or hot weather, and such extremes can damage your equipment. When shooting in freezing areas, you definitely want to keep your drone and batteries in an insulated container or backpack. Surround them with bottles filled with warm water, hand warmers, and the like. You may want to wrap them in thick wool as well.
Otherwise, the cold will drain your batteries. If that is not enough to scare you, we do not know what is. Do not forget this technique, especially if you have an upcoming project in areas with negative temperatures, such as winter sports.
7. Shoot at the right ISO level.
Many professional drone photographers advise newcomers to shoot at the lowest available ISO setting on their cameras. In the Phantom 3, for example, the lowest ISO level is 100. Shooting at very low ISO means you get to significantly reduce the noise in your photos.
It is not black and white, of course. You have to keep shake in mind when shooting at night. For example, if you need longer than 3 secs of exposure, you have to increase the ISO a bit so you manage to stay within your preferred exposure range.
8. Focus on lighting.
A lot of photographers think that they can shoot anytime of the day and make up for the natural light’s shortcomings using their editing software later on. You can edit, but nothing beats shooting at the best time of day.
The natural light has a big influence on the photo quality and temperature. For example, light at high noon tends to be very harsh, and no amount of editing can really perfectly polish that. Time of day is not the only thing you need to look at. Mind the position of the sun as you shoot, and do not fly into it.
9. Mind the shaking.
Drones fly where the wind tends to be a lot stronger most of the time. Since you cannot command the wind to stop while you are shooting, it is best to just work around it. The higher you fly, the windier it can possibly get, and the more adjustments you have to do.
3 sec is what many drone photographers think is the maximum shutter speed. However, that can still change depending on the weather. Unless you do want a shaky shot for a certain effect, mind the wind and your shutter speed.
10. Say no to prop shadow.
If you are expecting to see some sort of advice on which software to use to “remove” prop shadow from your shots, we apologize, but you are terribly mistaken. You cannot remove prop shadow once it is there. You can only prevent it. How? As we have mentioned a few times, do not fly into the sun and choose when to shoot.
Conclusion: These are just some of the most important tips and tricks for mastering drone photography like a pro. We hope you enjoyed reading this guide as much as we enjoyed writing it. If you happen to have ideas that you feel are worth sharing, let us know! Finally, do not forget to share this article with your fellow drone photography aficionados.