If you recently got a drone and are looking to get into aerial photography, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of factors that go into capturing a great photo, like camera settings, lighting conditions, editing, and more. And these days, more and more people are getting into drone photography without having a solid understanding of photography in general, which can make the jump into the hobby all the more daunting.
To help make the learning curve a little bit less steep, we created a list of 12 tips that will help you learn how to take better drone photos. Follow along, and in no time you will be taking incredible photos from the sky.
1. Shoot In The RAW Format
Always shoot your aerial photos in the RAW format. RAW photos (.DNG files) contain all of the raw visual data captured by the camera. This data can be better extracted during the editing process (see #11), and there will be more flexibility in terms of processing the photo to achieve the desired look. RAW photos look somewhat dull right out of the camera, but this is normal; the photo is full of visual information that can be modified later.
Shooting in the JPEG format yields a photo that often looks superior right out of the camera, but this is because the camera processes the image immediately to reduce the file size, meaning the valuable visual data that characterizes RAW photos is lost. Furthermore, when a JPEG is edited, it loses quality; this is not the case with RAW photos. When edited effectively, photos shot in the RAW format will always look better than their JPEG counterparts.
Shooting in the RAW format is a key part of the drone photography process if you hope to capture truly stunning photos.
2. Get Familiar With Your Drone’s Camera Settings
The better you understand the settings and modes on your drone’s camera, the better your shots will be. When you understand the different settings you have at your disposal and how to use them effectively, you will be able to capture more compelling stills.
More importantly, understand how the different settings like shutter speed, ISO, and aperture affect the photo. Many higher-end consumer drones also have a variety of intelligent photo modes that can help you take better photos. Take some time to peruse and learn about your drone’s camera settings and shooting modes. Knowing more about the capabilities of your drone’s camera will open up more possibilities to capture amazing aerial stills.
3. Use Gridlines To Help Compose Your Shots
If your drone camera has an option to display gridlines, enable it. Gridlines make it easy to compose the perfect shot. For instance, they allow you to quickly determine whether or not the camera is perfectly level with the horizon if you are capturing a landscape scene.
using Gridlines also aid in photo composition, namely if you are the classic rule of thirds. If you are new to photography, according to the rule of thirds, the best spot to place the focal point of a scene is at one of the four gridline intersections. When this feature is enabled, it allows you to more easily compose your shot according to this best practice.
4. Plan Your Shots
Spontaneity is never a bad thing when it comes to drone photography, but whenever possible, plan out your shots ahead of time. Use Google Earth to scope out the area that you want to shoot. The satellite view provided will help you get a better sense of the area’s layout and topography which can help you get a better shot.
Google Earth is an invaluable resource when it comes to planning your aerial shots. With the help of a bit of satellite imagery, you can know exactly what your shot will consist of before you get there. This is even more important with drone photography given the fact that drones only have a limited flight time; the last thing you want to do when you get to the shooting location is fly around burning through battery time as you try to plan your shot last minute.
In addition to helping you plan your shot, Google Earth is a great way to discover new locations to shoot.
5. Have A Subject (Or Something Interesting To Photograph)
When it comes to taking great drone photos, half the battle is finding a good subject. A subject is an object (or person) primarily being captured. You can have the best drone and editing software, but it will all be for naught without a subject that viewers find interesting.
There are certain situations where it is okay not to have a subject per se (see #12), but it is usually a good idea to include a subject in your drone photos whether it is a boat, a specific building, a winding mountain road, a bridge, etc. In other words, try to include a specific object that the viewer should focus on.
If there is no subject, ensure that what you are photographing is interesting (patterns, symmetry, etc.). Give the viewer a unique image to visually process.
6. Consider The Lighting
In photography, lighting is key, and drone photography is no different. Lighting can make or break a photo.
In general, the best time to take drone photos is during the golden hour. Golden hour is the period of time just after sunrise and just before sunset. During this time, the lighting is more conducive to capturing breathtaking photos because the lighting is softer, and it creates more contrast.
Taking a great aerial photo in midday when the sunlight is most intense is not impossible, but it can prove challenging. Simply put, intense sunlight is harsh on the subject in the photo. Overcast conditions are also optimal for drone photography because, in these conditions, the sunlight is less intense.
7. Take Exposure Bracketed Photos
If your drone has an option to take exposure bracketed photos, consider doing so in tricky lighting situations. When you use this feature, the camera will take several shots of the same scene at different exposure values, and you can later merge these photos together to create a photo with a higher dynamic range (an HDR photo). Simply put, this mode will allow you to capture the best elements of each exposure value.
Even if you opt to not merge your photos into an HDR photo, shooting in this mode will give you a variety of photos taken at different exposures to choose from.
8. Understand That Not All Photos Need To Be Taken From Very High Up
Obviously one of the hallmark qualities of drone photos is that they are often taken from high altitudes that better capture the subject. While higher altitude photos are what separate drone photography from the rest of the photography world, there are certain situations where a more modest approach can yield a better result.
Remember, a drone is merely a camera that can be moved virtually anywhere in a three-dimensional space. Sometimes, the perfect shot might be only a few feet above head level or a few feet away from you (for instance, if you are standing on the side of a cliff). In certain situations, a harsh angle can make a photo look strange and distorted.
9. Take A Lot Of Photos
Whenever you put your drone in the air to capture some awesome aerial stills, take a lot of photos, and experiment with different angles and camera settings to ensure that you get a great shot. All of those perfect drone photos you see on social media? You can bet that the photographer took multiple shots of the scene to get it just right.
This is particularly important if you are shooting at a unique location that you might never see again. It is better to take a little bit longer at the location and have a sufficient number of photos to work with later than risk having too few photos and missing the perfect shot.
10. Experiment With Different Styles
Do not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and attempt a unique style of drone photography. Go for that long exposure, panoramic, or high-speed panning shot that you have been considering. You might be surprised at how quickly you can become proficient with different techniques.
11. Edit Your Photos
Editing is a critical step in the process of creating an amazing drone photo. Like we discussed earlier (see #1), RAW photos capture a lot of visual data that must be manipulated to create the desired end result. Get a quality photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom and spend some time thoroughly editing your drone photos. Editing is a critical step in the process of creating great drone photos.
12. Be Okay With Breaking The “Rules” Of Photography
Throughout this guide, we have discussed a few “rules” of photography that drone photographers should often live by. These rules have become accepted as the overall best practices in the world of photography.
But the fact of the matter is that these rules can be broken in the name of creativity. Think of these rules as a general guide from which you can deviate in order to capture something that is unique. Drone photography is an art form, and like all art, the most important ingredient in the creative process is just that: creativity. So, make your drone photos your own, and be okay with bending the “rules” to capture something amazing. Who knows, you might just start a trend!
If you are just a beginner getting into aerial photography, the Mavic Air 2 is hands down the best drone for you. It is arguably the best drone on the market in terms of value, and it is the best overall package for those that are just getting their feet wet with drone photography. If you are on a tighter budget, the Mavic Mini is another great choice.
If you heed the advice from this guide, you will be well on your way to becoming a great drone photographer. The sky is the limit, so now get out there and capture something amazing.