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When I bought my drone, it took me several attempts to learn how to take good aerial photos.
A while ago I shared a short article with some useful tips to improve your drone photography, you can find it here: Quick tips to dramatically improve your drone photography
Now I want to take it a step further and after some research and more practice I put together these 21 Tips to improve your Epic Aerial Photography
You might also be interested in my guide on How to start a drone photography business
Taking Drone pictures nowadays has become much more accessible.
If you’re into photography and you want to explore new possibilities you have a wide range of aircrafts to choose from.
Whether you are planning to begin your journey in drone photography or you already have a drone, these are my 21 tips on how to improve your aerial photography:
If you’ve read my article Rules of composition in landscape photography you know that one of the most important things in photography is to create the best composition as possible and give depth to your image. Representing a three dimensional scene into a two dimensional medium is hard. With drones as well as with cameras you need to aim at creating that sense of depth that will dramatically improve your captures. An example could be the use of shadow. From above, if shooting in the early morning hours or late evening, shadows will be longer and your photographs will look much more interesting.
Shoot in portrait orientation
Wait what? Shooting what basically is a landscape photo in portrait orientation? Yes, why not? I would say, use both orientation modes. If your drone allows you to do so, portrait mode will be the format you use to share on Instagram. I know, we don’t take photos just with the intent of sharing them on Instagram. But hey! Taking some extra shots is free! And maybe by sharing your epic captures on social media you’ll inspire others to do the same! 😉
Get the right drone for your needs
This is an important point. If you want to shoot amazing aerial photos with your drone, you need to choose the right model for you. If you don’t need to print or sell your photo, I recommend you to try and get a small drone from DJI, spend less money, but get the best possible aircraft for your needs. Portability is my first rule for when I need to buy new gear. I love to travel and to me small gear means saving a lot of hassle and money at the airport and during an hiking etc. Read here my list of best drones to buy What is the best drone for photography?
Always use low ISO for your drone pictures
Keeping your ISO at the lowest possible value will give you (or it should at least) the sharpest results. ISO measures the sensitivity of the sensor. High ISO means high sensitivity of your sensor hence, the image will be brighter and vice versa. High ISO also means more likely to get grain on your final image. The so called noise. This is a simplistic explanation of ISO, but this is not the point. What I want to be clear on is that professional landscape photographers always advocate for low ISO values, when it’s possible. There’s no need to have high ISO if your shooting outdoor at midday!
An aerial view, can give you a glimpse of something otherwise inaccessible to your eyes. Beautiful compositions can be found anywhere from above and seeking symmetry is one of those tricks that will enhance your drone shots making them immediately more interesting.
Take a drone selfie
Lay down on the grass or sand, at the beach or choose the environment you prefer. A picture from above is the ultimate way of taking selfies.
A water backdrop is always a good idea
Great aerial photography is made by stunning views and wonderful dreamy sceneries. A blue backdrop will always work wonders on the viewer’s eyes. Crystal clear water, with surfers, or with yourself swimming will make the main subject colors pop and the image will be much more pleasant and entertaining.
Drones offer unique angles and perspectives, you have immense creative possibilities and if you train your eye enough you’ll start recognizing repetitive patterns and shapes that will blow away your mind. In real life repetition is not interesting, but in photography and above all (pun intended) aerial photography, creating interesting images requires exploration of new shapes and emphasizing patterns. This will give the impression of a large number or a large size, improving your image.
Same as in painting, photography can be abstract. Seek for abstract lines with your drone camera. With my Mavic Pro I always look for triangles, curvy shapes, roads, tree lines, something to be framed in a weird way. When you want to play with abstract lines, frame your image in as many way as you think and just shoot. It’s free! Experiment and be amazed by the results!
The horizon line
When we think of an aerial photo, we imagine a top to bottom view. But that doesn’t need to always be the case. The horizon can be very interesting from high up! You can really create breathtaking views by simply go as high as you can with your drone (careful not to exceed the limits!) and snap in the direction of the horizon. With the idea of giving depth to your images, this is probably one of the easiest and effective ways to achieve it. Drones make you reach angles otherwise impossible.
After exploring the horizon it’s time to take it one step further and take a wider shot with your drone. An aerial panorama will make for such a beautiful image! Certain Drones have the panorama feature, but you can rotate your drone and take several snaps that you can then stitch together with Photoshop and obtain a stunning panorama.
Have I said shoot RAW already? Shoot RAW! Always, no matter what. A RAW file contains much more information compared to a JPG. When you shoot in JPG your camera throws away a lot of data and processes your image, doing automatic calculations to render the best possible image with those light conditions. In RAW all the possible data that the camera can capture is retained and you have access to a lot more colors and contrast when you’ll download your photo to your computer. This means you’ll have more control in post processing.
Post Process your aerial photos
As I said in the previous point, by shooting RAW you can then make edits that would be impossible with a JPG file, since a lot of data in your file has been thrown away by your camera. That’s the price to pay for a smaller file that you can immediately use. But we are talking about how to step up your drone photography so, take your images further with some post processing. I’m not saying that you need to completely change the look of your images or add/remove objects, that would be closer to a pure visual artwork. In digital photography and so, in drone photography as well, retouching your images on your computer is more than normal. It’s the equivalent of editing photos in a darkroom as it happened in the old days of film photos. Editing will give you the possibility of fully express yourself through your photos. I highly recommend reading my article How to edit photos in Lightroom
Don’t forget extra batteries
Drones have a limited flying time of max 30 minutes depending on the model. Having an extra battery (or two) will allow you to explore more, and take those extra photos that can make the difference between a bad and a good shooting day. Find drone batteries on Amazon.
Use these filters on your drone
Use filters on your drone camera. Filters will allow you to achieve a cinematic look. A ND filter will stop some light from reaching your sensor and decrease your shutter speed. ND filters are very useful in bright light conditions. You can also use a polarizer filter, to remove glare on water or metallic surfaces. A polarizer will also increase contrast to blue skies. Find drone filters on Amazon.
Play with Shadows
Long shadows happen in the early hours of the day or before sunset. Pay a lot of attention to light, because it’s one of the most important aspects of photography. The sun at certain hours of the day, creates longer shadows and you can take advantage of it to create more interesting compositions and they also add depth to the scene. Shadows you can help you tell a whole story.
Add some action in your drone shots
Capturing sport or some impressive action from an above point of view is really rewarding. Whether you are playing soccer with friends or running, experiment this type of composition and you’ll obtain really compelling images.
Seek out roads and paths
I always use roads in my landscape photography to take advantage of the leading lines and guide the viewer through the image. In aerial photography you can capture roads from a whole new perspective and convey a sense of movement and dynamism with your photograph.
Learn how to fly your drone
Alright, this should be the first thing. I don’t mean learn how to take off and land. I’m saying that you should really learn all about your drone. Read the whole manual, research online, discover all the secret possibilities and functionalities your drone has. These little flying cameras are sophisticated pieces of technology and in their softwares they conceal hundreds of functionalities and settings that you need to master and customize to get the very best out of it. Make sure you check the drone before flying. Be like a real pilot and do all the pre-flight checks.
Know the laws
I live in Sydney, Australia and I know exactly where I can and cannot fly my drone. I know exactly what is the maximum altitude I can reach and the limitations I have. Every Country or City can have different rules. Do not break them. It’s not worth it trust me. First of all you can cause harm to yourself and other people, drones can disturb animals and it should be prohibited in National Parks (it is here in New South Wales).
I use the official app released by the Australian Government. It tells you where you can fly and the rules for that area, it’s for Australia only and you can find it at this link
You can find other useful apps and resources if you live outside Australia by searching on Google, but I found this list of apps posted on DroneLife. It’s good list and you can find it here: Where can I fly my drone apps
Practice, practice, practice
Please don’t think that this point is of little importance. When I started flying my drone, I loved every single photos I took. Everything was new, new way of shooting, much more fun, very rewarding when you don’t crash your aircraft haha.
But the more I trained my eye, by also looking at other drone photographer’s work, the more I realized that I needed to experiment more. It takes hours of flight and exploration to master your craft and perfect your art.
If you got to the last point of this article it’s because you really have passion and want to improve the quality of your drone images. Trust me, this is the most important point. Buying the best drone is not enough.
Fly more, shoot more!
As always, thank you so much for reading this article. Researching and putting together these guides and shooting all the images takes several hours.
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Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.