If you want to capture great aerial images, the kind of stuff you can hang on the wall, first you need to be a pretty good pilot. Second, it is important that you know how to get the best out of your drone’s camera. Being able to understand all aspects of drone photography ensures you can take control of the technology early on, allowing you to capture that perfect shot.

So the question is then…. how can you achieve all of this?

For the majority of amateur pilots out there, this is not as hard as it seems.

For starters, one should really know a thing or two about Camera Settings, Flying Techniques, Location Scouting, and more! We will go over these aspects in a short while, but to start things off we introduce to you a simple idea (that if implemented correctly) could change your aerial photography forever.

Step 1 – The Golden Rule

When it comes to taking great aerial footage, you should always remember this simple rule…

The Golden Rule

Reduce Human Error

For the first year or so of flying you are going to be frustrated by the level of control you have with your camera. Quite simply, it is going to be difficult to hold your frame and compose a nice shot.

Unfortunately this will almost always be due to human error.

Either your gear isn’t set up correctly or you haven’t thought out the shot properly, and now your footage is suffering as a result. Maybe you’re fighting against available light, or perhaps you’ve accidentaly moved the camera when you shouldn’t have. If you find yourself fighting against the drone or struggling to get your frame, you are not alone. In order to create the optimal conditions for capturing great footage, you want to remove any chance of these things happening – ever again!

How to Reduce Human Error

Being a better pilot does help, but this can only come about with lots of practice. In the mean time you can always fly effectively, regardless of your skill level. There are a few ways to do this but really it comes down to flying smarter. Take higher quality aerial photography and ultimately make your life easier, using these simple tips.

Slow down!

By slowing your actions down you will reduce unwanted vibration in the shot and your footage will look smoother and more professional. This is especially useful when you’re still learning and don’t have the best control over your drone. Remember to focus all your efforts on keeping your frame steady. Instead of trying to do too much at once it’s better to take your time and perform simple manoeuvres, your footage will see a dramatic improvement as a result.

Note: A good rule of thumb is to use one drone movement and one camera movement at a time.

Avoid unnecessary panning

You see this problem with newbie drone pilots all the time. Often you will have a shot framed perfectly and the video is looking great, then all of a sudden the camera moves off to the left or right. Oh great, now the whole shot is spoiled. The frame is lost and the footage now looks clumsy and unplanned. A much better alternative would have been to leave the drone’s camera where it was and keep rolling.

GPS waypoints rock!

A simple way to get professional quality video is through the use of GPS waypoints. By letting the drone fly itself from point to point all you have to do now is operate the camera. This way you gain greater control of the aircraft and will obtain an even better picture as a result. Waypoints are also great for repeating shots. Just hit start and the drone will do the rest.

Tip: Not only can you have waypoints horizontally separated you can also have them above one another too!

Use a dual controller (if you can)

On a professional production a dual controller setup is almost always a guarantee. This involves a cameraman performing all camera movements on one controller, and the pilot operating the drone with the second. If you want to do complex camera movements then this is the preferred setup. It may take a little practice to share your duties with another person, but once a good workflow is established your footage will benefit greatly.

Fly during good weather

It makes sense to shoot in fine conditions from a safety point of view but it also helps with image quality too! This is because the bright sunlight will give you a better chance to get your images properly exposed, creating a clear and sharp image. This helps a great deal if you are using some of the smaller drone cameras that don’t work very well in low light. Websites like the Bureau of Meteorology are very useful for accurate weather forecasts.

Construct your shot ahead of time

If you setup your shot before take-off it will be easier to compose good images and video. Instead of panning to keep a subject in frame, or moving the camera because you’ve just found something of interest, a much better solution is to plan your flight path beforehand. You should always know what type of camera movement you need, how far away to keep from the subject, when to start the movement, or even how fast to fly.

Step 2) Use correct camera settings

As mentioned before, being in complete control of the drone and its camera is a crucial element to producing quality aerial photography. Gain even more familiarity with your camera drone, including DJI Phantom and Inspire Drones, by following these guidelines.

What settings are best?

In order to take sharp images your camera needs to be properly exposed. This means the amount of light that falls on the camera sensor should be just right – not too dark or too bright. To complete this successfully all your camera settings should be spot on.

Automatic vs. Manual Mode?

There are benefits for shooting in manual mode, but for most people there just isn’t enough fine control on an LCD screen to be useful. Therefore it’s best to shoot in automatic mode when starting out. First get the hang of flying and framing good shots, then you can try out manual settings later.

Drone-Long-Exposure

Long exposures during the night time make for some really cool effects.

When you start experimenting with long exposures or other artistic effects, then there really are no rules – the best settings vary depending on the situation. However to make things easier we can use typical settings as a good starting point, and then diverge from there.

 

If you would like a quick run-down of typical camera settings you can find them here.

Shoot in RAW

RAW format is an uncompressed file type which stores all the possible information an image can capture. This makes the files large in size, but it allows you to perform any changes you want in Post. Be aware shooting in jpeg will severely limit what you can do with the image afterwards.

Make use of automatic bracketing

Instead of shooting one image and hoping all your settings are correct, why not take a few and choose the best photo of the lot! Bracketing allows you to do this by taking multiple exposures on either side of your default camera setting. This way you are bound to end up with one shot that is correctly exposed.

A common error in photography is overexposure of the sky or reflective surfaces that give off too much light. Bracketing solves this issue, as you can use the higher exposure for the ground and a lighter exposure for the sky. Simply join these together in Post and you end up with a great exposure! 

Note: Manual mode is great for panoramas, as all images will have the same settings.

Step 3) Learn photography principles and theory

After you become a competent pilot and understand the basics of photography, there are a few ways to take your drone footage to the next level. Once you move beyond the technology and can really start to look at the artistic side of photography, that’s where we really want to be.

Composition

Composition in photography and film-making, describes how all the visual elements of the artwork come together to create the whole. It’s literal meaning is ‘putting together’, which covers many things like arrangement, form, and visual ordering. Learning these principles and how to apply them will go a long way in helping you to improve your photography, take interesting images, and ultimately better engage the viewer.

 

Having a good understanding of composition and its proven techniques will allow you to become a better photographer overall.

Applying simple techniques like the Rule of Thirds or Leading Lines, increases your ability to take great images. Sometimes good pictures happen by luck, but being familiar with these concepts (and experienced enough to apply them) can mean the difference between good and great photography.

Don’t forget the importance of light…

When you look out at the world you may notice how light interacts with its surroundings. Perhaps if you look hard enough you may notice shadows influencing the landscape, or how light is reflected in some areas and not in others.

Light plays a vital role in photography – it helps to pay attention to its subtleties. 

Another intriguing aspect of light is how sunrise and sunset offer some fantastic opportunities for great shots during so called twilight hours. A wonderful quality of light is present during these times including reds and oranges, well worth experimenting with when you have the time. 

Step 4) Buy a good quality video drone

Having a camera drone gives you amazing options for incredible photography, things you can’t experience with a normal hand held camera. But sometimes image quality can struggle – especially in low light conditions where small camera sensors suffer. If you want to take nice sharp aerial images then saving up to buy a good quality drone will make a big difference.

Step 5) Find amazing locations to shoot

If you’re the outdoors type, or you like to explore, then finding interesting locations is easy. The first point of call is to use your local knowledge and visit places of interest in your area. Parks, beaches, and natural landmarks are all great options to start with, as you never know your luck. Once you’ve exhausted all the places in your hometown the next step is to take a look at Google Earth (Free Download). By looking at these satellite images, with resolutions as close as 100m above sea level, you can find some really nice locations on your own.

Tip: In Google Earth there many images people have already uploaded and overlayed on the map. If you find a spot you like you can travel there yourself and try photographing it from the sky!

And finally:

The last step that you simply cannot go without…

Step 6) Nail your Post Processing

Once you’ve gone to the trouble of selecting the right gear, scouting the location, made sure all your camera settings are all correct, and then finally composed a wonderful image – you cannot stop here! There is one absolutely critical part of the photography process that cannot be missed, and that is Post Processing.

Before

After

Modern day software is so powerful, it brings out features in your images that would otherwise remain unseen. By smoothing out contrast issues or refining white balance, these sorts of things can really make your images pop and stand out from the crowd. Every image will require at least a little touch up so it is important that you understand the basic techniques.

How does Post Processing Help Video?

When editing video, Post Processing allows you to stabilise your shot to such a degree that it can make or break the final result. Because of this, tools like Warp Stabilization should be a staple in any drone photographer’s repertoire. Post Processing also offers the benefits of straightening horizons, removing lens distortion, improving image clarity, a greater range of colours, and also capturing the audience’s attention with the use of highlights.

In conclusion…

So we’ve gone over some important techniques that should help to improve the quality of your aerial photography by a fair bit. If you would like to learn more useful tips or other related drone news, feel free to visit the Buzz Drones blog.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article, enjoy your flying and good luck! 

Author: Joshua Carr

Intrigued in flight from a young age, Joshua completed a BE in Aerospace Engineering from Adelaide Uni & now spends his time between designing aircraft for local start-ups and as a private drone operator for Buzz Drones.


A special thanks goes to…

This article could not have been written without the extensive help and wonderful guidance of Cam Puglisi, owner and operator of Aerial Cam. As a special operator Cam has been flying aerial vehicles for quite a few years now, providing commercial drone photography and others services in Adelaide and regional SA.

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