Flying a drone can give you an amazing sense of freedom. As long as you are in a zone where you’re allowed to fly, you pretty much have the power to take photographs and video from almost any angle. But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and it can actually become more difficult to create meaningful images with fewer constraints.
With this in mind, Mike Smith has some great tips on how to get better results from your drone when shooting still images.
As always, planning is everything. And especially with drone photography because drones generally have a limited battery life so you want to make the most of it. Mike recommends scouting out a location first or using software like Google Earth or Maps to find interesting locations from above. Google Earth is almost like a virtual drone so you can really plan everything out carefully in advance and decide what angles you want.
Another great resource is Photo Pills. In the planning tab, you can select ‘drone’ and it will give you the view that you would expect from above.
Finding a subject:
Similar in any kind of landscape photography, it can be easy to get swept away with photographing huge vistas that don’t have any focal point of interest for the viewer. If something looks as though it’s missing, it probably is. That’s when you need to find a subject. A boat or car, a person, a pier or other structure can all add that missing element and take your photo to the next level. This makes the image relatable, gives it purpose, and makes it intentional rather than a happy accident.
Again this is applicable to all kinds of photography, not just drones. You need to be patient and wait for the good light. Again, planning is key here so that you can be in the right place at the right time for the best light. In the middle of the day when the sun is overhead, it will give images a very flat appearance. Waiting for the sun to be lower in the sky (towards the start and end of the day) will give you more side lighting which is usually preferable.
With a drone you have lots of options: from straight down in a bird’s eye view to parallel to the ground, and of course all of the angles in between. Some types of drones can even look up slightly as well. You want to take advantage of this, and shoot your subject from lots of different vantage points. Shooting on a regular basis is the best way to discover what works and what doesn’t.
Top-down shots (a typical birds-eye view) work especially well if you’re looking for patterns and textures, and geometric compositions. Again adding a person to the shot can help add scale.
Find a good vantage point:
Make sure you’re not too far away from your subject. Otherwise, you will waste valuable battery power getting your drone closer to the subject and then back to you again. Mike suggests looking for the highest point possible to launch from because most places have a height restriction above ground that you can fly from.
Try to shoot in Pro mode so that you have greater control over your settings. Many drone cameras allow you to shoot in RAW these days, which gives you more flexibility in post-production. The other feature well worth using is bracketing to balance the sky with the ground.
Image stacking can help reduce noise due to the drone’s sensor being smaller than most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras. Basically, you want to take around 10 shots the same and then stack them as layers in post taking an average of them all. You can also use this technique to create a fake long exposure look which is very difficult to do with a drone. This is also a great thing to try if the light is beginning to drop and the camera is pushing up the ISO.
These are some great tips to take your drone photography further, and I’m very keen to try my hand at flying soon. Hopefully without too many crashes!
Do you have any tips for better drone photography?