Travel drone photography guide for beginners
Drone photography has really taken off over the past few years and it is easy to see why. Drones open up a whole new world of possibilities and opportunities to create images that were previously almost impossible to create. Drones can go where you can’t and massively increase the range of achievable photography perspectives. But even though there are many similarities between drone photography and regular photography, drone photography also brings a new set of challenges to the table. This is what we’ve learned and by applying these tips you’ll get the hang of it in no-time!
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1. Safety first
If you’ve looked into drones before you probably know that the laws on the use of drones have tightened quite a bit recently and there are countries that won’t even allow you to enter with a drone and your precious toy might get confiscated at the border or, even worse, you could get into a lot of trouble if caught with it once in the country. Always check the laws on the use of drones in a country before you go there. When a country allows you to fly drones, it still doesn’t mean that you can just fly it anywhere within that country.
Rules can vary per country, but the most common basic rules are:
Always keep your drone in line of sight
Don’t fly it higher than 120 meters above the ground
Don’t fly over groups of people
Ask consent from anyone who could be recognizable in your shot, or before flying over private property
Stay at least 5kms from airfields and don’t go into no-fly zones
Drone manufacturers like DJI have built-in no-fly zone maps in their software, but there are other apps like Drone Buddy that show you no-fly-zones and give you info about wind speed and weather too. Alternatively, you can google the UAV forecast for your location.
2. Learn to fly your drone
Now that you’ve got your drone (and hopefully some extra batteries) and know some basic rules, it is time to start flying! You’ve probably heard plenty of stories about people crashing their expensive drone and you obviously don’t want to become one of those people but don’t worry, flying a drone is really easy. When the drone is up in the air and you let go of the controls it won’t come crashing down, in fact, it will just hover in place and literally just sits there until you tell it what to do. On top of that, most drones have sensors that prevent it from crashing into things, and when the battery is getting low it will automatically return to its take-off point. Drones nowadays also come with software that streams the camera feed from your drone directly to your smartphone, so you see what your drone sees. Now, how easy is that?! Take some time to get used to the controls and use common sense when flying your drone and you’ll be alright.
3. Shoot in RAW
While you initially might not see the difference between a photo shot in JPEG and RAW format or even think that the JPEG looks better and more vibrant, shooting in RAW is crucial for post-processing your image. RAW format utilizes the full capabilities of your camera’s sensor and doesn’t compress the file, meaning that it contains all the details your camera could possibly capture. This gives you so much more range when editing the picture, allowing you to create higher quality images.
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4. Get creative
The best way to learn how to take beautiful drone photos is to just go out, start shooting and use what you have around you. Try shooting during different times of the day like sunrise or golden hour just after sunset and play with light and shadows. Often even a rainy day can result in amazing moody shots. Get the drone up just after rainfall and make use of the fog and gloomy skies. You don’t always need epic sceneries for a good picture, get creative, try different things and the outcome will surprise you.
5. Look for symmetry, patterns, and lines
One of the coolest things about drones is that they allow you to see things that aren’t visible from the ground. Take advantage of this and look at otherwise ordinary scenes from a bird’s eye view to discover lines, patterns, and contrast that make your shot look unique. Point the camera of your drone straight down and capture symmetry and perpendicular lines for interesting compositions.
6. Don’t go too high
The first thing I did when I got my drone is taking it straight up as high as it could go. While it is tempting to do so and definitely fun to try a few times, it doesn’t make for great drone shots. Often the best drone photos are taken relatively low to the ground as this allows you to see the flow of the landscape. It shows depth, size, and shape in a way that you won’t be able to see from up high, as those details will be lost from greater heights.
I find that I can usually capture the features of the landscape best from between 20-30 meters high. Look at the below images that are both taken of the same scene but at different heights. Notice how the picture on the right is taken from a lower height, showing much more depth and making the picture more interesting because of it.
7. Composition tips
Another way to improve the look and feel of your image is to follow these composition guidelines
Rule of thirds: The rule of thirds suggests dividing your image into thirds by laying a grid over your image (2 vertical lines and 2 horizontal lines) and placing your leading subject on one of those lines. This directs the eye of the viewer to the main point of interest in the picture. Most drones have an option to overlay a 3x3 grid onto your frame, making it easier to utilize this rule.
Leading lines: The leading lines guideline is built on the idea of using strong lines in the frame to enhance your composition. These lines can be anything, for example; roads, waves, building, rivers, cliffs or even sunrays. Using these distinctive lines can create depth and perspective, create a visual journey from one part of the image to another, or draw the viewer’s attention to a subject by place it at the end of a leading line.
Triangles: Triangles are everywhere, and without even realising it you’ll find them in almost every picture. Using these triangles is a great tool to improve your composition. By triangles, I don’t necessarily mean literal triangles with lines connecting the points, but more three individual subjects in the picture that, by drawing imaginary lines between them, form a triangle. Or by following lines in the landscape that create a pattern in the form of a triangle. Leading lines can be part of a triangle and just like the rule of thirds, triangles can be used to lead the viewer’s eye to points of interest in the picture.
8. High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB)
Unless you’ve bought yourself a top of the line mega-expensive drone, your drone’s camera will have a small sensor so also a rather limited dynamic range. In photography, the dynamic range is the difference between the lightest and the darkest tones that your camera can capture, and a low dynamic range often results in an image either being under- or overexposed.
Fortunately, there is a solution for the lack of dynamic range in drone cameras called exposure bracketing. Exposure bracketing is taking multiple shots of the same scene with different exposures, some being underexposed and others being overexposed so you can capture a much larger dynamic range. You then take those images and blend them together into one image with editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop.
To make things easier, most drones have installed software that helps you do this. Check if your drone has the HDR (High Dynamic Range) function. The HDR function takes 3 shots with different exposure settings and automatically blends them together into one image with all the dynamic range of those 3 images combined. If your drone has the HDR function, it will most likely also have the AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) function. The AEB function takes 3-5 shots with different exposures but doesn’t blend them together and saves them as individual images. This gives you more control over how the images are blended when you combine them in post-production, allowing you to decide how the final image looks instead of having the HDR software decide that for you.
9. Make use of your drone’s intelligent flight modes
Our drone of choice is the DJI Mavic Air, and just as many other drones it comes with a lot of different intelligent flight modes that can help you get creative.
When it comes purely to photography the most useful ones are Tripod and Panorama.
Tripod mode reduces the flight speed and the control sensitivity of the drone so you can position it more accurately. On top of that, it increases hover stability to give you a more stable shot. Tripod mode is perfect for when you’re flying the drone in tight spaces or for longer exposures.
Panorama mode gives you 4 different options to capture panoramas. The drone creates panoramas by panning or rotating the gimbal, taking multiple shots and stitching them together.
32 MP 360° Sphere Panorama - The drone takes 25 pictures for a full 360° panorama. The cool thing about this feature is that you can move the image around on your smartphone or pc, and by zooming out you can view your panorama as a planet with the whole image captured.
180° Panorama - The drone takes 21 pictures in half a circle to create a 180° panorama.
Horizontal Panorama - The drone takes nine pictures horizontally. This option is great for showing wider landscapes.
Vertical Panorama - The drone takes 3 images by rotating the gimbal down. This option is great if you want to take a high-res image of a bigger subject because you don’t have to move further away and crop the image in post-production.
If you also like to create video content with your drone, which is what drones excel at, then there are many more awesome options. Have a look at them as they can help you create beautiful content. My favorite one is Asteroid, which is one of the Quickshot modes. Here the drone flies up while taking a video with the gimbal pointed at the subject. Ones the drone hits it’s chosen max altitude it will take a 360° Sphere Panorama and stitches it into a little planet. Then it plays the video in reverse, starting with the planet and then making it look like the drone drops towards the subject like an asteroid.
10. Use ND filters
One of the biggest limitations when it comes to drone photography is that the lenses on drones usually have a fixed aperture which generally sits at f/2.8. This means that when you shoot during the day, your shots will often be overexposed. So when you want to shoot longer exposures, you’re gonna need a way to bring your f-stop down. This is where neutral density (ND) filters come in. ND filters reduce the amount of light that comes in, allowing you to slow down the shutter speed without risking overexposure.
You can also get polarizing filters for your drone. Polarizing filters help you get rid of glare and harsh reflections, and they make the sky appear a deeper, richer blue.
Have a look at these filters from PolarPro. This pack contains 3 ND filters, and 3 ND + polarizing filters combined, giving you plenty of options to work with and get the most out of your shots.
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All the above might seem like a lot to learn, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with photography yet, but don’t let it overwhelm you. While the list of possibilities goes on and on, the learning curve isn’t steep and it just comes down to practice. We suggest going through the steps and options one by one, and before you know it you’re creating incredible images with your drone!
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