TOP Drone Photography tips
I still remember my first flight with my DJI Phantom 1 drone around 2012. The nerves and excitement of flying this thing after spending months testing and setting the link with my GoPro. The idea that there was a possibility of it crashing into a tree or going for a swim in the bay was scary but exhilarating.
Those first flights have become a distant memory for me now. Any image I took from the air became the best image ever seen- well at least that’s what I thought.
Check out the very first images captured.. Yes horrendous! Poorly framed, unstraight horizons, bad colouring, lens distortion vom worthy list goes on..
500+ flights later and now doing this for a living, I have finally understood the art of taking a great image from the sky. Since that clumsy first flight years ago my work has won numerous competitions, taken me around the world filming for 5 star resorts and helping save millions on remote Oil and Gas rigs.
Looking back, there are 10 tips I wish I knew from the start; however, I would like to share this knowledge with you to hopefully help you become great aerial photographers!
1 – Be chilled.
There are a so many things you need to do and concentrate on when flying, mainly for safety of yourself, the drone and people around you. The last thing you want is to worry about someone asking you thousand questions or be standing in a dangerous place.
Before you launch your drone, take a few minutes to make sure you are safe, comfortable and away from public interaction. If public interaction is inevitable grab a mate or your partner to be your spotter and to help answer those annoying questions 😉
2- Golden Hour
There are NO shortcuts to any place worth going!
Get up out of bed early and make sure to take your photos during the golden hour. Also known as the magic hour, it is roughly 1hr either side of the sun setting or rising. It is truly magical, colours of the sky changes, lighting will be softer, adds dramatic long shadows.. it’s just bloody fantastic.
3- Use the Grids & Stripes
All DJI drones have great hidden settings that will help guide you to take better images. Ever noticed sometimes you get those strange grids or zebra stripes appear? They are there for a reason! Use the grids to help you compose the shots, remembering the rule of thirds or getting the perfect framing. Turn on the zebra lines so you know what areas of the image are too bright or overexposed!
4- Shoot RAW & with a Colour Profile
Look through the colour profile settings and you will see a range of colour profiles work with either “D-Log” or “D-Cinelike”. This changes the colour intensity but increases dynamic range for post-processing editing. Although the image appears washed-out and really dull, it actually gives you extra ‘information’ and maximum amount of detail when you are editing your images or video.
Also I like to shoot in RAW + JPEG. RAWs I use for editing and JPEGs if clients want to have a quick look or if I want to upload to instagram on the go!
5- Bracket your photos (AEB)
There are plenty to things to worry about when taking drone photos and the sun and glare can throw you from correctly viewing the image. But good news, DJI has an AEB button (Auto exposure bracketing) to help you make sure you get the right levels in your shot. AEB takes multiple photos sequentially and at various exposures, then you can simply choose the best one to work on or merge all of them together and create an amazing HDR image or nicely balance the light in your image.
6- Raybans for the drone-cams (ND Filters)
ND filters (neutral density filters) are a must! Since most of your drone shots will be in sunny conditions your photos/videos can easily get over exposed. ND filters absorbs the light while preserving as much colour as possible. They are basically Raybans for your drone-cams. With an ND filter, you can filter out this extra light and get your photo’s exposure level down to something usable. They come in different intensities, I would recommend an ND8 or ND16 filter.
7- Don’t Look down.. actually do!
Next time you are flying, try something different and tilt the camera directly down. Taking shots vertically facing down creates unique angles and never before seen imagery! If you choose a subject cleverly you can get really creative with lines, patterns and shadows.
Just make sure you keep your eye on the drone when flying forward!
8- Level up! – Editing software
Ever notice how you just can’t get your images to pop like the professional ones you see online? It’s not your camera or your skills, it’s a powerful image processing software. Everyone does it and you should too!
To really make your photos stand out, invest in a post-production photo-editing program like Adobe Lightroom and you will level up very quickly.
Rather than spending hours reading theory and manuals, I recommend you take a leap, use the free trial, experiment and have fun with the software. Just start from the top and play with all the slider options going down and see what happens to your image. It is an incredibly powerful software and truly amazing how you can restore a fairly average photo to something worth printing. So many times I have taken pretty bad images but thought ‘why not’ lets try it and it turns out to be spectacular!
9- Histo- wha?
The little white and grey graph thingy you see on cameras or on your DJI App screen. This is called a histogram; it basically shows you the colour or exposure distribution on your image. When experimenting with changing camera settings keep an eye on the graph. If it hits the ceiling or is all bunched up on one end you might have an unbalanced image and will be extremely difficult to recover later. Adjust your settings to keep the histogram centred.
10- Keep exploring
If your Instagram portfolio is starting to look a little bit repetitive, it is probably a good idea to stop flying in the same spot. Get your family, friends and go on a road trip or overseas! Change of scenery is very important for photographers, it will teach you to be flexible, adapt to new surrounding and keep you on your toes with camera settings.. Plus adventures with your drone are always fun.
Hope these tips were helpful!
If you are interested in a hands-on workshop training with Aaron check out our Adventure Workshops we currently run in Melbourne, Thailand, Bali and beyond!
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