Walk the electronics aisle of any superstore near you and you’ll quickly get a picture of the latest tech craze: drones. From tiny toy drones to giant, high-dollar monstrosities, you can find any type of remote controlled flying contraption to suit your fancy. Now that Amazon packages are starting to be delivered by drones, it’s safe to say these things are more than a passing fad. If you’re a photographer, this is fantastic news.
In fact, if you’re reading this you may already have a drone and are ready to take to the sky and start capturing some sprawling spectacles. Drones provide an incredible opportunity to innovate with your photography and showcase our world from wonderful new perspectives. There’s a few things to know before you fly, though. Follow this list and you’ll make your art soar and your jaw drop.
Get to Know Your Drone
Do you know how to throttle, yaw, roll and pitch? How about which flight modes are best in various conditions? Or even how you switch between each setting? Drones are fun toys on the surface, but most models are actually sophisticated flying machines. On the one hand, this means you’ve got endless possibilities for setting up jaw-dropping shots. On the other, it means you need to get familiar with all the features.
For starters, read the manual front to back and don’t be afraid to experiment with your drone. Crashes are going to happen, so don’t be afraid to try things. Drones are built for the occasional bumps. And take your battery warning seriously. Though your drone will likely have a safe landing feature built in, if you don’t want to go searching for your drone in someone’s back yard, don’t send it hundreds of yards away just as your battery warning starts to ping.
Stick to the Rule Book
Imagine a world where every person could fly a drone whenever and wherever they wanted to. Frightening, yes? That’s why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is pretty strict on limitations for drone operators. Don’t let that deter you, however. There’s plenty of resources for staying in the know before you go. Sites like KnowBeforeYouFly will prep you for every type of drone flying from commercial to casual.
If you want to sell your drone photography legally you will need a Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC). Yes, read that correctly. If you operate an aircraft, no matter how small, you’re a pilot! This is absolutely required by the FAA if you want to run a legal business that utilizes a drone. The test to receive your license is pass/fail and will teach you a ton of important information (plus some great table-talk facts). The rules are there for a reason, so stick to them and you’ll be able to fly to your heart’s content worry-free.
Weather, to put it lightly, is a little fickle. Winds can shift quickly, rain clouds can pop up in minutes, and temperatures in the air can sometimes be greatly different than the ground. All these factors can mess with your drone and quickly ruin your day. You must be prepared to improvise at all times. Follow weather alerts throughout the week leading up to your photography trip, and if you’re shooting in a new area, get familiar with the local weather patterns.
Thankfully, weather reporting these days is a lot more sophisticated than sticking your finger in the air and hoping for the best. There are services you can utilize like Sferic DroneFlight by EarthNetworks that provide the type of detailed forecasting that commercial pilots have access to. That’s your best shot at predicting the unpredictable. Wind is the factor to be most mindful of. If the wind gets above 15 mph, it’s best to stay grounded unless you’ve got a bigger, sturdier drone.
Think Like a Photographer
So you’ve finally got your drone in the air. Now what? While drones are nothing short of a magical invention for shooting breathtaking photos, the good news is all your instinctual photography techniques still apply. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just imagine that you are up there in the sky, standing behind the camera of this little bug flying above the land. Consider your lighting, your angles, shadows and shot composition just as you would with both feet on the ground.
The best pictures tell a story. Yes, there’s a boat load of cool factor in taking photos hundreds of feet in the sky, but it can easily get reduced to a gimmick. A great setting may help you find a breathtaking shot, but telling a story with each photo can turn even a drab location into an enthralling masterpiece.
Make the Most of Your Megapixels
Unless you’re spending the big bucks, the sensor on your drone’s camera will likely be around 1/ 2.3 with 12 megapixels. That’s pretty good, but isn’t exactly high end. Know that going in, and be prepared to compensate for the best quality. There’s no one set up that will work for every scenario, but there are a few general settings to get you started capturing framed-on-your-wall spectacles.
Keep your ISO low to reduce noise.
Shoot in RAW format for more post-processing versatility.
Try different filters: Polarizers, UV or ND Filters.
Focus on composition. Ultimately that’s what matters most.
Change Your Perspective
Bird is NOT the word when it comes to drone photo composition. Not every shot has to be bird’s eye view. Imagine you are working with a super duper tall tripod and use your drone’s stabilization features to take static shots from way, way up high. Your selfie’s will never be the same! Look for new perspectives, symmetrical shapes in the landscape, or seek out abstract compositions.
Or go low! Just because you can fly sky high, doesn’t mean you have to. Drones can hover at any altitude, and that includes just inches from the ground. Ultra-low angles can create some extremely fascinating photography. Watch out for propeller shadows and the wind from the blades kicking up dust and dirt. But set it up right and this will take your photography to all new lows (in a good way!)
Accessorize and Upgrade
You may believe in fairies, but none of us are going to be Peter Pan. Drones might provide the next best thing to bursting off the ground with First-Person View (FPV) Goggles. Exactly as they sound, these bad boys will put you in the driver’s seat of your drone for your own flying adventure. But it isn’t just for the fun of it. This is the most ideal way to compose your shots and make sure you get what you want every time.
And if your wallet is ready for it, go all out. Prop protectors, landing gear extensions, camera filters and more are out there to fully customize the way you fly and shoot. Upgrading your transmitter can provide better stabilization, increased drone range, more transmitter battery life and even a better grip. I’d say the sky is the limit, but at this point we’re beyond even that.
It’s hard to resist a good drone photo. So, we’d love to see yours. Once you’ve made your landing and processed your shoot, post them on social with the tag #framingjoy and we’ll be able to fly away with you.