Aerial photography, it’s something I’ve only really started in the last six months, I fell in love with it instantly. It’s incredible how far technology has come, and how much it’s improving in such a short space of time.
To give you a little bit of background, I am currently using a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, it has a 12mp camera on it, and it’s incredibly easy to fly. For those that don’t know, you control the drone with a remote controller that has a phone/tablet attached to it which allows you to see exactly what the drone sees and frame your photos/videos. You can manually control most aspects of your photos/video, virtually everything bar the aperture (this is set at f/2.8) – you can also leave it on auto for some fantastic results.
Right, onto the tips:
Flying & taking photos/video
Whether you already have a drone and are looking to improve your processing and image taking or if you’re looking to get one and are wondering what it takes to produce images like the one above, I hope this post will help you.
- It may sound obvious, but flying when there’s little wind makes a huge difference. it allows you to use slower shutter speeds and keep your ISO low, especially when light isn’t great.
- As with all photography, light plays a HUGE part in creating beautiful images. A well lit scene will always look the best straight out of camera. Having a well lit scene is even more important with drones as the sensors in the camera tend to be on the small side and can produce a fair amount of noise past ISO 100.
- Shutter speed – keep it as high as possible! Try to keep your shutter speed above 1/100 of a second, this will yield sharp images. The slower it is, the more chance of camera shake/blur you’ll have.
- In my opinion, using your drone between one and two hours before sunset/after sunrise yields the best results. The direction of the light will give your scenes far more depth & less harsh light. Certainly in England, shooting the hour before/after sunset/sunrise can be problematic due to the sun dipping behind hazy horizons and muting the light on the land, an hour earlier and you can still get beautiful light and added depth.
- Try not to shoot straight into the sun, the dynamic range of drone sensors don’t tend to handle it well, you’ll often have large blown out areas where the sun is where you can’t recover any detail in post.
- Shoot at the largest image size your drone can, leave it at that, don’t crop to 16:9 etc. My drone shoots naturally at 4:3 and gives the option of 16:9 – the reason why is that you lose so many pixels due to the whole of the sensor not being used. You can always crop the photos/video after you’re done shooting.
- Shoot in the RAW format if your drone allows you to. photos from the smaller drone sensors tend to need a lot of work to fully bring them to life. You’ll see what I mean in my net blog post where I go through the editing process with before/after photos from the image at the top of this page. If you currently don’t have any software that can edit RAW photos you can find plenty on the internet, or even start a free trial of Lightroom/Photoshop with Adobe. Apps such as Snapseed now also support a lot of RAW formats now.
- Bracket your photos – this means taking 3 or 5 shots in a burst, each exposed slightly differently, usually one photo exposed correctly, two under exposed and two over exposed at different stops of exposure. This gives you a lot more room to play when you get them into your choice of processing software. By doing so, you can add so much more detail, retaining detail both in the shadows and highlights. You may already do this on your normal camera, do it for your drone too!
- If you do bracket your photos, Lightroom and plenty of other software allows you to automatically combine these into an high dynamic range file (HDR). I don’t mean the crazily edited photos you may have seen previously, but a file with far more information to be processed.
I feel that I have to work the drone photos/files a lot more to realise what I intended on capturing, or getting the photo to look like the scene actually did when I took the photos/videos, hopefully these tips will help you.
- As mentioned above, merging your files manually, or into an HDR file in Lightroom can work wonders as it’ll give you a less noisy file, and it should also give you more wiggle room when using other sliders – shadow/highlight recovery etc.
- Contrast & using the Tone curve histogram. As shown below, altering the curve of the file can make a big difference, RAW files often come out rather flat looking, my drone ones even more so. Adding an S or dropping the mid tones somewhat can help the image pop again – even a small adjustment such as the one below can make a huge difference!
- Clarity & sharpening are your friends! Clarity (ambiance in other apps) can really help flatter images pop that little bit more. I don’t usually use clarity on my DSLR images, but it makes such a positive difference to drone shots.
- If you already know how to process images from a DSLR in Lightroom/Photoshop/Snapseed etc, following a similar workflow will be fine, you may just need to slide those sliders that little bit more.
Best of luck to all of you in your aerial adventures – if you’ve got any questions, please either leave me a comment below, contact me by email or hit me up on social media!