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Drone Photography Guide
What is a drone?
Drones are unmanned aerial and ground based vehicles. They are often small, and operated for fun! Drones have many uses in all settings from toys to commercial and military use. Aerial drones are often referred to as UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles. They can be controlled from your smartphone and tablet or with radio controllers. You may have some drone experience from growing up, using RC airplanes and cars. It is important to note that drones are different from radio controlled vehicles, since they are able to operate without constant input from an operator.
Why use drones for photography?
Many drones are equipped with cameras for photography purposes, allowing you to easily capture footage from a bird’s eye view of a given area. It is much cheaper to fly a drone over a given area than operate a manned aircraft for the purpose of photography.
Drones are very easy to use – photographers of all skill levels are able to get unique aerial footage. From capturing a panorama shot, collecting images of large properties for real estate or even to chase you down the ski slopes – drones are the future of photography.
What drone should I buy for photography?
Some drones come with built in cameras, and others come with a prepared camera mount. If you already have an action camera such as a GoPro, get a drone where you can mount on your own photography equipment. This method is often much more inexpensive and allows you to swap out the right camera or drone body for the job. Unfortunately, you may have to operate the camera and drone with separate controls in this scenario.
Drones with built in camera equipment are guaranteed for a smooth video and smooth user experience. Drone photography with these devices often include extra stabilization features, and you have the added convenience of a single interface for camera and flight controls. Many of these all-in-one photography drones will work with mobile apps on iOS and Android, allowing you to control from your smartphone and view live video.
Personal vs. Commercial Drone Photography
Aerial photography is being revolutionized by drones. Just as disruptive as digital cameras and cellphones, the creative and commerce opportunities are infinite with drones. If you would like to just get flying and dabble into the world of taking photos with a UAV, consider a lower-end toy model or drone featuring a mount for an external camera.
You might soon outgrow this starter model, but you can still hold onto your equipment for future uses (and start building your own drone fleet!).
If you are diving into commercial photography with drones, it is recommended to dive into a fully featured unit. Look for models designed specifically with photos and video in mind – features such as stabilization are a must. A stabilized gimbal is essential in a commercial drone unit, as it is essential in capturing video that will not be overly shaky.
Aerial Photography is a two man operation
It is best to get help from a second operator for your flights. One person should be concentrated on flight and the other on capturing photos. This will allow you to maintain a clear and steady flight path, while also capturing the optimally composed pictures.
If you are using a drone with a mounted camera, you may not have a live video feed running. In this situation, it is best to set your camera to take a photo every few seconds, and then have longer flight duration around important areas. A setting of one photo every five seconds is optimal to get enough photos from your flight that you will be able to manage after you head back to review your shots. Be mindful of the amount of storage on your camera, you don’t want to be caught running out of disk space while filming in the sky! Remember to turn off your camera and drone when not in flight to avoid excess battery drain and accidental photos.
Drone Photography Tips
- Take shots from many different angles and distances. You will have a variety of content to work with after your flight, and always be experimenting with new shots.
- Do not try to set a focal point or a narrow depth of field. It is difficult to maintain focus in the sky – make sure what you are filming will always be in focus. You are better off editing your photos afterwards to give the illusion of an out of focus area, rather than getting a series of blurry shots.
- Use propeller guards and fly away from potential obstacles. You’re reading this guide for drone photography – not drone repair!
- Shoot during the day, avoid sunrise and sunset hours. Your images will come out clear, bright, and without much shadow interference. Shooting at the start and end of the day will result in your images being tinted with the yellow and orange from colors of the sun during these hours.
Know the law
Be aware of the various laws and regulations surrounding flight of drones and drone photography. You may be subject to certain conditions based on your state, or country.
Visit the Federal Aviation Administration’s site for more details regarding flight within the United States.