Most photographers who’re starting with aerial photography invest a decent amount of money to create stunning drone photos from a unique perspective. By spending thousands of dollars on the material, the margin for trial-and-error is so much smaller which is why we are giving you a head-start with some practical tips on how to take the best drone photos and how to edit them afterward.
Before you start…
The thing is: the key to becoming a great aerial photographer is hidden in your preparation. The most important steps of taking better drone photos are done behind your laptop: by doing research!
Work with good equipment
The first thing you’ll want to figure out is which drone you’ll be buying and decide if you need additional accessories.
Most drone photographers start with an off-the-shelf solution in which the drone has everything you need to take aerial photos and video footage. If you are not owning a drone yet, we suggest you look into the new DJI Mini 2.
If you’re more technical minded, you could purchase individual components and assemble a unique drone according to your wishes. However: This means you’ll have to do the reparations yourself as well.
Get to know your drone
After finally buying the drone, your priority – according to award-winning drone photographer Reginald Van de Velde – should be to figure out how to navigate it.
Putting in the hours to learn how to land, hover, and move your drone before you even shoot one single picture is key. It’s like driving a car: The more hours you put in, the more natural your movements will be, and the more you can focus on taking your shot.
By training your navigation skills beforehand, you’ve got less chance to mess it up when it’s time to take the shot.
Learn to discover new spots
When you know how to fly a drone and when you have mastered the basics of photography, the biggest differential in taking stunning drone photos is your location.
That’s why we recommend you to work out a system for discovering new spots to fly. You could use google maps, save image locations on Instagram, or you could develop a sixth sense in figuring out what places are perfect for drone photography.
Keep in mind: next to finding a great location to fly your drone, your timing will be crucial as well. We’ve listed some apps to help you figure out the best time to shoot landscapes, time-lapses, sunrises, and sunsets.
Keep track of no-fly zones and local regulations
Drone flying comes with a few responsibilities, so you best keep track of the no-fly zones, local regulations, and insurance before you encounter a bad experience.
There are many different ways to find the latest info, but we prefer to consult DJI’s Geo Zone map to see where it is safe to fly or where flying is restricted.
Create a pre-flight checklist
It’s something we already pointed out in our past articles: Most drones have a limited flight time, which means we should make our flight time count. By creating a pre-flight checklist we make sure we’re not losing time.
Learn how to compose aerial pictures
The last thing you’ll want to figure out before you go exploring the world with your drone is how to compose stunning drone photos. If you already have some experience in photography, you’re already one step ahead.
Shoot aerial pictures using the right configuration and setup
Another thing we have to realize is how important the configuration of our camera is. Using the right setup will make sure your start with the right foundation and the most optimal picture you can think of. This so you can take advantage of these settings in the post-production process.
Shoot in RAW
Something every photographer will acknowledge: you should always shoot in RAW.
This is because a RAW image file is an uncompressed file, which takes all the image data from its sensor and saves it in an unedited and uncompressed format on your memory card. It takes up more storage space, but in return, you’ll be able to edit more details in your post-production process.
Bracket your drone photos
The term “Automatic Exposure Bracketing” probably won’t mean much to you, but the HDR-function on your smartphone might ring a bell.
To explain it briefly, the Automatic Exposure Bracketing – abbreviated as AEB – is the setting in which your camera will take a series of constructive photos (comparable with the burst-function) using different exposures. This way you’ll end up with three images of the same composition, giving you more options when going to the post-production process.
Image Size 4:3
Most drones have the option to crop your pictures but we recommend keeping your image size to 4:3. Changing this image size, sometimes impacts the number of pixels your drone will be using… making it more interesting to crop your pictures afterward in the post-production process.
Shoot in Manual
After a while – when you’re used to shooting pictures with your drone – you’ll start to develop your own style. Ours is to underexpose our pictures, so we can take advantage of this in our post-production process.
By shooting aerial pictures in the manual setting, you’ll not only be able to decide on the amount of exposure but also the depth of field, noize, and many other settings.
Many experienced photographers agree: a lens filter is an essential accessory when you’re trying to make great drone photos. The main reason for this is because lens filters such as the ND or Polarizer filters affect the color saturation of light, reducing reflections and creating a deep blue sky effect in your images.
Improve your drone photos by learning the Lightroom basics
Taking a picture in the perfect circumstances and the best settings are one thing, making sure the subject attracts enough attention and the colors pop is a whole other skill. With software like Lightroom or Photoshop, you can transform these pictures into a once-in-a-lifetime drone photo.
We’ve written an extensive guide on how to edit in Lightroom, but here are some of the basic post-production steps to transfer them into your masterpiece.
Enable profile corrections
All camera lenses have their own characteristics and benefits, but most of them have their shortcomings as well. These shortcomings are mostly expressed in Vignetting (darkening the corners of the image) or Distortion (the lens produces curved lines where straight lines should be, most noticeable with wide-angle lenses).
This is where Lightroom’s ‘profile corrections’-function comes into play: it’s built with the purpose to remove these typical optical issues.
Keep in mind: some photographers like to enable these corrections after they finished editing the picture because they find it slower. Removing Distortion and Vignetting might stretch the picture or add noise, so we recommend to look at the result before you determine whether or not to use it.
Select, Crop, and Straighten
As explained in the article where we dive more into the post-production process; We only want to spend time on our best pictures so we start by selecting those after which we crop and straighten them.
As a serious photographer, having your cohesive style of photos is essential. In reality, this mostly means that you’ll have to create your vibe during the editing-process. Once you’ve found your vibe (Bright, Retro, Dark & Moody, etc.) you’ll always have to start your editing process with the same steps.
This is where Lightroom presets come in to make your life easy! Rather than re-applying every step to recreate the same vibe, this one-click photo editing tool helps you dramatically speed up your workflow while keeping the same professional look.
We created a mobile + desktop Lightroom preset pack to help you get faster and better edits rather than spending hours on a single image. We already spent hours producing the preset, so you don’t have to!
Tip: We are using the Loupedeck Live as an editing console, to smoothen our post-production process. The more time we save in post-production is the more time we’ll have to shoot the next picture!
Small adjustments, according to the photo
No drone photo is the same as another, so after applying your preset you’ll have to shift some sliders to achieve the best result. The most obvious adjustments are the lights (exposure and contrast) while adjusting the color settings (white balance, temperature, hue, saturation, etc) will make your picture bright and warm. Or dark and moody.
A small trick to draw attention to your subject is by slightly darkening the environment with graduated filters. This will make your subject the most exposed part of the photo, which is why it will become the focal point.
Import into Photoshop to remove objects with content awareness
When we feel 100% confident about the final result in Lightroom, we might want to load the drone photo into Photoshop, to work with the content awareness tool to remove people or objects from our shots.
After walking through this post-production process, the only thing that’s left is exporting our drone photos.
Our default settings (for web) are:
- JPG format, in sRGB color space
- Resize to fit 2500px for the longest edge, without enlarging
- No watermark, since we decided to add our copyright info into our EXIF information.