5 Tips for Getting Started and Creative with Drone Photography
By Guest Author - 4 min read
Adam Vradenburg is a Berlin based photographer, who in the past years has taken his photography to new heights with drone photography. In this guest post, he shares some of his best tips and insights into how to get started and creative with aerial photography.
If you’re considering buying a drone or are getting started in drone photography, these tips should help you increase and improve your creative output. I was a bit skeptical of drones at first, but nevertheless I bought a small drone (DJI Spark) for a recent photo tour of the Lofoten Islands in Norway. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine the trip without it: almost half of my top picks were taken with the drone.
Having said that, I took a number of not-so-amazing photos and learned a lot very quickly. Naturally, there a lot of good habits from camera photography that can be applied to drone photography: read the manual, do your research beforehand, and get loads of practice. However, there are some important differences to mention and particularities worth highlighting.
1. Research and Planning Are Essential
While this is true of taking pictures in general, it bears repeating because it is essential for drone photography. The main reason being that certain countries and states have strict laws and regulations. Flying in national parks is sometimes banned, and some countries - like Morocco - don’t allow drones in the country at all. It’s hard to imagine a bigger disappointment than showing up with all your gear and creative energy, only to have both confiscated at customs. Save yourself the trouble, do extensive research in advance and get the insurance, licenses and anything else you might need so you are able to fly.
Beyond the paperwork, planning is also important for creative reasons. While you may be used to researching the optimal time of day for certain locations in advance, doing that research for drones is more complex. For instance, you need to be aware of the broader weather conditions, specifically the wind. It is also a good idea to check for any obstacles such as power lines or unexpected ‘no fly’ zones. The other factor that makes this planning and preparation important is the limited amount of flight time, covered next.
2. Make Your Flight Time Count
Anyone who has flown a drone will know that it’s a lot of fun, but that the fun doesn’t last forever. While extra batteries are a given, you still have very limited time to shoot. Depending on your model, flight times can be as short as 15 minutes before you have to recharge. This means you need to know what you want to shoot and from what angle before you’re in the air. You will figure this out intuitively quite quickly, but it’s good to get into the habit from the very beginning. I tend to fly long enough only to get the shot I want, and immediately land and power off the drone after. I then do the legwork and carry it to the next shot location to save flight time.
3. Test the Limits: Range & Altitude
I’ll be honest, I only tend to read instruction manuals when I can’t figure something out myself. Regardless of your learning style, it’s important to know your drone and its limitations. Knowing the range and altitude of your drone and testing the limits will give you an idea of what shots are possible, and which may be out of reach and require an adjustment or new starting point. In general, it’s a good idea to get as many flight hours logged beforehand so you can focus on execution when you’re on location. Otherwise, you may need more than a few attempts to get the shot you want which wastes oh so precious battery life.
4. Don’t Just Fly High, Fly Low: Compositional Variation
If you start looking at other drone shots online for inspiration, you’ll find the internet is replete with straight down shots of colorful coastlines: sandy beaches with crashing waves, umbrellas, etc. While these perspectives are unique and pleasing to the eye, the composition can get repetitive and doesn’t use the advantage of a drone to the full extent. You can put a dcronamee ra almost anywhere! Something as simple as hovering at eye level just off the edge of a cliff is something that would be difficult and dangerous with a camera but i,s a breeze for a drone and opens tons of new compositional potential. Try to avoid the impulse when you start your drone to go straight up, work up gradually and look for interesot ting perspectives.
5. Keep the Skies Friendly: Be Alert, Safe and Respectful
Being conscious of and abiding by laws and regulations was previously mentioned, but when I started flying I noticed another important difference between camera and drone photography. The former is minimally invasive and being respectful often means putting your shutter on silent and asking for consent. The latter is simply more disruptive and hazardous, as a result it requires your full attention at all times. Being respectful towards others does not only mean adhering to laws regarding privacy and safety, but also treating others like you would like to be treated.
I was skeptical of buying a drone in the beginning, simply because they can be downright annoying. Be mindful of those around you and realize they would enjoy the sunset more without the constant hum in the background. If you follow the tips above, work quickly and efficiently, and err on the side of safety you will do a lot to help the reputations of drone pilots and have more fun. Fly safe!