Aerial Photography Tips
Want to capture those picture-perfect aerial shots? Us too! There’s a lot to consider when shooting aerial photography, but we’re here to help you cover the bases. Here’s a few great tips to keep in mind when preparing for your flight — and while flying!
- Consider the time of day and the direction of the sunlight.
If you’re planning to capture some aerial photography at a specific location, it’s important to consider the time of day, as well as the position of the sun. Since the drone often flies above buildings and structures that would normally obstruct the sunlight, the direction of the sun can result in blinding lens flares and overexposed shots.
In addition, if you’re trying to capture certain landmarks, you’ll want the front of them to be illuminated by the sunlight. Arriving at the wrong time could leave the subject covered in shadow, which isn’t generally the desired look.
One more thing to keep in mind is the shadow that the drone casts onto the ground. It’s easy to miss when monitoring with a small screen, so keeping an eye on the sun’s direction, in relation to the camera’s direction, can help give you a hint to take a closer look for any shadows that may be visible in the shot.
- Use ND filters on sunny days.
When the sun is brightly shinning, the white rooftops can become too bright and overexpose the image. Wet areas and snow covered surfaces are also particularly reflective. Using an ND filter can help rectify this. An ND filter is a neutral density filter. These filters reduce the intensity of the light and, in sunny situations, allow you to have more control setting the exposure via the drone’s camera settings.
ND filters are absolutely essential when it comes to filming video. Since the shutter speed must be kept at an ideal setting (more information on that further down), our control over setting the exposure is much more limited. The ND filter fixes this issue by reducing the overall brightness of the image to a manageable level.
- Use a faster shutter speed when flying fast.
If you are capturing aerial images while flying at a high speed, use a faster shutter speed to avoid motion blur in the photos. Using a faster shutter speed means that the camera’s shutter is open for a shorter period of time. This means that the camera’s sensor is exposed to light for a shorter period of time. On the other hand, a slower shutter speed means that the shutter is open for a longer period of time. With a slower shutter speed, the camera’s sensor will continue to capture the subject as the camera moves, resulting in a blurred image.
When recording video, set your shutter speed using the 180 degree rule. A frame rate of 24 fps will work best with a shutter speed of 1/50, 30 fps will work best with 1/60, 60fps will work best with 1/120, and so forth. This will ensure that your video has the correct amount of motion blur in order to be perceived by the eye as “normal.”
- Better piloting can compensate for a fixed zoom lens.
Although most higher-end aerial photography drones on the market offer the ability to pan and tilt the camera gimbal, most do not have the ability to optically zoom. This is called a fixed focal length. As a result, a lot of shot framing requires precise piloting efforts to get the right focal length and frame the shot correctly.
Some good advice here would be to implement a dual pilot system, where one operator controls the UAV and the other operates the camera. If you’d prefer to go solo, some good advice would be to practice flying as much as you can.
- Choose the best exposure metering mode.
You probably already know that you have to set the camera for proper exposure (or set it to auto, at least). What you may forget though, is to choose the appropriate exposure metering mode. Metering is used to measure the brightness of your frame to help you choose the correct shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. If you’re using automatic exposure, metering is what your camera will use to determine its settings. Since aerial photography depends so much on the sun, it’s important to learn how to utilize these modes. There’s generally three metering modes: matrix metering, center-weighted metering, and spot metering.
- Matrix metering evaluates the entire frame. This is ideal when there is not an extreme difference in brightness in certain areas of the frame compared to other areas.
- Center-weighted metering evaluates the center of the frame. An example where center-weighted metering is ideal would be if the main focus of the frame was a building that had the sun shining very brightly behind it.
- Finally, spot metering only evaluates the light around a selected point that the photographer chooses. Depending on the camera, this will either be the focus point or a custom selected point. To properly expose a specific area of the frame despite the rest of the frames contents, this would be the metering mode to select.
- Correcting Lens Distortion
Some cameras that photographers mount onto drones have a very wide field of view. The wide FOV creates what is referred to as a fish eye effect. Go Pro cameras are famous for this. While at one point the effect was desired, it has since become perceived as amateur. When working with video, the fish eye perspective also makes it hard to cut the aerial footage into the same video as ground footage.
A lot of the aerial photography cameras released in the last few years have the ability to change the FOV built in to the camera’s settings. Check the manual for the model you have, and then reduce the FOV to a more narrow (lower number) setting.
Alternatively, you can correct this in post-production with your editing software. Premiere Pro CC, for instance, has an effect called the “lens distortion effect” which will remove the fish eye look from video. Photoshop can remove the fish eye from images using the Adaptive Wide Angle Filter. Even better, Lightroom has a similar effect as well – you can remove the fisheye from your entire aerial photography collection in just a few clicks.
- Battery Life in Cold Temperatures
When operating a UAV in a cold climate, it’s essential to keep an eye on the battery. The prosumer and professional drones provide the ability to monitor the battery charge percentages and voltages while flying. Cold temperatures drain the drain battery’s charge at a faster rate than normal. Extremely low temperatures could cause the battery voltage to drop, which could actually shut the drone off mid-flight.
So if the temperatures are low, it is good practice to take a quick look at the battery every minute or so. That way if you see a concerning drop in temperature, you will have time to safely land the drone. Otherwise, your aerial photography trip will be cut short and you’ll have a very expensive pile of broken UAV parts.
Another great tip is to keep the drone batteries tucked away inside of a thick bag, wrapped in hand warmers. If they are kept this way right up until flight time, you’ll be in much better shape.
- Know the UAV Drone Laws.
As drones are still a new technology, the laws and regulations governing their use continue to evolve. To protect yourself and others, it’s important to know the federal and state laws, as well as any other regulations that may govern the country or area you live in.
In the United States, for instance, the Federal Aviation Administration governs drone use. Drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) must be registered with the FAA. There is also a height limit where drones cannot be flown more than 400 feet (122 meters) above the ground. While this may seem to put a damper on your aerial photography dreams of shooting from 1000 feet in the air, these rules are safety precautions to prevent accidents with airplanes and other manned aircrafts. Violations of the rules may result in huge fines, sometimes upwards of $20,000.
Make sure to check the drone laws in your area regularly, since they have been evolving at a very quick rate over the last two years, and may change further.
These tips should send you well on your way to capturing some beautiful images. Aerial photography is fun, so it’s important to have fun with it! Keep learning and practicing and your photographs will only get better.