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Drone Photography Tips From Leaders in the Industry

By January 14, 2016Education
drone photography

Soaring Sky’s Flight Team Instructor Gives 10 Tips on How to Capture the Most Epic Photos.

Imagine being able to capture your photography from a new perspective, capturing a bird’s eye view of your subject.  Some may think that drone photography is easy and all you have to do is fly up there and shoot.  You could get lucky and capture an amazing shot, but to get the best photo possible each time there is a lot to think about.  To help you out we interviewed Soaring Sky flight pilot and instructor, Donnell Field.  With 17 years of professional photography experience, he is here to give you some tips on capturing the best photo from the sky.  

1- How is taking photos with your drone different or similar from taking photos on land?  

Drones are a different piece of equipment for sure, but I still use some of the basic techniques when shooting from the air as I do on the ground. Most of the difference involves natural light because you’re flying above the clutter that we see around us. The drone also shoots at higher shutter speeds than the cameras I typically use.  You still want to add contrast, get interesting lines in your photo, and have those different textures. This can all be done to some extent based on white balance, ISO settings, and the angles with which we take the photos from.

2- Which kind of a drone with camera would you recommend? Fort Myers Beach 3

After testing many drones from different manufactures I’ve found that the DJI model’s offer the highest quality drone cameras.  At Soaring Sky we usually fly the Phantom 3 or Inspire.  DJI partnered with Sony to make their camera and I like what they have done. To have such a small platform perform as well as it does with the given distance parameters it works with, it has done a great job. Probably one of the biggest things I like is being able to shoot high quality photos on the go. It allows me to capture high quality images while I’m flying without having to stop.

3- What is involved with planning a shoot before actually doing it?

Knowing the capabilities of the camera is key. Second, making sure all the equipment is ready to go. Including clean lenses and memory cards (extra is always a given). Then knowing how to use the natural light to my advantage and being able to see not just my target but what is around me. This is because while being airborne the depth of field is so vast.  Sometimes this can be a distraction as well as helpful. By using the shadows cast by the sun’s light to capture certain scenes, you can create a whole new perspective with your photography. It is challenging and awesome at the same time.

4- What can you advise pilots to be aware of for camera settings in the DJI Go pilot app to get the best photos?  

A photographer can use basically the same settings for the DJI mounted cameras, as they do on the ground. With the exception that they have more available light once airborne.  What I mean by that is when you’re on the ground there is clutter from trees, houses or buildings, which can cast shadows and make your pictures dark. This can still happen from the air but not as much.  The photographer’s basic ISO settings of 100, 200 and 400 still apply both to the ground setting and that when they are in the air.  

Generally with sunny conditions and with the high shutter speeds that our drones shoot with, I generally tend to set my white balance to cloudy. And the Auto White Balance seems to work quite well.  Testing with different settings in the conditions that you are shooting in and adjusting from their is really the best way to find what works.  

5- What is the editing app that you recommend for pilots?

Photoshop is a great tool for any photographer. In fact most of the Adobe products are a great asset and I have been using them since the beginning. Not everyone can afford to have programs like Photoshop or LightRoom but a option is to find someone with older copies who want to upgrade to the latest version. Be sure the authorization key is still usable and you can buy their previous programs. There are many other editing programs out there for minimal cost that are available for photographers at any level.

6- Do you have any tips on altitude/ height/ or distance for how to get the best shot?

Unless you have permission from the local air traffic control always keep under 400 ft. Aside from that, it all depends on your subject and the effect you are going for. Photography is art, so therefore one person’s idea may not work for another. Knowing your light on a subject and the capabilities of your camera are a big part of what you shoot once you are airborne.  When I am out flying a drone for a specific project, such as maybe a real estate shoot I do have a height that works best for getting what we need.  I usually fly up between 90 and 120 feet, unless there is vegetation, and angle the camera down towards the house to get the best view.  

7- Any tips on the speed for getting the best photos?  Light house on Sanibel Island

Always start flying slow.  This allows for more contro.  Flying at a slower speed allows for the camera to take the best shot. Same as if you were shooting a photo on the ground. The shutter speed has the capability of shooting very fast, but if you are shooting on the fly, it is a hit or miss. Taking it slow and stopping to take the shot is the best bet when starting out. Always allow the camera to receive the signal from your controller to take the shot before proceeding onward. Otherwise, you may not get the shot you desired.

8- Do you take the sky into consideration when taking drone photography?  

You always have to take this into consideration when flying.  It’s always a good idea to check the weather before going out for a drone shoot.  The best lighting occurs shortly after sunrise or sunset where the sky has the most beautiful colors.  The lower angle of the sun makes for a more dramatic effect so use this to your advantage. That is not to say that’s the only time to shoot. Again, it all depends on what effect the photographer is going for, and the subject that they are shooting.

9- Any drone maneuvers that you would like to share that gives you some of the best shots?

A lot depends on the sun and the subject I am shooting. That will depict for me what types of angles will work best for me and if I need to take a high or low angle approach. A great tip is keeping the lens tilted slightly downward to keep from having lens flares and washing out the sky.

I sometimes compare action photography with hunting. You have to anticipate the shot and where your subject is going to be as you move. Sometimes I do shoot on the fly. Literally. Making you anticipate where my subject is going to be at the second I pull the trigger to get the shot. It takes practice, good timing, and good equipment.

10- Any other tips for getting the best drone photography?

Keep practicing and trying different settings at different times of the day. It’s like anything else, you want to practice to be good at something. The more time you put into it, the better you can be. I have been doing this for more than 15 years and still encounter situations I have not seen before, which can be challenging.  Having a background and experience will help you figure out those challenging moments and to make it work


If your a beginner pilot make sure to check out the Soaring Sky Academy or call 239-333-2447 to learn more about training.