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How can I improve my drone shots?

How can I improve my drone shots?

Drone Photography


We are in a new age of photography.  Today, companies are producing moderately priced professional cameras that not too long ago were expensive for the average person to own.  Most people used to need a professional photographer, not only for skill, but for the equipment they owned that produced a high-quality finished product.  However, due to the advancement in optical technology, camera components are getting better, smaller, and less expensive.

With the progression of manufacturing companies’ ability to efficiently develop and design their products with integrated optical technology on a large scale, we as consumers can now enjoy a variety of products that produce images of superb quality and create high-definition video.  One of these products is the extremely popular flying drone.

Drones have become affordable and have been finding their way into homes everywhere.  Since you may just be starting to learn about drones and integrate them into your photographing activities and photoshoots, it’s good to know that achieving amazing images and video with your drone is not difficult.  These flying machines have awesome cameras built into them with all the automated features you need to start using your drone to take pictures of professional quality from the time you take off for your first flight.

Plan your flight pattern

The first thing you need to do to improve your drone photography is create a flight route.  Determine what you want to be shooting and from what angle.  It is best to practice at least one run to get comfortable flying your route and practice filming to ensure you achieve your desired frame in your drone pictures.  It may seem ok to prepare your flight path from the ground, but you will quickly find out that you may encounter obstacles or wind paths that you will only discover when flying a practice run.  This will help you get better flight stabilization and drone imaging.  Additionally, after a practice run, you can check your drone’s footage, settings, for any adjustments and note how much battery power was used to run that flight pattern.

Creating a pre-flight checklist is vital to ensuring superb drone photo quality.  Before each flight, you should check for the drone’s battery levels, load your SD card, and inspect the drones’ components that everything is working properly.  Spin the propellers to ensure there is no obstruction, check the landing gear, calibrate your settings, and hover your drone for a minute in front of you for one last flight check before takeoff.

Flying & Shooting

Drone Photography

You have taken flight.  Fly slow and low.  You don’t want to fly too high, especially on a windy day.  The higher you are, the windier it gets which will interfere with the quality of your drone photos and can potentially even cause damage to your drone and propellers. 

Flying slow will allow you to capture the best imaging and film.  Shooting while the drone is moving slower allows for better focusing and exposure (depending on how you have your settings) and your production will have a more professional finish.  For example, when shooting images, flying slow gives you more opportunity to achieve your shot to perfection.  And for shooting video, you want to provide your viewer smooth, controlled, and consistent footage that doesn’t change speeds which is easy to achieve when flying slowly. 

Keep things simple.  Your flight path should be positioned to shoot your subject in long, steady, and smooth shots.  Avoid adjusting the camera movement as much as possible, it will disrupt the flow and emotional ride of your footage.  Veteran drone pilots are a master at flying slowly and smoothly, giving their shot distance to slowly reveal their subject.  This dramatizes your amazing footage and imaging and becomes much simpler to edit during postproduction. 

Always shoot a little longer than you anticipate.  Don’t end the shot as soon as you think you have captured your video or image.  This gives you extra material to work with when editing which can be used for effects like fading out to end your shot or transitioning into your next segment or scene.

Take advantage of golden hour.  This refers to the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, when sunlight creates a beautiful glow over your subject and dramatizes the landscape.  Golden hour produces professional looking photos and video but be aware and look out for direct sunlight hitting your drones imaging sensors which can cause overexposure.  There are optical filters that you can add onto your drone to help combat harsh sunlight if it is unavoidable.

Settings and Features

Drones like the Mavic AIR 2 by DJI and EVO series by Autel Robotics have powerful features and setting options that can be used to improve your pictures and footage.   For instance, for real estate, you can set a subject and have your drone do fly a survey around the property.  Or have your drone act as a chase cam, following you while you’re biking, kayaking, rock climbing, in a car, or any activity that you fell would be creative content.  While on any adventure, drones are an excellent way to scout terrain for safe passage and capture stunning images and video at the same time.

These drones use CMOS imaging sensors which are very powerful in picking up light.  Using your settings, you will be able to capture images and video, even at night which is a low light environment because of the cameras high dynamic range, high definition, and accurate color reproduction. 

Shooting in RAW mode will allow you added flexibility when editing and is a must for poor lighting conditions. 

Take advantage of awesome features you will only get from a drone, such as hyper-lapse and panorama modes.  When using hyper-lapse, it is crucial that you maintain a slow and steady course as I mentioned earlier, to avoid wind, reduce any shakiness, vibrations, and ensure a focused, sharp, and vivid image or video. 

Like handheld cameras, flying drones do have powerful autonomous features which will help you produce photos and video of quality.  For beginners, it is recommended that you leave all focusing and lighting auto functions on.  Let your drone do the work.  Review your production and adjust these settings slowly until you feel comfortable controlling it yourself.  Also, don’t be hesitant to use features like mastershots or burst mode if your drone has them (it most likely does) or even shoot burst mode in RAW mode.  These features will provide you with plenty of material to edit and identify your perfect shot.

Many drones also have autonomous obstacle detection which will help assist you in keeping your drone safe while in flight.  It is strongly encouraged to review this feature to avoid damage to your drone and give you confidence to stay focused on capturing your subject as intended.

Practice Practice Practice

The only way to excel at something is to practice and build confidence.  As we learned, flying the drone itself is a major factor in the quality of your production, so just flying your little machine around for fun is a great way to get good at flying smoothly and steadily.  Pick random subjects to shoot when practicing, even if it’s a boring subject, so you become an expert at bringing your vision to life.  Slowly extend your comfort zone incrementally when practicing flying, so you can identify clear boundaries between what your drone is capable of and to find your “sweet spot” when filming or taking photos.

Drone Photography
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