Drones and Landscape Photography
Drones offer the opportunity to capture all sorts of landscapes from a unique aerial perspective both for the hobbyist and professional pilot. Here are some tips for starting to take drone landscape pictures or just some ideas on how to improve and develop your aerial landscape photography.
Preparation is Key
If you are working with a ground based camera, you have all the time in the world to capture your images. However, a drone’s short battery life means you will have a much higher success rate of pictures you are proud of if you have a plan for what you want to capture. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t make the most of unexpected opportunities of course!
Luckily Google makes planning from the comfort of your own home easier than ever – which is great if you can’t visit a location to see it for yourself first. Using terrain view rather than satellite view can give you a clearer picture. Checking the weather forecast is also key to make sure you don’t have a wasted journey.
…And so is Timing
In landscape photography generally, there has always been much emphasis on the ‘Golden Hour’ – the hour after sunrise or before sunset where the ground is bathed in a gentle golden glow and contrast is greater. This is thought to be the most flattering time for landscape photography and this applies to drones as well as ground based work. As it is likely that you will need a certain amount of time to set up, always remember to factor this in so you have whole Golden Hour to fly in and enjoy rather than being rushed.
You will probably want to capture your images in a series of flights so it is important that you have spare batteries charged and ready to go. If you are going to be flying when it is cold, then it is worth investing in a thermally insulated box and some heat packs to keep them at a working temperature. Hand warmers for you can also be a great investment so you don’t diminish your flying ability with stiff frozen fingers!
Horizons & Composition
Although you have opportunities for correcting horizon lines in post production, it’s always more satisfying when you have it right straight out of camera, so keep an eye for straight horizons when you’re composing.
In terms of composition, switching on your camera’s ‘rule of thirds’ grid can help to keep this at the forefront of your mind. Again, cropping can be done later but the resulting loss of resolution can be damaging to your finished image so always shoot the image as close as you can to the finished result that you want.
That said symmetry in aerial landscape photography can created some very powerful images and the combination of textures and patterns that you will see from the sky will naturally guide your composition.
Experiment with ratios where you can as some images will suit 4:3 whereas 16:9 will give you more opportunity in other cases. Panoramic images can offer a wider view of your environment and also allow you create high resolution images when you are working with a smaller camera sensor.
Invest in Some Filters
When you’ve already invested in all you need to get your drone taking pictures from the sky, it is easy to overlook adding a couple of filters to your kit box. However, they can be incredibly useful in helping you to achieve your finished image so it’s worth having a couple of basics on hand to add in if you need them – even just a set of ND filters to reduce the light.
Keep the ISO Low
In general, you would keep your ISO setting low to preserve as much detail as possible. This is especially true if you are working with a smaller sensor as they tend to struggle with performing well at higher ISOs. Where possible, keep the ISO low and compensate with a slower exposure to keep all the glorious detail you want to capture and to give you the maximum post production flexibility.
Get familiar with your camera’s bracketing settings as you will get much better results in your post production if you can blend images together to preserve the detail in the highlights without losing the detail of the shadows.
Last but not Least – the Law!
It’s easy to get carried away with the creative side but you always need to make sure that you’re flying safely, legally and responsibly. You will always need permission from the landowner for take-off and landing and it is a good idea to get this in writing to have with you on the day in case you are questioned.
If you’re a commercial operator, you might well be able to generate a valuable income stream by selling your images in stock libraries (check out Drone Safe Register’s stock facility for members), but hobbyists are not allowed to make commercial gain from their work. This even applies if you flew without intention of selling an image but someone offers to buy it from you later. Basking in the praise and glory of the perfect aerial landscape image that you created is, of course, allowed!
Higher specifications on affordable drone cameras are making high quality aerial photography extremely achievable. As a consequence, we are looking forward to seeing our landscapes and hidden treasures revealed from a new perspective.