Five Keys to Better Drone Photography

Your drone is capable of taking amazing aerial photos. Even if you leave the camera settings on full automatic you will get images that are perfectly exposed with rich, vibrant colors. But taking great photos requires more than finding the perfect settings. It involves being aware of things like composition and lighting. Fortunately, these things are easy to learn. Here are five things you can do to take your drone photography to the next level.

1. Less Sky and More Ground

If you put your drone up and start taking pictures with your camera is pointing straight out, the top 40% or so of your image is going to be sky. That's bad composition.

There is a basic law of composition in photography known as the Rule of Thirds. If you divide your image into three sections vertically and three horizontally, the Rule of Thirds says that the main subject in your photo should be placed at one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical lines.

You will be amazed how much better your photos will look if you just tilt your camera down slightly and show less sky. Here are some examples to illustrate.

Rule of Thirds
Rule of Thirds

The DJI Go 4 app will even superimpose a Rule of Thirds grid over the screen to help you line things up. To turn on the grid go to the Camera Settings by tapping the icon with the three sliders below the camera button. Now tap the little gear icon on in the top right, tap on Grid, and select Grid Lines.

Mavic Air Camera Settings

2. Make Sure the Horizon is Straight

Nothing screams amateur more than a crooked horizon line. It seems like such a small thing, but it makes a big difference. Look at these examples.

Five Steps to Better Aerial Photos

Before

Five Steps to Better Aerial Photos

After

Five Steps to Better Aerial Photos

Before

Five Steps to Better Aerial Photos

After

You can fix a crooked horizon in photos you have already taken with whatever software you use for post-processing. I have a quick tutorial on how to do it using Adobe Lightroom. But the best solution is to prevent from happening by doing a simple adjustment to your camera gimbal. I have a tutorial on that as well that you can read. It's easy to do and only takes a few seconds. But it will save you a lot of time down the road.

3. Watch Your Exposure

If an image is overexposed there are likely some areas that contain no information at all. We call that "blowing out the highlights" or "clipping." Basically, the amount of light hitting the sensor is more than it can handle so it doesn't record anything in those areas. You can make some adjustments in post-processing, but since there is no data for your software to work with in the brightest areas of the image, you can never fully correct it. You are left with a final image that has no detail visible in the lightest areas.

Exposure

Over exposed

Exposure

Over exposed corrected

If a photo is underexposed, you can usually add enough correction in post processing to make the image usable. This is especially true if you shot the photo in RAW format as opposed to JPEG. 

Exposure

Under exposed

Exposure

Under exposed corrected

4. Shoot During Golden Hour

Landscape photographers live for Golden Hour because it it makes their pictures look beautiful. Shooting an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset will reward you with warm yellows and oranges, vibrant reds and long shadows that provide depth and emphasize texture. 

These two photos were shot with the same settings. These are the images straight out of the camera with no adjustments made in post-processing. The only difference is the time of day they were shot. The first was taken at 1:00 PM. The second was shot at 8:00 PM. Good things come to those who wait until Golden Hour.

Golden hour
Golden hour

5. Look Down

Your drone allows you to capture images of objects and locations from a perspective that cannot be seen by any other means. Take advantage of that when you are shooting and take time to tilt your camera straight down. Look for patterns, colors, and shapes. Even everyday objects can look very different form the "God's eye" perspective.

Five Keys to Better Aerial Photos
Five Keys to Better Aerial Photos
Five Keys to Better Aerial Photos
Five Keys to Better Aerial Photos