8 Tips for better Drone Photography

8 Tips for better Drone Photography

For the past few months, I’ve been taking aerial photographs with a drone and I’d love to share the best drone photography tips to help you make the most of your drone photos!
The primary drone I shoot with is the DJI Phantom 3 Pro quadcopter and the DJI Phantom 4 Pro quadcopter, the DJI Mavic Pro, the DJI Inspire Pro so these aren’t just Phantom photography tips but really everything I share below can be applied to many other drone models as well from Yuneec, Parrot and 3DR.

While the Phantom 3 camera is great, it is not without its faults.

It can shoot 12mb RAW photos (the newer drones have even better cameras), but noise and focus are a couple of this camera’s weak points.

Camera shake can also be a problem due wind at various altitudes but that is really unavoidable. To minimize these compromising factors, I always make sure to follow these 8 principles. 

Drone Photography Tip #1 – RAW is Key
Every professional photographer will tell you that the best way to shoot is in the RAW format, so that they can later correct the exposure and adjust colors with more control.

This is just as important with drone photography.

Since the camera resolution is only 12mb it would be extremely limiting to compress your drone images into the JPEG format.

Even if you only want to just shoot for fun, you might shoot a one of a kind drone photo and choose to print it really big and you could later be disappointed that you won’t have the ability to use the full gamut of post-processing options that are available to you through apps like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom.

Rome, Italy droneSave
bracketing with a droneImage above created by bracketing 5 different shots together

Drone Photography Tip #2 – Bracketing is King
This is a really awesome feature and I am glad DJI built it into the Phantom drones.

For starters, bracketing is defined as taking two or more photos of the same subject while using different camera settings. Bracketing serves a couple of purposes:

If you made a mistake in assessing the correct exposure, then you can choose the right one from 3 to 5 bracketed photos.
You can also use them to create HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos. 95% of my shots are bracketed shots, which allows me to bring more detail into the shadows or bring more detail in the highlights at a later time instead of having only one option from a single shot.

Drone Photography Tip #3 – P (auto) and M (manual) mode
I almost always shoot in Manual mode because it allows me to manually choose the lowest possible ISO as well as shutter speed.

Sadly, the DJI app does not yet let you know if you have over-or-under-exposed your photo like a traditional camera does (actually the DJI Go App now does do this via the “histogram”).

Therefore, to test this out, switch your shooting mode to P mode (auto mode) so you can see what the app thinks would be best for your photo.

Once you do that, switch back to M mode (manual mode) and build off of what you saw in the original P mode by adjusting the exposure and shutter settings.

Drone Photography Tip #4 – Drone Shake/Shooting at Night
The best drones still shake in low wind conditions.

The higher you go, the windier it gets.

Even if it’s absolutely still on the ground, you may get wind when your drone goes up high.

Surprisingly, the Phantom 3 allows you to shoot with a shutter speed as long as 8-seconds, but for any night shot it’s best not to exceed 3 seconds, otherwise you will see noticeable shakes in your photo and it will become unusable.

Drone Photography Tip #5 – ISO: How Low Can You Go?
My advice is to always shoot with the lowest possible ISO, which on the Phantom 3 is ISO 100.

Using a low ISO minimizes the noise and grain in photos.

When you’re shooting out in daylight there is no reason to have a high ISO because there is so much available light.

When you’re out shooting low-light shots though, you must find the right balance between letting the camera get enough light in and not having a super grainy image.

For low-light shots, before you increase your 3 second shutter and your ISO past something like ISO 800, try using a longer shutter speed instead.

Drone Photography Tip #6 – Neutral Density and Polarizing Filters
I use neutral density (ND) filters quite often because I shoot a lot of video. In order to get a cinematic effect on your shots it is recommended that you double the frames-per-second (fps) that you are shooting with.

For example, if you are shooting 4K video at 24fps that means that you should ideally be shooting at 1/50 second shutter speed (there is no 1/48 so 1/50 is the closest).

In order to achieve a slow shutter speed of 1/50 on a bright day you should use a neutral density filter in order to reduce the light coming into the camera.

This will then allow you to use a slower more natural shutter speed. ND filters darken your entire image so it’s like putting sunglasses over the camera’s lens.

This means that you should be careful using an ND filter in low-light situations because this can make the image overly dark and introduce noise/grain (that is why it’s a good idea to keep your eye on a histogram in situations like that).

So in low light situations stick to using just the default camera with no filter on it. Using a polarizer filter can be great option for getting better looking images. Polarizing filters reduce glare and increase color saturation.

Some polarizers can also reduce the amount of light entering the lens which also allows you to use slower shutter speeds on bright days.

7) Post Processing
The two shots in the example above show the unedited version and then the edited version which was resized, straightened and color-corrected in both Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom.

I encourage you to not just share pictures straight out of the camera.

There is always room to edit your photo and take your vision further with an edit.

I like to process my photos through software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and I use those apps to combine my photos using the bracketing technique I mentioned above in point #3.