The New Frontier – A Photographer’s Guide to Drones

The affordability of drones means they are now accessible as tools for photography. They open up exciting new potential for photographers, and can be used to take images in ways that would previously have been impossible. Aerial photography with a drone requires a combination of flying, photographic and post-processing skills, and the main focus must always be on safety.

The following tips will help you make a start in drone photography.

1) Choose the right aircraft.

Drones are being developed for a number of different uses, and not all are suitable for photography. Some are built specifically for racing and performing aerobatics, and others are designed for surveying work. If you're serious about aerial photography and want to take high resolution images and video, you need a drone with a high quality camera. By investing a little more, you can choose a drone with the option to fit an external camera. Attaching a digital SLR camera with a gimbal means you have the benefit of more advanced features.

2) Learn to fly safely.

Before you begin to learn the skills of aerial photography, you must be competent at flying your unmanned aircraft. There are strict regulations governing flight safety, and you can be prosecuted if you break them. For example, under the FAA drone rules you must have authorization from air traffic control to fly in some classes of airspace. Being able to control and maneuver a drone smoothly and accurately is the foundation of aerial photography with a drone. Practice flying in circles and squares and keeping your aircraft at set altitudes.

3) Understand the features your drone offers.

In the excitement of learning how to fly and starting to view the world from above, it's easy to overlook the full power of your unmanned aircraft. Most of the recently launched drones have functions that allow you to program them to fly themselves. It's still important to have the ability to take control and land safely if something goes wrong, but using intelligent modes means you can concentrate more on photography than flying. The 'follow me' mode is perfect for shooting sports and chase cam shots.

3) Develop aerial photography skills.

Once you've developed some flying skills, you can begin to explore taking pictures with your drone. The basic rules of photography still apply, and it's important not to forget these just because you're looking from a different perspective. For example, composition of pictures is just as important as when you're shooting from the ground. Always keep a safe distance from people and buildings, and use the zoom feature if your drone has one. Consider the angle and direction of the sun, and notice where shadows are falling. Landscapes and scenery generally look best around sunrise or sunset, so be prepared to visit locations and different times of the day.

Vue aérienne du domaine de Versailles par ToucanWings - Creative Commons By Sa 3.0 - 008
By ToucanWings (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

4) Use digital editing for the best results.

A little work in the digital darkroom can make a big difference to aerial photographs. Purists may argue that you should get the image right in the camera, but that's not easy if your'e shooting from an unmanned aircraft. Lightroom and Photoshop are two of the most flexible photo editing platforms, but others are also available. As well as cropping and straightening images, you can adjust the exposure, color balance and sharpness in the digital darkroom. Digital noise and chromatic aberrations can also be removed if you use advanced software.

5) Experiment and get creative.

The ability to shoot from the air opens exciting new options for photography. Join some forums and social media groups for drone photographers, and look for inspiration from the work of others. Panoramic montages are great for making the most of an aerial view. Tilt shift effects also work well with aerial photographs. Be prepared to experiment and look for ways of creating unique images.

Drone photography is a new frontier, and it's an exciting way to capture the world around you. Landscapes are one of the obvious subjects, but you can also use drones to shoot portraits, events and action.