Drone Photography for Beginners: A Complete Guide

Drone Photography for Beginners: A Complete Guide

It’s so great to have you here at my Drone Photography Basics Guide. I have taught many other people about how to use drones for photography just like me, which is why I know exactly what needs to be done in order to capture the perfect shots for a drone flyer such as yourself.

The goal of this guide is to make learning the basics of drone photography as easy as possible for beginners.

In this article on beginner drone photography, we will cover

  • The Exposure
  • White Balance
  • The use of ND filters 
  • RAW vs JPG
  • Composition
  • Photo Modes (DJI Fly and similar flight apps)
  • Use Photo Editing Softwares

Aperture

When someone looks into the lens of a camera, they are looking at what we call an aperture. This is because when you look through the lens of a camera you’ll see two things: a little circle or hole that allows light inside called the aperture and everything else outside it. You can control this aperture from being open to allow more light in or closed so less light comes in – which will lead to either brightly lit or dark images respectively.

All cameras are equipped with an aperture that determines what is in focus and what is blurred. If the camera has a wide-open aperture and your object is farther away from the lens, then you’ll achieve shallow depth of field–a blurry background.

The background of your subject becomes fuzzy when the aperture is decreased. As the aperture closes, objects in the foreground and background become clearer; it’s called depth of field.

Fixed apertures on most consumer drones mean you can’t change the f-stop or aperture of your camera. F2.8 (or higher) is usually the aperture setting for fixed apertures. For example, DJI Mavic Mini/Mini 2, Air 2, Air 2S (and many others) all have fixed apertures.

Consumers usually do not know how to change the ISO or shutter speed of their drone so they either overexpose or underexpose images without realizing it

ISO

In general, the ISO is a measure of how sensitive to light each camera sensor has. Generally speaking, every camera has an ISO rating that ranges from 1 (for those who prefer less light) to 6400 (to those who want more). For photography purposes, most droners will use an ISO ranging from 100-12000 while taking pictures.

When taking photos with your drone camera, make sure to keep the ISO as low as possible – this will reduce noise or gain in your photos when they are taken in dark environments.

A larger camera sensor for your drone allows you to capture brighter images when shooting in low light. Drones like the DJI Mavic 3 or DJI Air 2S come equipped with a large camera sensor which means brighter shots are guaranteed.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the length of time it takes for a picture to be taken when using a camera.

It is important to pay attention to the shutter speed for two reasons. The first reason is it controls how bright or dark an image will be taken. With a long shutter speed, light gets let in and makes the picture brighter but when taking pictures with a short shutter speed, there isn’t much light going into the camera lens so the images come out darker.

This occurs because the shutter controls how much light enters the sensor of the camera based on its opening duration.

The second reason the shutter is important is that it controls how blurred a picture becomes. A perfect example of this is an artistic portrayal of a multiplanes waterfall with streams falling smoothly and out-of-focus. These type of pictures are taken with the help of a very slow shutter speed.

Shutter speed, on the other hand, is associated with sharper images. For example- the subject is running or jumping, and it appears as though they are frozen in time, like photographing raindrops.

Your video will get much brighter or darker depending on the aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Play around with all three in manual mode so you’ll know how it impacts your video quality.

The Exposure Triangle

Exposure is one of the significant factors for making good photos. Drone photographers refer to exposure as how dark or light the picture will appear. Technically, an under-exposed photo means it appears too dark while an over-exposed photo would mean it appears too bright.

The Exposure Triangle

If you’re reading this Drone Photography Guide, it probably means that you currently take photos using the automatic settings on your drone camera. This means that your drone’s camera entirely controls the exposure of the picture. When you take pictures in Automatic Mode, your drone’s camera selects a shutter speed and all other necessary settings automatically for you.If you are interested in diving deep into the world of drone photography, check out our course recommendations from Drone Pro Academy to see what courses might be best for you.Automatic mode may seem convenient, but it restricts your creativity and reduces the quality of images you take. If you want to capture high-quality images with a drone camera, you should always use manual mode.For taking pictures in manual mode, you need to know about the exposure triangle for getting amazing drone photos. The three parts of this are Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed.

ND Filters

Most photographers don’t use ND filters and are mainly used by videographers for filming cinematic videos. ND (Neutral density) filters work like sunglasses for drones.

ND filters are often used for videos of day-lit scenes to set the correct shutter speed, so that there is appropriate motion blur in every frame. Filming this way can result in stunning cinematic footage, like those seen in movies.

Drone companies may include ND filters when you purchase them from them, or they can be bought separately. For example, if you purchase a DJI drone with Fly More Combo options, then you will receive an ND filter set for free.

ND Filters

Drone photographers use ND filters all the time. In fact, they’re only used for taking pictures during long exposures in daylight hours. And even then, they’re not necessary because normally when you take a picture the aperture and ISO settings can be adjusted without much of an issue – which lightens up the final photo quite nicely too.

Photo modes

One of the ways you can express your creativity through photography is to take pictures with drones. There are a number of different photo modes available for taking images while flying them around – it all depends on what you’re trying to capture.

You’ll find that each drone manufacturer has a different name for its photo modes, but there are some general ones we see commonly.

  • Single Shot
  • Burst
  • Timer
  • AEB

Single Shot

The single shot is the most common mode used when taking pictures with drones. After you adjust the frame to fit what you’re shooting, set your camera’s exposure settings, and press the button, a perfect single photo will be created.

AEB

AEB means Auto Exposure Bracketing. In simple terms, the drone camera takes 3 to 5 similar but with different exposure values in a row. This mode is usually used when the drone photographer isn’t quite sure of what the correct exposure should be for a photo.

Mainly, AEB mode is used when it’s too dark outside or inside and you need additional lighting power.

Burst Mode

Burst mode means that you can take up to 20 shots in one click, which may come in handy if you’re trying to capture an object or person quickly passing by.

Timer

Timer mode helps you take pictures without being seen. This can be helpful when it comes to taking solo or group shots where your drone controller is visible.

Photo Editing Software

Photo editing software provides an artist’s view of photographs, enabling photographers to show their pictures just as they intended.

Photo editing software allows you to manipulate the color, size, white balance, texture, sharpness and many other qualities of a picture.

Earlier, we explored the benefits and limitations of both RAW and JPEG image formats. If you’re thinking about working on your photos heavily, then use RAW images if they’re supported by popular photo editing software programs.

White Balance

Adjusting the color of an image to make it as natural looking as possible, white balance brings back neutrality in all colors of the picture including whites.

In photography, temperature of colors is measured in Kelvins. A higher number such as 10,000 Kelvins means that the color will be blue while a lower number such as 1,000 Kelvins will mean the color will be orange. There are many shades of colors between these two extremes depending on how far apart they are set at.

To get a more accurate color temperature in your photos, it’s necessary to make sure you set the correct White Balance when flying your drone. Most drones come equipped with preset options for how warm or cool the picture should be, like Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, and Custom. The right setting will depend on what type of lighting condition you are shooting under.

In the DJI Fly app, you can slide the white balance by selecting the numerical kelvin (k) value via a sliding bar.

Setting the white balance with a slider can be tricky sometimes, so we offer an auto function. When you activate this setting, we automatically show you the Kelvin (k) value displayed on-screen; all you need to do is input that number into the appropriate slider and tweak it left or right until your whites are perfect!

Note: Even after taking pictures, if you are not satisfied with the color temperature in your photos, then you can adjust and change it using image editing software. It’s best to take pictures in RAW image format when editing so that you can edit them at a later time.

White Balance

One way to tell if an image is warmer or colder is by noticing what colors make up the majority of its hue; for example, if most of the hues within an image are orange or yellow (3000K), then it means that this particular photo has a warmer tone. If most of the hues within an image are blueish in color (6500K), then it means that this particular photo has a colder tone.

When White Balance is set properly, all whites in the photo will appear more true and accurate. This results in a photo that looks normal for the environment it was taken in.

When taking photos with your drone, the light will change colors depending on what time of day it is or if you are pointing at an object that has sunlight reflecting off of it.

For instance, if you take photos on a cloudy day with the camera from your drone, it’ll give off more of a bluish color tone for the photo (6,500K), while at midday time it can be even, and the correct White Balance is around 5,200-5,500K. At sunrise or sunset time, it’ll give off more of an orange hue (2,500K).

Composition

Drone image composition simply means positioning your subject within the frame of your shot in such a way that it stands out and takes center stage.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to emphasize a mountain in a conventional landscape image. In this case, it would be essential for the viewer’s attention be directed towards the mountain or have it stand prominently at the forefront of the scene (or near its center).

If one were to take a photo of beautiful architecture, they would avoid obstructing it with crowds or other random objects. It is important for the focus of the shot to be clear and well-executed.But when it comes to landscapes, there are exceptions – one such example being an image that shows off the general beauty of the place. In this scenario though, you would want to frame the picture in a way that highlights that beauty while still maintaining some sense of balance (like what is shown below).Here is a poorly composed shot that doesn’t capture the subject at all. You can tell by looking at this image that it has an off-kilter horizon, and the subject only takes up about 25% of the photo area. Furthermore, because the camera was so far away from the subject in this picture, there’s too much sky and other distractions in the background; making it difficult to focus on anything besides how badly done it is.In this photo, the viewer has an unobstructed view of the subject. The horizon line is leveled, and all other necessary components are present in the image.Learning about drone photography can be difficult when you’re starting out. Luckily, there are many different ways to learn new skills – one of which is through taking a class offered by professionals who know what they’re doing! Check out our recommended course which will give tips and tricks on how to take amazing aerial shots with your own camera.

RAW VS JPG Image Format

A RAW image format is an unprocessed and uncompressed file containing all the information captured by a drone camera. Information collected by drone cameras include color, highlights and shadows, white balance, etc. This data can then be tweaked during post-production for optimal results.If you capture an under-exposed or dark image, the RAW file format can help bring back details and brightens it without sacrificing quality. This also applies to over-exposed images where detail can be recovered from files while maintaining the original high resolution of the photo.JPG images are fully processed and compressed with less information than RAW files. JPGs are complete files that do not need editing, so they make for easy sharing online. You can still edit these JPGs, but the quality won’t be nearly as good as it would if they were raw files instead.By editing JEG images, you will not be able to find the original details of the picture because it has been cropped and edited.A good example of the difference between RAW and JPG is how it’s like to create a custom suit for oneself. When it comes down to making a custom suit, one has full control over what they want; color, fabric type, etc. One also decides where they are going to wear this new creation – whether it be to work or at an event with friends. The same goes for RAW files; when editing pictures that were taken in this format, one can choose anything from exposure levels up to file size. Without having these two options available to me every day when I take photos there are moments where my shots become incomplete because I am unable to edit them due to limitations on what software I am using.On the other hand, while you could buy a pre-made suit off the rack, they’re not always great quality. And because they’re set in one size, it can be difficult to find something that fits well.However, you can get your suit tailored by a tailor, but it still won’t fit as well as a custom made one. Just like with JPG files, you can edit the photo, but they don’t capture details quite like RAW files do.This is a brief comparison between RAW and JEG files that you need to keep in mind when deciding which file type to use.

RAW

  • Ultra high-quality images
  • Larger image files (ex- 15-20MB)
  • No Compression files 

JPG

  • Low-quality images
  • Smaller image files (ex- 2-5MB)
  • Compressed files

Note: A new feature of drones today is being able to take both raw and jpg files simultaneously. This is helpful because you can pick the best one depending on what you need it for – whether it be posting pictures on social media or using them for an advertisement project – without having to worry about quality loss.

Conclusion

This comprehensive guide introduces beginners to the basics of drone photography. Though we do not cover much ground here, as you progress in your field, there are always more opportunities for creativity and excellence awaiting you. Keep up the good work!

Enrolling in a course will provide you with everything you need to know about drone photography – which, if you’re just starting out, can be overwhelming and hard to find information on. Check out our recommended Drone Photography Course where Chris, a professional Drone Photographer, will show students his tips and tricks of taking beautiful aerial shots for big brands.


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