8 Tips for Better Drone Photography

This is a special guest post done in collaboration with Vadim Sherbakov who is an independent interactive web and mobile application art director and photographer based in Moscow, Russia. To view Vadim’s work, visit his Instagram feed and Vimeo page. 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. 
Lighthouse drone

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 dronebracketing 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.

Russia drone

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.

Moscow 3 second exposure droneImage above created using a slow shutter

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.

Long banner part 107   Mountain road drone

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.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre droneImage above created using a ND filter to darken the sky

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.

Vatican before droneImage above is unedited

Vatican after droneImage above is edited

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.

top 7 apps for drone pilots

Check out my tutorial 10 Useful Tools For Editing Your Drone Photos On A Computer if you want some more paid and free photo editing options.

If you don’t have access to those applications check out some of the amazing smartphone apps like PriimeVSCO and Snapseed.

If you want some options for editing your drone videos check out my tutorial 5 Useful Tools for Drone Videography Post-Processing for some free and paid options.

Civita di Bagnoregio drone

8) Technical Aspects

This subject may differ slightly depending on what quadcopter you have but the general principles can be applied to most drones.

The following is a list of technical things that should be done to your drone before your fly to prevent any mishaps.

Long banner part 107

First, always calibrate the drone compass when you get to a new location.

For example, when you are flying at the beach and then later fly in the mountains you should definitely calibrate your compass.

This is the best way to prevent your drone from acting weird due to GPS confusion.

DJI GO App sensor menu screenshotScreenshot of the sensor menu in DJI’s GO App

Secondly, check your drone’s compass sensor index which is under “settings” after each calibration.

Even if the DJI app claims that it is ok to fly, take some time to first check the sensor index.

It’s ok to fly a DJI drone when the index is between 1400 – 1600.

If the sensor reads out a higher index though like higher than 1800 that probably means there are signal disturbances around like metal in the ground which can cause connection problems during flight.

The DJI app will automatically warn you if the index is really off like (say above 2200) but it is still best to keep an eye on it and just fly when it is in the 1400 – 1600 range.

Since the DJI’s app can be a bit overwhelming check out my full tutorial DJI Go App: A Step-by-Step Guide Through Every Menu & Button to see a complete walkthrough of the app!

Dolomite Italy drone

Thirdly, hover for a few seconds instead of flying straight up from the ground once the propellers are on.

I recommend you just ease up a bit and hover for at least :15 seconds before going hundreds of feet up.

This will give you enough time to land the drone in case there is a malfunction or if your drone is behaving strangely.

If you’re going to fly your drone in cold climates then check out this helpful post called The Best Tips for Flying Your Drone in Cold Weather.

31 Essential Tips For Creating Epic Drone Videos #fromwhereidrone http://fromwhereidrone.com/essential-tips-for-creating-epic-drone-videos/

Fourthly, be mindful of wild life in the air.

Seagulls, for instance, are eager to attack your drone because they want to protect their territory and of course, above all, be responsible and learn the drone rules before flying your drone.

I hope these tips help you capture better aerial photos with your drone!

If you are looking for even more tips, check out this new article: Essential Tips For Creating Epic Drone Videos.

Lastly, if you enjoyed the post could you please do me a HUGE favor and share it on social media for me?

Just click the big social media icons at the very top or very bottom of this page.

This blog is simply a hobby and labor of love and your support truly does help in keeping this website going!

Thank you! Have a question or comment? Feel free to contact me directly at [email protected] or just drop a comment down below.


About this site Instagram---bio-picDirk Dallas, also known online as @dirka, is the founder and curator of From Where I Drone, a blog dedicated to teaching drone pilots how to capture better aerial photos and videos.


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18 Comments on “8 Tips for Better Drone Photography

  1. I just got my first drone and so I am trying to learn how to do photography with it. I really like what you have to say about using auto and manual modes and how manual allows you to use the lowest ISO and shutter speed, which are really important when taking pictures. However, I didn’t realize that it will be hard for me to tell whether or not my photo is under-exposed and so I am going to start testing out the auto mode like you suggest, but is there a way to switch modes while the drone is in the air?

  2. Have you ever needed/wanted a a way to establish “scale” in your photos? I am doing a project of a large pice of property and I need to have a reference for the photos. I need like a key? 1 inch equals 100 ft or something? I was thinking about painting a pice of plywood and just have it laying in the photos so I would know 4×8 is a particular size in the photos? Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Thanks for your time.

    • Ya I have totally wanted to do something like that but I just haven’t found the time yet. Keep me posted if you ever end up doing it. Would love to check it out!

  3. Can i use that picture of the house on a cliff for my profile page?
    Look forward to hearing from you by email ..

  4. Thanks for this article. For the best aerial drone cinematography may I also add that stability is key. Your camera has to be very still if you must take awesome shots or films. Avoid camera shake as much as you can. Also avoid turbulence by flying low. Use windows to keep still or load your drone with sizable cameras. But that’s not all. In shoot within the best range, have a co-pilot, and master the flying technique by getting the best training. You never know but simple as these tips may sound they have helped me for over 10 years now.

  5. I got my first drone, Phantom 4.
    How do I do Bracketing in Phantom 4.
    How do I set Bracketing feature and best settings.

    Share something about Bracket picture editing and video editing.

  6. Thanks for your efforts. Great tips with ISO configuration. Will put your advice into tomorrows flights.

    Cheers
    New Phantom 4 pilot

  7. Hi Dirk,

    Hope you well. Thanks for you tips I have improved my results in aerial photography and video.
    I have a question for you please: which software/plug-in do you use to merge bracketed photo in Lightroom and create a HDR photo like the one you show of Rome and Castel Sant’ Angelo?
    Many thanks for your time, if you have a moment please check my website http://www.mauromatalone.com and my Instagram account @ the_italian_shot (i do follow yours as well)

    Kind regards,
    Mauro

  8. Hi Dirk
    Thanx for all the tips, I am a pensioner about to do my thing. Lots of reading/learning awaits me. But hopefully I will be getting there.

  9. I did not know that the best way to shoot was in RAW format when it came to using drones. It would be nice to later be able to adjust color and exposure. Something else to think about would be to practice flying your drone in an open space without obstacles before trying complicated shoots.

  10. I enjoyed this article due to that large amount of technical advice that you’ve provided. Also, you’ve provided the right pictures so that even someone that’s new to drone photography can understand. Some drones are better than others when it comes to camera quality, resistance to water and flight time. These are, I think, important factors to take into consideration, depending on what you want to do and where you want to fly.
    I’ve written an article that compares the best drones for filming and photography. Give it a read if you like: https://todaybestdrone.com/best-drones-camera/.

  11. My brother just got a drone and has been looking for ways to improve the photos he takes with it. I like that you suggest using the RAW format for photos so you have more options available when editing in photoshop or lightroom. I agree that there is no reason to compress them in JPEG format if you have the space for it because they are higher quality. Thanks for sharing!

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