Unmanned aerial vehicles known as drones first appeared for military use over a century ago. Since then, the use of drone cameras has captured the attention of commercial markets like real estate, construction, search and rescue, law enforcement, agriculture, media, and others.

Aerial Drone Photography Tips: Getting Started

  • What Drone Is Right for Me?
  • What’s in a Drone?
  • What to Look for in a Drone
  • Drones Are Not Created Equal
  • Drone Cameras
  • Drone Accessories
  • How Much Money Are We Talking?
  • Flying Your Drone
  • Capturing Unforgettable Photography
  • The Law: Know Before You Go
  • Prepare for Lift-Off

Professionals and hobbyists alike are turning to drones to take their photography and video to a higher level (no pun intended). Although drones can come with a steep price and learning curve, the unique aerial photography produced is worth its height in gold.

Entering the drone realm is an exciting decision! There is a lot of information to take in before you take off for the first time. In this article we will explore drone basics, how to find a drone that suits you, understanding your drone camera, setting yourself up with the right gear and accessories, and getting your drone photography off the ground!

drone photography Cole's Classroom

What Drone is Right for Me?

Before purchasing a drone, it’s important to think about the ways you want to use it. Are you a recreational flyer who wants to see the world from a new perspective? Are you a beginner photographer hoping to try a new technique? Or maybe you’re a freelance photographer and want a drone for aerial real estate photography or wedding photos. Figuring out the purpose of your drone will determine the must-have features and price points for your needs. In this article, we will look at drones targeted at amateur and professional photographers.

What’s in a Drone?

Drones are built with a variety of different features. Aside from mechanics like props, motors, batteries, and landing gear, drones are equipped with state-of-the-art technology that can weigh less than a pound. High tech GPS, 3D mapping sensors, collision avoidance sensors, camera gimbals, and flight stabilizers are just a few of the advanced technologies found on modern day drones. These features separate high-end drones from entry-level models and affect the quality of your drone footage and photography. Finding the right balance of features and camera quality is the first step in choosing a drone.

What to Look for in a Drone

Before we look at cameras, it’s important to consider the available drone technology that makes a photographer’s life easier.

GPS – Drones with GPS that can auto-return and land will save you hours of searching for a lost or crashed drone. Some drones will return to a home point once the battery drops below a certain point.

Tracking Mode – Drones with tracking mode allow the user to lock the camera onto a person or object and some models can even fly hands-free. The drone will follow the subject while using sensors to avoid obstacles along the way.

Hovering & Orbit – The ability to hover and orbit a subject is a great feature, especially for photographers. These drones offer a convenient way to capture amazing video and images.

These features make piloting a breeze while taking stunning aerial photography. Both beginners and professionals can benefit from these user-friendly settings. Now that you’ve considered what additional technology to look for in a drone, it’s time to find the right camera.

drone photography Cole's Classroom

Drones Are Not Created Equal

When it comes to drone camera equipment, you will find that not all drones are created equal. Drones boast a variety of features, sizes, and camera options. Some drones don’t have cameras at all but are designed to mount a GoPro or similar device. If you already own a GoPro and don’t need a camera built-in to your drone, your price point will be slightly lower. Drones with built-in cameras require an advanced technology and tend to be more expensive. There are plenty of drones that cost under $100, but the camera quality is poor or missing altogether.

If you are searching for a drone with a good built-in camera, there are some features worth considering. Cameras with rotating gimbals can cost more but add serious value to your shots. This pivoting mount rotates on the x, y, and z-axis to provide camera stabilization. Especially useful for film, a gimbal keeps your shots steady and vibration-free during flight.

Drone Cameras

Understanding the difference in drone cameras can help you narrow your search, and you may realize that a mid-range camera will suit your purposes just fine. From 5MP to 20MP, drone cameras come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on your photography needs, you may find that a 12MP camera is enough to produce those high-quality aerial shots (the iPhone 8+ has a 12MP camera).

Some cameras boast a video resolution of 4k, but most provide 1080p. While 4k has four times as many pixels as 1080p, many professionals argue that 1080p is plenty for achieving quality results. If Ultra High Definition ranks high on your needs in a drone, go with 4k video resolution. For the rest, 1080p is still High Definition and will provide quality footage.

Drone cameras with adjustable ISO, aperture, and shutter speed can make all the difference in quality and customization. A setting to reduce motion blur will keep photographs crisp and stunning while your camera is in flight. Understanding and customizing your settings preflight removes the need to make adjustments while the drone is in the air.

Once you’ve decided on the right camera option for you, it’s time to find the gear to complement it.

drone photography

Drone Accessories

Most drones offer a magical experience all by themselves. They have many smart features to capture wonderful imagery from a variety of perspectives. You could easily work with a stock drone and produce quality work, but there are ways to capitalize on your new investment. Adding a few simple accessories will improve your camera quality, drone flying capabilities, and drone protection.

Filters – Camera filters aren’t just for Snapchat. Investing in some drone camera filters will take your aerial photography from good to great! Filters are an affordable way to customize your images. These can be especially helpful with varying landscapes and water shots. Polarized filters (CPL) improve aerial photography over the ocean or bodies of water while MCUV filters are great for snowy conditions. Other filters like ND4, ND8, ND16, or ND32 change the amount of light reaching the camera, allowing for greater freedom in your aerial images. You can find kits with multiple lenses for under $20, which are a very worthwhile investment for both beginners and professionals.

Remote Control – Another useful tool is a handheld remote. Most drones can be controlled with an app on your phone. However, a remote makes flying a drone easier so you can focus on taking those breathtaking aerial shots. Most models don’t come with a remote, but it is well worth the investment.

Spare Gear – Having an extra set of propellers on hand will save you from missing out if you crash or lose any pieces. This goes along with batteries as well. Drones can fly on one charge from 7-45 minutes depending on size and model. Having spare batteries will keep you airborne for longer.

Protective Gear – Make sure you have a decent storage bag for your drone. Protecting it while it’s on the ground is just as important as keeping it safe in the air. Propeller guards, a snap-on camera and gimbal cover, and protective case are all worthwhile investments for your drone.

drone photography

How Much Money Are We Talking?

If you are prepared to take drone photography seriously, you can expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars on a small drone and related equipment. Prices are dropping as the market expands, but they are still expensive. One of the smallest drones on the market with an HD camera is the DJI Spark. With a 16-minute flight time, this drone is smaller than a smartphone and boasts a 12MP camera with 1080p video resolution. It costs about $400 with no added accessories.

The Spark’s big brother, the DJI Phantom 3, can fly for 25 minutes on a single charge, has a 4k camera, and costs upwards of $600. Some drones on the civilian market are well over $10,000! A high-end commercial drone will cost even more. Price ultimately comes down to the size of your drone, additional features, and the quality of your camera.

Flying Your Drone

Now that you’ve found the features you like, a camera that suits your needs, and all the accessories to make life easier, it’s time to fly! Be sure to read the instruction manual first, but no amount of reading can prepare you for the excitement of taking off for the first time. Make sure your first few flights are in an open space free of obstacles to avoid unnecessary crashes.

Instructional videos found online will help streamline the process of using the many features your drone offers. Practice as much as possible! Before landing your first aerial photography gig, get as many flying hours under your belt as possible. You must know how to use your gear, switch features while in flight, and keep your drone in total control before you can capture the perfect shot.

drone photography

Check the weather forecast before you take flight. Knowing your drones limit in windy conditions can put your mind at ease when unpredicted gusts present themselves. Rain can permanently damage your drone, though waterproof models are on the rise (with price tags to match).

You can never be over-prepared when it comes to professional drone photography. There is much that needs to happen before you take your first shot! Having the right gear, practicing, and planning for weather can make all the difference in the quality of your photography.

Capturing Unforgettable Photography

The unique vantage point provided by drones has gained particular attention in the real estate and wedding markets. Buying and selling homes is easier with aerial images of the property. Another effective technique is to produce creative fly-throughs of the interior. Some drone photographers charge a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per session to capture these quality shots. This price reflects the cost of the equipment used, as well as the enormous value provided to real estate agents.

Weddings are another industry turning to drones for stunning aerial photos. Changing your vantage point is a great way to frame the bride and groom. Standing out against a vast landscape, your drone photos will be unsurpassed by any shot taken from the land.

drone photography

It’s hard to put a price on the services of a skilled photographer who has learned to be a drone pilot. Likewise, experienced drone operators can become photographers by understanding basic techniques such as the rule of threes and photography composition. There is plenty of money to be made if you can do both.

The Law: Know Before You Go

Before you book your first gig as a drone photographer, it’s important to understand the laws and regulations regarding drone flight. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all drones weighing more than 0.55 lbs to be registered. It costs only $5 but can result in serious fines if you fail to do so. Other restrictions include the “line of sight rule” which states that all drones must stay within eyeshot at all times. No-fly zones such as military bases and airports are also illegal to fly over and should be avoided at all costs.

Prepare for Lift-Off

Drones are packed with extremely smart technology that gives your photos a unique edge and selling point. Having a drone photography business can be just as entertaining as it is lucrative! Here’s a great link to learn more about selling and marketing your photography.

Drones are a fantastic way to view the world from another perspective. The film and photography captured in flight are simply breathtaking! Drones are worth their weight in gold when it comes to their practical and artistic uses. People are paying top dollar for drone services to capture weddings, real estate properties, and more! With relatively low overhead, this lucrative industry has huge profit margins. The decision to fly a drone may be your smartest investment yet. There is so much to see from the skies, so what are you waiting for?