We’ve all seen stunning images captured from above but those of you who have a drone know that it can be difficult to get good results. Nailing a gorgeous aerial image doesn’t only require patience and good conditions but a lot of trial and error; even a slight change in perspective will make a huge difference.
Let’s look at the top 10 tips that will help you to capture better drone nature photographs today:
1. Use filters for better results
This took me a long time to understand. I’ve always thought that filters for drones were mostly meant for videographers to keep the shutter speed ideal but boy was I wrong… Attaching a filter to your drone will give a huge boost to its overall look.
You might be scratching your head right now wondering how filters for drones even work. Most likely you didn’t even know it was a thing! But it is… and they’re easy to use!
I’m using a filter kit from NiSi for my DJI Mavic Pro 2. This kit includes a UV Filter, Polarizer Filter, ND8, ND16, ND32, ND256 and an ND1000. In other words, that’s the full range from 3-Stops to 10-Stops ND Filters. Now, to be honest, I don’t use the ND Filters that much (though I’ve seen some spectacular images taken with them); instead I’ve fallen in love with using a polarizer for my aerial photography.
Just like using a polarizer for your DSLR, using one for your drone will give the image a nice ‘pop’ in contrast. It also does an excellent job removing glare, which is especially nice for day-time drone photography.
Attaching filters is pretty straightforward too (depending on your drone): For the DJI Mavic Pro 2, you simply twist off the current lens protector and replace it with a filter.
2. Choosing the right aperture makes a big difference
Several of the newer and more advanced photography drones allow you to adjust the aperture. As a landscape photographer, you might have heard “always shoot f/11”. Forget about this when using a drone; it will most likely do more harm than good.
After several tests of the DJI Mavic Pro 2’s aperture performance, I’ve concluded that the ideal aperture is from f/2.8 to f/4. Sharpness starts to decrease at f/5.6 and stepping it down to f/11 results in a soft and almost out-of-focus looking image.
If using an aperture of f/2.8 results in too quick of a shutter speed I recommend that you attach a neutral density filter rather than step down the aperture.
Read our review of the DJI Mavic Pro 2 here.
3. Higher altitude doesn’t mean better image
A mistake I often see amongst beginning drone nature photographers is that they fly the drone directly up to the maximum altitudes. I agree that it’s exciting to view the world from far up but the best images are often much closer to the ground.
In fact, some times you don’t need to fly more than a few meters above the ground. Take the image below as en example. The drone wasn’t hovering much above my head but it allowed me to get a perspective I couldn’t have otherwise.
Spend a few minutes exploring the scenery at various altitudes before flying straight up. You might be surprised to see that a lower altitude often gives more interesting compositions.
4. Tripod Mode is your friend
Let’s get something straight: the perspective is important in landscape and nature photography. This is amplified by 100% when photographing with a drone. Just a slight movement of the drone could potentially mean a big difference in the image.
It can be quite challenging to get the best perspective, especially when the remote control sticks are so sensitive. That’s why I strongly recommend switching over to Tripod Mode once you’ve found an angle you like. Then you can smoothly make adjustments to the perspective until you find the perfect one.
5. Take advantage of light
When I purchased my first drone several years ago, I got so excited to photograph from this new perspective that I neglected several key factors that create a good image, the most important being the light.
My excitement led me to fly around like a madman and photograph everything from everywhere, not even considering the light for a short second. I’ve now had several drones and while I still get excited when using one, I take the time to slow down and remember what needs to be done to create good nature photographs.
In other words, don’t neglect the light. Good light is just as important when photographing from above as it is from ground-level.
6. Find patterns straight down
Some of the most incredible drone images out there are captured when the lens has been tilted straight down. What might look boring from where you stand might look incredible from above.
One way to find these patterns is by flying your drone up to a high altitude and slowly rotating 360 degrees in search of interesting-looking landscapes nearby. If you do locate something, fly towards it, tilt the camera straight down and adjust the altitude until you’ve found something pleasing.
7. Use Google Earth to plan your shots
Let’s say that you’re on a mission to find an interesting aerial shot where the lens is tilted straight down. Following the step above to find patterns can be a nice way to find surprising sceneries but it’s not very efficient if you want to photograph something specific. Only a small percentage of the “fly-high and scout” strategy actually results in great images.
A much more efficient method is to plan your shots using Google Earth. Whether you’re planning a vacation or a photo session close to home, spend time on Google Earth searching for interesting patterns on the ground. They might be difficult to find but once you locate them the results are going to be much better!
8. Pay close attention to the wind
The downside to landscape photography with a drone is that you’re extremely dependent on the weather. Strong winds may put a stop to your plans and force you to keep the drone packed away in your backpack.
That being said, modern drones are rapidly improving and today’s are much more stable in windy weather than those of a few years back. I’ve flown my drone in relatively strong winds but I always make sure to hover it above the ground for a while before flying away. It’s also important that you’re familiar with the wind direction; it might fly out easily but once you turn it around to fly home it might be a different story…
9. Use a quick enough shutter speed
This brings us to the next tip for better drone nature photography: adjust the shutter speed according to the conditions.
It’s not possible to get a sharp image with a shutter speed of 0.5 seconds when flying in strong winds. The drone might fly well and even hang relatively stable but the stronger the winds, the quicker the shutter speed needs to be.
Make it a habit to always look at the image preview when adjusting the settings. You don’t want to come home and realize that all your great images are blurry because of the wind.
10. Use human elements for scale
Drone nature photographs often lack an interest point. The scenery might be beautiful but where should the viewer look? Try adding a person or car as a focal point. Not only is this going to give the viewer a natural place to rest their eyes but it will add a nice scale to the frame.
Keep these 10 tips in the back of your mind next time you head out with your drone. It goes without saying that you don’t need to apply all of them at once; it always depends on the scenario. However, implementing these tips will help improve not only the quality but also the visual impact of your photos.