There’s no doubt that drone photography is a growing niche in the landscape photography field and it’s not hard to understand why; you’re able to reach new perspectives and create compositions that used to be impossible.
Reaching these new perspectives can result in visually stunning images of both well-known and unknown places, something both photographers and photography lovers enjoy viewing.
However, as with anything else, mastering the field takes practice. Even though each generation of drones are becoming smarter and easier to use, there’s more to it than just taking off and photographing. Capturing high quality and visually pleasing images takes time.
Let’s look at 6 tips for better drone landscape photography:
#1 Take Your Time
The batteries of a DSLR camera can last several hours while the flight time of a drone is just below 30 minutes. Taking into consideration that you need to take off, fly to a specific composition and fly back, the effective photography time is considerably less.
With a limited time to fly it’s tempting to rush out and grab as many shots as possible.
But I urge you to slow down and take your time. Focus on quality over quantity, perfecting a few frames instead. Take time to adjust the angle, the height, the composition and the settings until you’ve captured the best possible version of that specific scene.
Force yourself to fully finish one image before moving on to the next.
#2 Have Spare Batteries
While this won’t technically make your images better, it will permit you to spend more time in the air and ultimately capture more at the level of quality you want.
I personally have 3 batteries but could easily bring a couple more, especially when traveling and photographing multiple spots in one session.
Time flies (no pun intended) when using the drone. Even when I’m working efficiently and already know the exact shot I’m planning to capture, 10-15 minutes pass by in a blink of an eye.
Keep in mind that at 15 minutes, you’re down to less than 50% battery.
#3 Experiment with Altitudes
It’s typical to fly the drone straight up to the maximum altitude and photograph from way up there but the truth is, that’s not always the ideal position. You certainly get a better overview at a high altitude but the best images are often found much lower.
In fact, sometimes the best images are only a few meters up. Take the image below as an example. I experimented with several different altitudes but ended up using one that was no more than 3 meters up – it simply was the best option for that scene.
Experimenting with altitudes is one of the reasons why I recommend taking time to perfect an image (and having spare batteries). Exploring various possibilities takes time, so don’t be surprised when you suddenly hear the ‘low battery signal’.
#4 Pay Attention to the Weather
I’ll admit that I’ve had more than a few scenarios where I’ve been unsure whether I’d ever see my drone again.
Strong wind and rain are bad signs.
Drones are becoming more stable in rough conditions but they still have their limitations. Too much wind and you might not get it back… Too much rain and it might malfunction.
That being said, I’ve flown my DJI Mavic Pro 2 in both wind and rain and it still works like a charm. I’ve been vigilant though to fly back quickly if it starts raining hard.
Wind direction is another thing to keep in mind. Avoid flying with a strong tailwind; make sure to always fly with the headwind at first to assess how the drone performs in it.
Lastly, the drone’s gimbals are amazing but not so good that they keep the camera 100% stable in rough conditions. You might need to bump up the ISO or use a quicker shutter speed to avoid blurry images. And, of course sometimes, you’ll just have to pack up your drone and forget about it…
#5 Use Manual Mode
That brings us to the next tip: adjust the settings manually.
Automatic modes rarely take image quality into consideration. Instead, you’re presented with the most efficient settings which often means that the ISO is bumped up higher than is desirable.
The ISO performance of drones isn’t as good as in DSLR cameras (though it has improved significantly) so it’s better to keep it as low as possible by using a slightly slower shutter speed when you can. This may sound like a contradiction to tip #4 but in fact, each is valid and finding the right balance every time is the key.
#6 Bracket for Better Dynamic Range
This is a bit more technical than single shots and requires a basic understanding of a photo editing software such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop.
Compared to professional DSLR cameras, the dynamic range of most drone cameras is nothing more than ok. You may need to capture multiple exposures when dealing with high-contrast situations. Taking one dark, one base and one bright image insure that you capture the entire dynamic range.
Recommended Reading: Capturing Multiple Images for Better Dynamic Range
It’s easily done by selecting the AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) shooting mode in the DJI Go app. Tap the Camera Setting button and choose Photo to access AEB and the other photo modes.
An alternative is to use the HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooting mode; like the AEB mode, it captures a series of exposures but also automatically blends them into one file for you. This is a good alternative if you’re not comfortable merging the images yourself (though I highly recommend doing it manually; you’ll have more flexibility).
Over to You…
Drone photography is a lot of fun and it’s amazing to be able to see the world from a new perspective. The single best tip to improve your drone landscape photography is to be out there. Spend time flying it and getting used to the settings. Spend time exploring. That’s what you’ll learn the most from.
The tips mentioned in this article are only a few guidelines or ideas to help you on the way. As with anything in photography, there’s no one right or wrong. Do what best conveys your story.
Do you have any drone landscape photography tips you want to add to this list? Let me know in a comment below and perhaps it will be included in part 2!