Aerial photography tips - phantom & mavic drones
I’m going to share some of my top tips for taking good aerial photos with the DJI Phantom 3 and above models as well as DJI Mavic. Some of these tips can also apply to other drone flying platforms. The Phantom 3 is a great setup out of the box to start taking great aerial photos and video. The technology has improved a lot since the Phantom 1 where you would be flying blind with a gopro attached hoping for a good shot. If you’re already experienced with photography your biggest challenge will be to learn to fly the drone as they are 2 different skillsets. You also need to have a good understanding of the Dji Go app or the 3rd party app you are using.Here are some of my top tips for taking good aerial photos. I want to preface by saying my core focus is on videos, but you can take a look at my photos and decide for yourself whether you listen to my advice.
Learn how to fly and control the camera gimbal
When I started flying the Phantom 1 I just wanted to open the box and get this thing in the air right away. I almost lost my drone and gopro on my first flight at Bondi beach. Take some time to learn how to fly. Practice in the flight simulator and get comfortable with basic movements like taking off, landing, rising, rotating the aircraft, side sweeps, and back sweeps.After you can control the aircraft practice controlling the pitch of the camera. You should be able to control the aircraft and camera pitch without thinking to much. This comes with practicing a lot. Dji also has a pilot guide with drills if you want a reference. I also have an online course that will help you with this. Remember to try different camera angles
plan the time of your flight
It’s usually a good rule of thumb to use natural light and use the sun. The best times for this are an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. Morning after sunrise is also good light and is usually a less busy time. There are exceptions of course and I recommend you experiment, and even reserve one day to scout and observe the best time for natural light in your location. You can use timeanddate.com to learn the sunrise and sunset times for when you should head out. I also like the hover app which will give you this information and a lot more information.
use natural light from the sun
This relates to the first tip, but once you are at the right time and place you need to work with the sun. It's unlikely you can use artificial lights to support like you can with standard photography. I forget where I heard this, but the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. It's true. Once you know this it’s important to get a sense of direction so you know where East and West is in your location. Google map is a good tool for this. This means you should have an idea of what you want to take photos of. If it is the front of the buddha statue for example and it is facing west then you probably want to plan your shoot an hour before sunset because the sun will be setting in the West shining at the statues face.
Use a large mobile screen with a screen shade
Phantom 3 allows us to get a live camera feed of the drone from our mobile device. Why not use a larger mobile device to get a better view of what the camera is seeing. This takes away a lot of the guesswork like we had to deal with back in the Phantom 1 days. Use the live feed to get the right camera settings and exposure and press that shutter button on the top right of the remote. I use an iPad mini 2 and have recently been using my Asus Zenphone 2, which has a decent 5.5 inch screen for a smartphone. If you are flying in a sunny area try to pilot under a shady area like under a tree so you can see the screen. Some people also have some shades to cover the mobile device screen.
Learn automated flying
Automation takes care of flying the drone so you can focus on controlling the camera and taking a good shot. Learn the intelligent modes like point of interest and waypoints in particular. Lately, I’ve been setting up waypoint missions and saving them. I’ll run the waypoint mission focusing one run for video and a separate one for photos.I’ve also been experimenting with the Litchi 3rd party app. The advantage here is you can automate your flight before you head out in the field. You can setup a point of interest and have the software automatically calculate the precise camera angle to keep the point of interest in frame. This is cool because once you set it up you can set up the camera settings, run the mission, and click the shutter. If you are not an experienced pilot this is a good way to level up. If you can set up a flight the software will take care of flying the drone.
get a second battery and review the photos after the first flight
A second battery will give you more flight time so you don’t have to rush. Especially when you begin to do automated flights with the DJI app it is nice to pop in the second battery with so you have plenty of flight time to complete your flight mission.
I land with about 20-30% battery left for safety reasons. Once the drone has landed I review the photos so I know whether I need to retake any with my second battery.
get screen grabs from your video clips
If you record video you can sometimes capture a moment that you miss with photos. You can get a precise moment in the video clip and you can get a screen grab from your video editing software. This isn’t ideal as the resolution won’t be as high, but it’s good enough for the web.
Take it to the next level
Get an invite to the free Aerial Videography course & tips for traveling with your drone