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Top aerial photography tips you need to know before your next shoot

Stand out from the crowd and take your aerial photography tips with these top tips to raise your aerial photography game.

There will be over 76’000 commercial drones operating in the UK by 2030 meaning that there is healthy growth predicted for 15+ years into the future and beyond. With all that competition it’s going to be important to learn the extra skills that will help you stand out from the crowd and take remarkable images with real commercial value.

Aerial photography is difficult but it lets you be creative with your shots and capture images the human eye would otherwise never be able to see. That said there’s a lot to learn when it comes to taking the perfect aerial photo. It’s not as easy as you might think.

Read on to find out practical tips to help you get the most of your shoots.



1. Choose the right drone

Photographers are very careful about which camera/lens combo they choose for a given job and that doesn’t change when you’re up in the air. There are a lot of drones to choose between but in order to narrow down which drone is best for you it’s best to be clear about what you are going to be using it for.

For example a DJI Mavic Air drone would be the perfect travel companion for some truly stunning aerial shots on your next trip but you would sacrifice some quality for the convenience.

If quality is important, then you’re going to want to go with a model which features a larger sensor with a higher megapixel count and Hasselblad colour profile, such as the DJI Mavic Pro 2.

If you want the best quality money can buy then the DJI Inspire 2 would be your investment in choice as its best-in-class X7 camera will capture stunning images.

The more frequently you plan to use the drone the more justified you will be opting for the pricier models but if you’re a perfectionist on a budget don’t overstretch. Buy within your means and upgrade at a later date if you absolutely must.


2. Find a good location

Location is everything, you need to be in the right place to get the perfect shot. Make sure that you select your location carefully to ensure that you will have breathtaking images.

Plan carefully and don’t be afraid to browse Instagram for inspiration. There are lots of accounts that you can follow to get ideas for your own shoot and to see what types of images trend well. For example the Instagram shot above is from Drone of the Day and is a good place to start.

Another source of ideas is Facebook, makes sure you join local groups and ask for suggestions to find some lesser-known beauty spots that haven’t been done to death.


3. Plan well in advance

Proper planning can prevent a wasted opportunity. There are a number of manufacturers restrictions, air laws and regulations which may prevent you from legally undertaking a drone flight, especially in built up areas.

For example, if you want to fly an aerial drone in London you had better be prepared to do your homework well in advance and ensure you have all the prerequisite permissions. Below is a representative example of the permissions needed before you can fly your drone, accurate as of writing. Make sure you check for the latest most up-to-date procedures and make the necessary arrangements.

Make sure you check out the NATS Drone Portal to check out which provides users with a ‘Checklist’, which both commercial and recreational drone pilots can go through, to determine which permissions, if any, are needed for a given flight.

  • In advance to filming you must obtain permission from the CAA.

Apply for CAA drone operation permission

Read the CAA’s safety guidance

  • You must obtain permission from the landowner for the flight.
  • The area below your flight must be clear of people and vehicles; any within your flight radius must be aware of your activities/under your control (as per CAA Information Notice 2014/190, point 6.1.4)
  • Congested airspace, e.g., the London Heli Lanes, will require an additional permission from the Air Traffic Service Unit (ATSU)
  • You must obtain permission from your local council or borough. Some councils require that you have a full PfCO licence and £5m minimum public liability insurance.
  • Take into account all other relevant restrictions if you do not have CAA approval, i.e., the Air Navigation Order, Articles 166 and 167, state that drones can’t operate within 150m of any congested area or within 50m of any persons, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the aircraft operator.
  • Always fly at a height over property and people which would be considered ‘reasonable’ at all times. 
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued the following guidelines regarding privacy and the use of drones for filming purposes which should understand.
  • Check out the CAA document IN-2014/190: Small Unmanned Aircraft Operations Within London and Other Towns and Cities for more detailed up-to-date guidance 
  • Manufacturer restrictions may automatically prevent flights in restricted areas. You will need to send your relevant NATS flight approval to the manufacturer to temporarily disable any flight restrictions on the software of your drone.


4. Choose the right time of day

Photographers know that the time of day can have a huge impact on the quality of an image.

Try to shoot during the Golden Hours which start at the end of the day. This is where the most interesting light and colours will be in abundance which will add more drama and atmosphere to your images.

Download an app on your phone from the app store by searching for ‘Golden Hour’ and you will find a selection. Choose one that you like and use it to get accurate times for the Golden Hour wherever you are.

It makes a huge difference whether you are facing the sun compared to if it is behind you. If you are facing the sun it is good practice to enable HDR mode so that you can preserve the most amount of detail in the image from the highlights and shadows.

Image taken of Bangkok during the Golden Hour. Image Source: Wikipedia, By User:Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=267594


5. Shoot RAW images

Every photographer shoots in RAW. There may be times when JPEG can be used but aerial photography is generally not one of them.

Shooting in RAW captures the full detail of an image without compression. Meaning that you can adjust the exposure and make corrections without degrading the image. Using JPEG is more likely to introduce noise to the image and result in a poor or unusable image. 

If you are shooting on a drone it is even more important to shoot in RAW because the cameras are lower resolution than DSLRs, with the former averaging around 12MP resolution and the latter, 40+MP.

You will also want to consider shooting with the lowest ISO possible to ensure the highest quality of image. Opening the aperture wider and using a slower shutter speed will help you keep the ISO low for better shots.

So remember to always shoot in RAW and keep that ISO low.


6. Bring extra batteries

The last thing any aerial photographer wants is to run out of batteries with their drone still capturing great imagery.

Most drone batteries last approximately 18-30 minutes, so you need to take that into account when you are planning your flights.

You can never have too many batteries. Keep a brace of fully juiced batteries in your bag so you can reload your drone with a fresh shot of energy and keep going for longer. You can easily pick up individual batteries, or there are dedicated ‘Fly More’ kits with a full arsenal of equipment designed to keep you flying for true endurance sessions.


7. Find the right shutter speed

Shutter speed is the most important element that will transform your photography. If you can master the trinity of shutter speed, ISO and aperture you will be well on your way to getting professional photographs. Shutter speed plays an even bigger role in aerial photography and mastering this trick will drastically improve your images.

A fast shutter speed will work best in most cases for getting the super crisp detailed shots everyone loves when it comes to aerial photography. 

However if you want to get creative and artistic you can differentiate yourself by getting a Neutral Density filter and experimenting with slower shutter speeds to achieve blurred images which can work really well with clouds and crowds.


8. Weather

Beware of the weather! This is something we teach every student and we encourage you not to overlook it in your eagerness to get your shot.

Always check the weather first!

Try and shoot in warmer, drier, less windy conditions. There is much less risk of damage to your equipment and you will remain in greater control of your drone throughout the flight.

Make sure you take one of Hummingbird UAV’s courses where we go over tips for flying in the cold.


Are you serious about aerial drone photography?

Now that you’ve read our tips give them a go and get creative with your aerial drone photography and see what you can produce.

Aerial photography is the future and it’s now more accessible than ever for as many people to try their hand at it. Check out our blog for even more helpful articles to help you get the most out of you drone.

If you’re ready to take it further Hummingbird UAV can help you gain professional level skills and a PfCO to allow you to start your own business operating drones. To find out more get in touch with the team on 01302 802221 or carry on reading at: https://www.hummingbird-uav.co.uk/drone-training/

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