A brief guide to drone photography

drone with photo camera

Drones are the current technological fad among the youth for obvious reasons. No, we are not taking about the ones that drop bombs on you from thousands of feet up in the air. We mean the small gizmos with a rotating fan that buzzes like an overgrown fly while waltzing through the air.

We may remember the times when our cameras had timers on them so we could get the whole family in the picture. Yep, technology has come far and drones, which were once considered to be high-end equipment, have now become common in households. Every neighborhood has a child or two wielding a remote controlled drone.

Perhaps the greatest commercial application of these drones is photography. We see them often in political rallies and sporting events, recording the event from a vantage point that can document the full scope of the occasion.

Let us get acquainted with how a drone works before we get into the photography aspect.

Function

A drone is categorized as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which have their own designated laws. Manufactured from lightweight materials such as Aluminum, drones come in varying shapes and sizes. Most commercial drones are small and can be launched directly into the air while other, larger ones, may require a runway. The larger ones are typically used for military applications such as spying and reconnaissance.

Some of the smallest ones can even fit into the palm of your hand and launched directly from there. The height of flight depends upon the size of the drone and the range of communication with the remote which is typically in the form of Wi-Fi.

The remote is used to launch, maneuver and land the drone. In the past, drones used to have separate designated remote controllers but now they are being slowly incorporated into Smartphones and Gamepads.

It is embedded with Global Navigation Satellite Systems which allows the GPS on the drone to transmit information about its location and therefore it can be programmed to return to its initial launch site even if it is not being remotely controlled by someone.

The drone is equipped with an altimeter, which measures the altitude of the device. Multiple propellers allow the drone to progress rapidly and change directions with relative ease while the visual positioning system which uses inbound sensors measures its distance from the ground. If programmed correctly, the drone will be able to land with minimal human intervention in the safest place possible.

Flight

Flying a drone may seem easy, but it’s fairly complicated if you have never flown one before. Keeping the drone airborne, while maneuvering and navigating in free space is a lot more challenging than driving a vehicle on a flat surface.

To that end, you can try to practice on a simulator before trying the real thing. This will allow you to acquaint and familiarize yourself with the control handling.

When attempting it for real, try to ensure that the wings are properly spread and the battery fully charged: you don’t want it running out mid flight.

Expect to crash the first few times, so it’s recommended to use a smaller, low flying drone for your first outing. If you do happen to crash, turn off the throttle so that the propellers do not sustain much damage.

You have the option to fly manual or allow the GPS to take over. Flying manual puts everything in your control which is preferred because you have a brain. The GPS bound automatic flight is only good for flying to a predetermined position and not much else.

Camera

Some drones come equipped with an in-built camera while others allow you to mount one of your own choice. The heft of the camera will greatly determine how high you can fly and how easily you can navigate the drone. Too much weight is likely to be problematic.

So if you do want to mount a high-tech DSLR camera on your drone, buy a drone that can sustain it, which generally means it’s going to cost a lot more.

If the camera is built in, check the focal length of the lens because that will greatly determine the quality of your pictures. If possible, try to get one where you have the option to change the lenses. You can always look for extra features and effects such as Jello effect to make the photography session much more enjoyable.

Photography

The trick to photography is not just about having the right camera; although that is a big part of it, but it has more to do with the setting.

The lighting and the backdrop play a great role in getting the kind of shot we all love to revel in. The environment doesn’t change but a change in the perception of the viewer based on varying angles, directional lighting, contrasting background, the right filter and adequate spacing within the frame can turn a picture into something truly memorable.

The art of photography is not as simple as some like to believe. There is a reason people study it in schools and universities.

Use the Sun to your advantage. If you’ve ever seen a sunset or a sunrise on a cloudy day, you will know how the brilliant streaks of orange and gold cut through the pearl white fluff, turning them into glorious prisms that glow in vibrant hues. Hunt for moments like these. God’s universe has no shortage of surprises and every moment has something new to offer.

Aerial shots can be majestic when done right. Practice with wide angle shots as they can be particularly cinematic from such an altitude.

Remember, the higher you go, the windier it will get and you will experience turbulence. Try to find an optimum altitude where your drone is relatively still.

Formats

For drone photography, you have two options: you can either shoot in RAW or JPEG format. JPEG will help you conserve memory because it compresses the picture while RAW is, in essence, the raw format. Meaning, it is untouched. The data in the sensor is fully replicated into the picture and none of it is compressed. Everything the lens captures is seen in the final result.

The benefits of this are countless. First of all, you get the highest quality picture with the highest brightness levels ranging from 4096 to 16384. Second, you can tinker with particular aspects of the picture that seem off (such as the color and the white balance) and correct errors.

The problem with JPEG is that during compression, crucial data can get lost and even if it doesn’t you end up with a very watered down version of the captured picture that doesn’t feel as attractive.

Legality

As previously mentioned, UAV’s have designated rules and regulations governing their flight. Some rules are nationally applicable to all drones such as the fact that you cannot fly within five miles of an airport while other rules may be put into effect on a regional level. This may include, not flying too close to residential areas as it may violate the privacy of the residents.

In the United States, the FAA has clear rules about drones. Each new drone has to be registered and be issued an ID number. Otherwise, the drone will likely be confiscated by the authorities and fines may be levied against the owner.

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About the Author: James Watt

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