Photography and video from aloft is driving many to enter this hobby. In fact, many are taking drone photography past the hobby stage and starting to use the amazing abilities of quadcopters for light commercial and inspection duties (note: the legal status of such use has not been settled)
Being as we are a beginners site, let’s focus on how to get a lot of value for the money spent – without mortgaging the house to buy a heavy lift multirotor and a fancy DLSR. There are three major factors to consider in the creation of your photo and video projects:
1. Your Eye – Creativity, Storyline, Art, etc.
2. Your Hardware – drone, camera, gimbal
3. Your software – editing software and photo post-processing
Part #1 – this post – will focus on the “art form” of your aerial photography and video. Parts #2 and #3 will be published soon and linked here and elsewhere.
General Framing “Your Eye”
Of these factors, #1 is the most important! What do you want your photographs or videos to show? Cameras do not “see” or experience the same way that the human eye and body do. When you take in a scene, all your senses are engaged – yet in your picture or video, only one. Quadcopters are usually too loud to record the sound of a scene.
Let me start by posting a nice still picture – taken from a height of close to 600 feet above the nearby river! This shows a scene which is pastoral and pleasant to behold.
But, there is a catch- this picture was taken standing on solid ground – not from the air! I am using it as an illustration of the first rule of creating a decent aerial photo or video – that being “Think about the shot – are you showing a point of view that is not seen otherwise?”
This would seem obvious, but it’s not…and just applying this hint will allow you to leap forward in terms of the interest factor of your pics. Here are two examples of pictures taken from relatively low heights – less than 100 feet – yet they capture images which cannot be seen any other way than from the air. Click the pictures to see larger images.
In both of these photos, the surrounding ground is relatively flat and there is no point of view which is higher than the objects themselves. This makes for a nice photos than, for example, bringing your drone up to the top of the local mountain and then flying it another 100 or 200 feet high. You already know what that view looks like.
In fact, it could be said that very hilly terrain is often not the best place to take aerial photos – since many of the views are seen just driving down the road. In such terrain, you may be better seeking out the flatter valleys and smaller subjects such as buildings, etc. to present a unique image.
Reposition for Different Views
Many pilots will walk to the center of a field or area and send their quadcopter up for some still pics or video – then land and call it a day. You will find that moving your drone 50 feet or more in any direction will capture a different view (photo or video) – same goes with various heights above ground…things will look different with each shot. Memory cards are very inexpensive – take lots of footage and still and sort out the best later!
Light – The Golden Hour(s) and More
“The golden hour is a period shortly after sunrise or before sunset during which daylight is redder and softer compared to when the Sun is higher in the sky.”
Aerial pictures can be taken at any time of day – however, most of the current breed of flying cameras do not work well in very low light. The usual photography and video hints apply – such as trying to have the bright sun at your (drone’s) back. Cloudy days and partly cloudy days (often with bright blue in between the clouds) make for some nice contrast.
The “Golden Hour(s)” often provide a nice light for your aerial projects. The Horse Barn shown further below as well as this photo were taken in the last 1/2 hour before sunset.
Video Framing and Story
The same advice applies to video – but you also have to consider a couple more creative decisions. Think back to home movies and videos – no one wants to sit still and watch all your footage! The secret of good video is to use it to tell a story. This means editing your video and assembling only the best clips into the final product and including titles, transitions and some background music or narration. Most aerial videos should be in the range of 1-3 minutes, with 5 minutes being the upper limit.
The story is more important than the quality of the particular camera – although having both helps! As an example, here is a video shot from a $80 camera on an $80 toy Quadcopter – no gimbal or stabilization, yet it shows a point of view impossible to get any other way:
General Hints for a Creative Focus:
1. Take photos and videos from a point of view other than the normal scenery.
2. Pictures and videos do not have to be from high altitudes – often a closer look is better (real estate, etc.).
3. Still pictures are often better than video unless you have the skills to properly edit as well as stabilized (gimbal) footage.
4. You can capture good video and pictures without FPV – that is, without a monitor to see what the camera is looking at. This comes with some practice – but allows you to create on a budget.
5. Videos should be short and tell a story.
6. Crop and slightly enhance still photos if needed – do not overdo it by adding “instagram” type filters.
7. Use standard photo and video hints such as having the sun behind the subject and shooting at the best times of day (depending on the subject, etc.).