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All You Need to Know about Drone Photography (Beginner’s Guide)

Helicopters and airplanes will always remain a favorite with many people. But drones have seen an increase in popularity in the past couple of years. Some of the reasons why: they’re much more affordable than helicopters and they don’t need as much space to take off and land as airplanes do. 2015 alone was a particularly great year for companies that sell drones. Surely but steadily, the drone has built a growing fan base among people from different walks of life. Ever since the first drone appeared, someone somewhere has dreamed of owning one. With prices ranging from affordable to expensive, anyone can now buy a drone for themselves. Parents give them to their kids as birthday presents, professional photographers have turned to drone photography and employees think there’s nothing better than to play with a drone during lunch break.

Drone aerial photography can be taken up as a hobby or profession by both beginners and experienced users. This trend has seen one of the fastest growths in the domain and the number of people who wish to have a drone one day will continue to spike up. Drones are becoming better and better at what they do, and the frequency with which various models appear every other month doesn’t seem to stop. Likewise, each drone comes with a large number of options, settings and the like. And the truth of the matter is: you really don’t have to be a renowned photojournalist to get the hang of one.
This beginner’s guide will tell you all there is to know about drone photography. Beginners will find out how a drone works, how to pick an affordable model and receive various drone photography tips. Bonus: DIY aerial photos and useful resources for your new exciting hobby.

1. How Does a Drone Work?

aerial photography drone with operator

Operating a drone for aerial photography in Sydney, Australia.

Before you buy your first drone and use it to snap photos, you need to know how this device actually works. The drone has remote control helicopters as ancestors, so to say. But while these predecessors can’t really navigate, hover or fly without someone actually “telling” them via commands, drones surely can. They have something that is known as “autonomy”, which helps them hold positions based on a GPS, as well as stabilize on their own. In other words, a drone has all the qualities that turn it into a machine with high levels of intelligence. Despite being light, these amazing devices come fully equipped with a generous amount of technological advances.

A drone packs a lot more useful things, like multiple propellers. These makes it easier to carry heavy to very heavy loads, which greatly helps when talking about photography. Not having just one propeller also means that the drone won’t fall to the ground as soon as one single motor gets damaged. Last but not least: the bigger the number of propellers, the safer it is to handle a drone’s blades.

What makes a drone come to life when you need it? A power source made of one battery that’s very easy to remove. The battery can typically last an estimated 12 minutes. But because many owners want a more generous amount of time spent with their toys, manufacturers have begun to sell drones with extra batteries. All in all, you can use a drone for about 25-30 minutes. If you go for a model that packs more power, be prepared to own a heavier machine than usual.

white and red aerial photography drone

Apart from battery, a drone also needs something to make navigation, launching and, of course, landing, possible. A controller does all of that and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Some look and feel just like a tablet, others more like a smartphone and certain controllers have the shape of a gamepad. To establish communication with the drone, the controller uses radio waves, more specifically 2.4 gigahertz. Wi-Fi communication is also possible and this uses the same amount of radio waves.

Many smartphones come pre-installed with GPS and that’s something you’ll also find on a drone. The controller can easily read the location of the drone, thanks to its integrated GPS chip. The gyroscope installed on every drone out there packs a lot of power but, compared to a smartphone, a drone’s price doesn’t automatically go up because of this. The chip has many qualities, one of them the fact that it does corrections to the drone’s course whenever stronger winds are trying to blow it away. Inside the drone is another very important accessory: an altimeter. Having this already embedded means that the device knows its own altitude and when it is OK to hold it in place or not.

Landing your drone requires a certain amount of patience for the people that use it. If it doesn’t judge well and drops altitude at a fast speed, the machine will do serious damage to its propellers. But there aren’t too many cases where this has happened. Manufacturers program them to land at a slow rate automatically so that nothing affects their running. And they promise more will come in terms of technological advances in the very near future. There is a model, called the DJI Aspire 1, that makes landing more gracious than usual. This drone benefits from a special kind of camera, one that is installed onboard. Once you tap it, the device fires up its visual positioning system. This addition is perfect for drone owners who want to enjoy their machine in a place where no GPS is available; or when they wish to fly it in an indoor location. So, no matter how difficult of a terrain the drone finds itself in, having these accessories will make landing a very easy procedure.

2. How to Choose an Affordable Model for Drone Photography

quad drone flying over green landscape

A lot of people think that taking up aerial drone photography will require a lot of money. Beginners who are fascinated with drones and want to try it out might very well give the whole thing up from the start. But it shouldn’t be like this. Sure, there are many photography drones that cost an arm and a leg. The market, however, has something to offer even to the tightest of budgets. Those who are interested in the subject can find affordable models if they know where to look. And “affordable” doesn’t mean the drone photography you’ll take will be bad.

The most affordable types of drones for new users are the ones labeled quadcopters. For a beginner, they’re excellent, because they are very reliable and stable. A quadcopter has a number of 4 propellers. Thanks to them, if you’ll want to take photos when the wind has speeds of around 10-15 mph, the drone won’t be hard to control. If your budget doesn’t let you spend more than $200, here are some options you should consider. Being a novice, you’ll need something that’s easy to use and these are your best 6 available options:

  • Blade Nano QX RTF Quadcopter – are you the kind of newbie BLADE Nano QX RTF Quadcopterphotographer who wants to test his newest toy for indoor photography? This model makes it very easy to take some amazing photos. It also helps that it doesn’t pack a lot of weight.
  • UDI 818A HD+ RC Quadcopter – USA Toyz are some of the best drone manufacturers who specialize in selling only UDI 818A HD+ RC Quadcopterthe best of the best. Their aerial photography drone models are not only affordable but a top recommendation for beginners. This particular model comes with an extra battery in the box and a couple of useful options. Two of the essential ones: Headless Mode and Return To Home.
  • Syma X1 – among the most beginner-friendly photography drones Syma X1 4 Channel 2.4G RC Quad Copterfor sale is the Syma X1. Top-notch quality for a cheap price, this is the model to turn to if you want a device that’s perfect for carrying around small payloads. Stability is another quality, as is the ability to do flips when needed.
  • Parrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider – aerial selfies are all theParrot MiniDrone Rolling Spider rage these days and this drone will make it all seem effortless. The mini-camera you get with the Spider is the reason why. Other hidden gems: wheels that the owner can remove any time he wants.
  • Hubsan X4 w/ FPV – a more special model, the HubsanHubsan X4 Quadcopter with FPV Camera Toy should be tested by novices who want to know how drone pilot training is done. The device itself is advertised as a “beginner FPV”, which means “first-person view” quadcopter.
  • Blade 180 QX – few drones for photography are equipped with embedded aerial video cameras. The Blade 180 QX is one of the exceptions. Beginners, in particular, will love this drone here: it offers various Blade 180 QX HD RTF Quadcopter Droneconfiguration levels that make it safe for them to train with it.

Now that you have 6 of the most affordable drones, you have to take a look at what the law says about using them. Depending on the country you live in, you’ll be prohibited from certain activities. The FAA – Federal Aviation Administration – doesn’t let a drone owner take their device over 400ft in the air.

3. Drone Photography Tips

quad drone flying in the sky

Before you start using a drone for photography purposes, some basic requirements will make the task easier.

  • Use something known as “vibration insulator”. Vibration and air turbulence are two of the elements that can leave you with bad-looking photos. A vibration insulator removes these problems with one swift action.
  • A camera – it can be either a DSLR or a GoPro. The second option is more expensive, though.
  • Now this one’s optional, but having fast lenses can help a lot. They’re even greater if they’re sharp at a large aperture.
  • A brushless motor and a gimbal. When the two combine, it will be easier for an object to rotate around a given axis. Drone photography requires a power-to-weight ratio, and the two elements offer a great one.

If used to its fullest potential, a photography drone will take breathtakingly beautiful shots. First-time fliers, keep the following tip in mind: do all your planning beforehand. Time is of the essence when it comes to photography, and drones require a lot of planning ahead. They can’t run for hours on end, which is why you need to find out what average flight time your drone model has. After you know that, it’s best to consider the location you’ll shoot in, more specifically the exact place(s) you’d like your photos to begin and end. A storyboard will always do the trick if you don’t know how to approach this. One of the drone models we listed above allows the owner to memorize the time frames the user sets up. When it’s done with this, the device will start to film scenes as if it were the owner himself.

Whatever you do, though, it’s very important that you consider safety measures. You don’t want to get into trouble with other people, and you can do that if you fly the drone in places with a lot of people. Take into consideration worst case scenarios, like if the device crashes into someone’s pet or if it hits a baby. Never take your new gadget out in really bad weather.

Another useful drone photography tip new users need to remember: perspective and speed will always interact with one another. It’s always best to rise up over a certain object while keeping the camera tilted down. The change of perspective will be very smooth and your photo will be superb. Blurry pics are every photographer’s worst nightmare. To avoid ruining every single aerial shot you take with your drone, camera movement must be steady at all times; slow, too. But this can’t happen overnight, especially when a beginner is involved. Give it time and you’ll soon look at photos that aren’t as hard to decipher as they were in the beginning. Don’t get angry when your subject disappears from the frame, it can be solved quickly. How? By correcting the camera’s frame using slow movements; add some smooth action and the end result will look so much better than before.

People always forget to test their drones out, and that means getting used to how they land. Practicing different altitudes is another useful tip. But easily one of the essential photography recommendations when dealing with a drone is this: make sure your drone and you don’t face different directions. If you do, you can say goodbye to quality photos.

4. Bonus Advice on Drone Photography and DIY Aerial Photos

drone photography example mauritius

Photo taken by drone in Mauritius.

You already know how to use drones for photography, how the process works and which models to buy if you’re short on money, but want something of quality. If you still want advice on how to get the best photos your friends will be quick to admire, we have some bonus advice just for you.

  • Before going out with your drone, take a peek at weather reports. In case your quadcopter is on the small size, even a mild wind is likely to make it hard for you to get steadiness with your pics. Best weather: clear days with no wind.
  • Use the FPV system for ranged photos.
  • Snapping photos at night is doable, but only if your drone’s controller has a pre-installed LCD display.
  • Turn the GPS Mode on. If your quadcopter has this preference, enabling it will do wonders with stabilization. Select a location when the drone is flying, make it go there, then release all of the device’s controllers. The machine is going to hover by itself and the photo you’ll take of an object is going to have 0 vibration problems.
  • Location, location, location – drone photography is one of the many domains where choosing the right or wrong place can make or break photos. Some of the best locations are those that have no bird sounds in them and no high buildings. Also, the location you scout for shouldn’t be full of woods. Another ideal place to use your best drone for aerial photography: an open space.
  • To correctly capture larger surfaces, raise your drone’s altitude.

How about some DIY aerial photos next? Beginners need to know first that photography has always been approached in an experimental way. Even professional photographers like to experiment a lot when it comes to their art. When you have such a special device as a drone, the concept of do-it-yourself is even more appropriate. Here are some ideas.

  • Grab a weather balloon and attach a Canon camera to it. Let it fly and snap photos on its own.
  • Buy a strong kite (like the Super Sled 1.6m), a camera rig, a line and a pair of gloves. To attach the cam to your Super Sled kite, buy an aluminum rail and a couple of paper clips (heavy-duty ones). To make a mounting screw, drill one hole in the bracket’s middle and add the paper clips on both sides (use some key rings). Take a line, tie it to a hanger and you’ll have the rig clipped to the kite’s main line. Take a pic by using the interval mode (it will snap pics around every 4-5 seconds).
  • If you raise pigeons, you can always use one for your new found hobby. Attach a camera to your favorite bird and program the device to take a photo every couple of seconds. It won’t be like using a drone, but you’ll still get good results.
  • Use a GoPro camera and a helium-filled balloon. Check the weather and, if everything’s alright, your only concern will be to press the right buttons.

5. Useful Drone Photography Resources

drone photography example lighthouse

Lighthouse photographed by a drone.

Taking up drone photography is, in most cases, a very confusing experience. You might have found out all about the best tips available and you know what affordable models to go for, but nothing beats a good photography resource. We looked around and found some great websites you can check out before taking your first aerial photo with your quadcopter.

  • Drone Photo Info – The first site that pops out when you type in “drone photography resources” in any given online search engine. Apart from photography services, they have everything a beginner is looking for: regulations, groups, and clubs he might want to join, as well as plenty of info on drone training. For now, you’ll only find useful things if you’re from one of these states: Texas, California, Utah, Colorado, Montana, Arizona, Alaska, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Wyoming and Oregon. They promise that more states will appear over the next few weeks.
  • Resource Mag Online – They specialize in photography, videos, travel, and lifestyle. You’ll quickly familiarize yourself with drones and learn how to take great photos with them. The website indicates the best tips for drone photography, what gear to use, the kind of technologically advanced options and modes you can use to maximize photo quality, how to fly your drone at the best possible angle to take great pics and so on.
  • Drone 55 – Has all the most recent tips and tricks for anyone who wants to start in aerial photography and cinematography. Their resources are priceless and you’ll see what we mean after you take your very first photo using a drone.
  • Drone Flyers – It’s a website packed with very useful posts on everything drone-related. If you want to find out how aerial shots can be improved, they have a forum where you’ll find answers to your questions. Novices will certainly benefit from the hands-down experience.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

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