There’s something uniquely spectacular about drone photography.
Capturing the world from an aerial point of view is about more than just changing your perspective. Drone photography offers up an impactful way to photograph landscapes, and it’s equally impressive when used for commercial purposes, like real estate, travel, and wedding photos.
The great news is that what used to be relegated to the pros is now a pastime that any photographer can pursue, even as drones continue to feel like something straight out of a sci-fi film. And if you’re wondering how to get into drone photography yourself—or even how to start a drone photography business—then you’ll be happy to know that today’s drones are both easier to operate and more affordable than ever before, all while continuing to be among the most exciting developments in the modern photography industry.
There’s no shortage of aerial photography courses for anyone who’s interested in getting started with a photography drone. We’ve also put together this handy explainer on how to get into drone photography, where we’re covering everything from the various types of drone photography you can try out to the equipment you’ll need to get the ball rolling.
Ready to get soaring? Here’s our beginner’s guide to drone photography, featuring plenty of helpful tips to get your new hobby (or business) off of the ground.
The Different Types of Drone Photography
When you think of drone photography, the first thing that might come to mind is breathtaking images of sweeping landscapes and terrains. And while that’s certainly one of an aerial camera’s primary uses—and one of its most memorable—people and businesses use drone photography in a lot of creative ways that go beyond simple image captures.
If you’re interested in how to start a drone photography business, then having a handle on the various ways that drones can be used for professional purposes is super helpful. Because from travel to construction to real estate, drone photography is one tool that is only growing in consumer and commercial demand.
Here’s a quick look at the types of aerial photography shots you can take, with an overview of how you might put these shots to work for different industries.
- Overview shots: Drones are an expert tool for capturing the big picture. Pros use overview shots in aerial videography and photography to display the entirety of an area or event. For example, commercial builders may rely on overview shots for plotting out new developments, while hotels and resorts use overview shots to give guests an idea of what’s available on their property. This type of drone photography is also common practice in commercials, as well as real estate, wedding photography, and stock photography.
- Orbit shots: An orbit is a type of moving drone shot that circles around a locked-in single point of interest, such as a house or a stage. As you might expect, it’s big in real estate drone photography and works great for travel shots too.
- Follow shots: Those car commercials that show an overhead view of an SUV winding through canyon roads? That’s a follow shot—a popular mainstay of commercial advertising. Like orbit shots, follow shots center in on a fixed subject, however instead of circling around it, they “follow” it on a journey. It makes for fantastic commercials and can be used to give walk-throughs of properties, destinations, and other sites.
An important question to ask yourself anytime you’re pursuing any of these types of shots: Is it illegal to take pictures with a drone? Or, more specifically—is it illegal to take pictures with a drone here? If your image is going to capture people or private property without permission, you’ll need to cover your legal bases in order to ensure you don’t land in any hot water. You’ll also need to be well aware of federal, state, and local no-fly zones and have your drone properly registered (more on that later).
Drone Equipment You Need to Get Started
How much does drone photography cost? It all depends on the type of equipment that you use.
Unlike traditional, on-the-ground landscape photography, there are no smartphone features that can magically turn your iPhone or Android into a professional-level camera for aerial photography. Instead, you’ll need to make an investment in some pretty specific equipment, though fortunately, the price tag on these products has gone down over the past few years.
Here’s what you’ll need, keeping in mind that within each category you have quite a bit to choose from in terms of features and price points.
You probably could have guessed this one.
Your drone is your most important piece of aerial photography equipment, and it’ll play a huge role in the quality (or lack thereof) that you achieve with your shots. As for the best drone for photography, that largely depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
For the cheapest option, look at learner drones, which at under $100 are a good place to begin as you get the hang of flight and navigation. If you’re looking to go pro, however, you’ll want to seek out intermediate or advanced drones, since these offer way more utility in terms of camera function and image clarity. Price-wise, you can expect to spend anywhere from about $500 to $2,000+ for a high-quality drone camera.
Pay close attention to what’s included and what’s not before you shell out a ton of cash—you don’t want to blow your budget on what you think is the best drone for photography only to find out it’s missing some key parts or requires the purchase of additional pricey accessories.
If you stick to drones with an integrated camera, then you’ll already be set when it comes to this key piece of equipment. But if you have very specific camera specs in mind, look into a drone with an interchangeable payload. This will allow you to swap out the camera and mount whatever you’re most comfortable with. (Though keep in mind that whatever camera you attach is going to be soaring up in the skies, so you may not want to mount an irreplaceable favorite.)
The harness-like gimbal is used to mount a camera onto a drone and manage its movements. Again, a lot of today’s photography drone options come standard with this piece of equipment, so it isn’t something you’ll likely have to purchase separately. If you do, though, make sure your drone’s payload is sufficient for both the weight of the gimbal and the weight of the camera you’ll be attaching to it.
Beyond the basics, there are a few other essential pieces of drone equipment. Some of these will be included in your drone kit, but it’s up to you if you want to make upgrades or replacements.
- Transmitter: This is what you’ll use to control your drone when it’s in the air. The more features your camera has, the more functionality you’ll need on your transmitter.
- FPV screen: This allows you to see what your drone sees in real-time. It’s not necessary for drone photography, but it will certainly provide you with a lot more control over the images that you get.
- Lenses: Having the right lenses is important for any type of photography, and that includes drone photography. You’ll use anamorphic lenses for your drone, which add width to an image without sacrificing on resolution.
- Batteries: You’ll need to have the right batteries for your drone, as well as some back-ups. You can also purchase a battery charger for long shoots.
- Image processing and editing software: Post-processing is an important part of drone photography, so be sure to seek out software that aligns with your budget and your objectives.
With all this in mind, the answer to “how much does drone photography cost?” comes down to a simple it depends. Set your budget ahead of time so that you know exactly what you feel comfortable spending and can do your research within that limit.
How to Start Taking Aerial Photographs with a Drone
Getting your drone equipment in order is the first step to taking aerial photographs, but there’s a lot that comes after that. Here’s a step-by-step based off of drone pilot Denis Shcheglov’s excellent Drone Video and Photo course. We recommend taking his full course to get a comprehensive overview of exactly what’s involved.
Step 1: Register Your Drone
There are two key legal steps in using your drone: registering it and learning what no-fly zones you have to avoid.
On the former point, the U.S. Federal Aviation Association (FAA) requires that you register any drone that weighs 0.55 pounds or more, which you can do here. Registration is valid for three years and costs just $5. Meanwhile, failure to do so could result in a civil fine of up to $27,500, or even a criminal penalty and prison time.
Planning to use your drone for business purposes? You’ll need a Remote Pilot Certificate as well, also available through the FAA.
Step 2: Familiarize Yourself with Your Equipment and Settings
It can be overwhelming to work with any piece of photography equipment for the first time, and drones are no exception.
Before your first shoot, take some time to familiarize yourself with what your drone can do, including optimizing the device and camera settings as needed. Shcheglov’s course goes over the basics of how to do this, so we definitely recommend taking a look.
Step 3: Practice Flying Your Drone
You’ll want to take some practice flights so that you can get comfortable with your transmitter and how to fly your drone.
As a good rule of thumb, practice flying your drone without the camera attached at first, since crashes are more likely when you’re first starting out.
Types of movement that you’ll want to get familiar with include:
- Takeoffs and landings
- Lateral movements (side to side; forward and backward)
- Backwards flying
Note that the FAA limit on drone height is 400 feet, so don’t attempt to fly any higher than that.
Step 4: Research and Plan Your Shoot
You’ll have a bit of planning to do before any aerial shoot that you undertake. This includes the sorts of things that you’d do before any photography shoot, such as deciding on your location, timing, and what sorts of images you want to shoot. But because you’ll be in the air, there are also a number of other things to take a look at in advance, including what your home point is going to be (i.e. the location that your drone will take-off from and return to) and the weather. You’ll also need to get all permissions in place.
Other key steps: make sure that your drone, transmitter, and camera batteries are all fully charged, and inspect your equipment thoroughly to ensure everything is in working order.
Drone Photography Editing and Post-Production Tips
You’ve got your shots, now what?
Editing and post-production are a crucial part of any photography endeavor. Hopefully, you’re already familiar with your image processing software, since that’s where you’ll do your edits. (And if not, we’ve got plenty of photo editing courses that might be helpful to you as you learn.) Beyond the technical aspects though, here are some quick tips for making sure your aerial photography pops.
Pick Your Best Images
All of the editing and post-production prowess in the world isn’t going to be enough to turn a not-so-great image into a super stunner.
As for what constitutes your “best” images, factors to keep top of mind include lighting, photo composition (rule of thirds, anyone?), and interesting colors, textures, and perspectives. The story you want to tell with your image will also come into play.
Narrow it down from your existing shots, and hone in on the images that are worth putting your time and effort into in the post-production process.
Make Strategic Corrections
You want to find a balance between under-correcting and over-correcting your images. Play around with things like exposure, contrast, and saturation until you hit your sweet spot, and don’t be afraid to start from scratch if you overwork the image or simply aren’t satisfied with your results.
Combine Two or More Images
Popular photography editing software platforms like Photoshop and Lightroom offer many interesting features, including the ability to combine two or more images in the post-production stage. This allows you to take the most optimal parts of various images and stitch them together into one fully optimized shot, and it’s one of the best kept secrets of photography pros—aerial and otherwise.
Once you get going with your drone camera, the sky is (quite literally) the limit. There’s a bit of a learning curve involved in flying your drone and photographing with it, so take your time getting familiar with all that your drone can do. With practice and patience, you’ll be well on your way to taking gorgeous aerial shots—and maybe even selling them, too.
Take Your Landscape Shots to the Skies
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