11 Simple Aerial Photography Tips

by Alec Druggan
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aerial photography tips

Aerial Photography is not for the faint of heart, and must be done with precision and an acute understanding of aerial dynamics – below are are 11 awesome aerial photography tips for your next aerial photo shoot:

Follow the rules!

There are many rules that surround aerial photography, especially drone photography. Make sure that you are following all the legal requirements when it comes to drone photography. Depending on your country, requirements like weight, area, fly-zones, and others can come in to effect and severely limit where you can fly your drones. Do your research before purchasing or flying a drone.

If you are taking flights for aerial photography, make sure that the company you are flying through has the correct permits for flights, and that you are flying in a legal zone. You don’t want to become a criminal trying to take cool photos mid flight!

Check the weather

You really won’t want to fly a drone or be in a plane trying to take photos through thick clouds, heavy rain, or snow. Make sure that you are checking the weather in advance for clarity and the right conditions for your imaging.

Furthermore, check temperatures. You will want to make sure that you are bringing the correct equipment, and temperatures can wildly influence both gear and wardrobe choices for aerial photographers.

Make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough

When flying, there is a lot of movement. This movement is from just the act of flying, as well as buffeting winds and vibrations from whatever system is keeping your camera in the air. You will need a much longer shutter speed than a typical shot to get a sharp image. Often, you will want to make sure you are shooting faster than 1/1000th of a second to make sure that you are achieving high image quality. Take test shots for the weather and the speed to see how far you can push it, but always try and stay on the safe side.

To combat lateral movement in images, you can also pan your camera along with the motion of the aerial vehicle from which you are taking images. This can lower the amount of motion on the main subject, as long as they are tracked correctly.

Use a large aperture lens

Typically, as an aerial photographer, you are going to be very far from your subject. You are also going to be trying to shoot at a very fast shutter speed, which means you need more light. A larger or wider aperture lens lets in more light, and you will rarely be close enough that your subject is outside of your plane of focus.

If your lens is softer wide open, it may be worth stopping it down and bumping ISO for a sharper yet noisier image. See what suits you best in the field! Also, pay attention to vignetting and chromatic aberration, which are things that can easily happen with highly reflective landscapes.

Manual focusing can work really well!

One great way to not miss focus is to turn off autofocus and just use basic manual focus. Focus your lens to infinity, and shoot away. This means you will always hit focus, and because you are so far from your subject, you will never have to change your focus. Although some aerial photographs may have much greater spaces between foreground, subject, and background, in general, this technique works to great success.

manual lens focus aerial photography

This technique is especially successful at higher altitudes, likes those achieved with helicopters or airplanes. This can also be achieved on drones, but because of the smaller sensor sizes, the depth of field is typically rather large anyways.

Look for interesting composition

Sadly, with the advent of consumer grade cheap drones, aerial photography has become a more challenging field. Now that anyone can go out and buy a drone, and doesn’t need to invest the large amount of time for aerial photography, you need to make sure your images are standing out from other photographers. That’s why composition is super important for aerial photographers. Many photographers are currently critical of aerial photographs, and this is because of the current repetition we see in the style. Try to focus on compositional elements and see what you can do to make sure the image stands on its own as a photograph.

Figure out what method suits you best

There are many ways to attack the field of aerial photography. From cheap consumer drones that weigh less than FCC registration requirements to flying around in a helicopter, find what you love, and work in that medium. I recommend getting into drone photography to start, because all the equipment and trips are much less expensive. On the other hand, you lose out on the lens versatility that you receive when you are using your own interchangeable lens system camera.

Know what light happens when

Look to see when good light will happen. I personally use an app on my phone that tells me for my current GPS coordinates what light will happen when. I prefer to shoot aerial cityscapes during blue or astronomical hour, while nature landscapes look fantastic during golden hour. See what natural light best compliments your images. Another option for cityscapes, of course, are nightscapes, which you can color differently for some very interesting and creative effects.

Bypass window reflections

If shooting out of a window, on a plane or even a high building, make sure there is no light coming from behind the camera, and use a lens skirt. This will eliminate reflections on the glass that will be visible in images if you do not take these precautions.

window reflections for aerial photography

Check batteries, especially in the cold!

Batteries, when cold, die very quickly. Make sure that you are checking your drone’s leftover battery as well as your cameras. Keep extra batteries warm in an internal pocket in your coat. If it especially cold outside, you will want to make sure that you are bringing several more batteries than you would typically need, and you will want to take safety precautions if you are flying drones.

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