Drones are amazing tools for taking breathtaking photographs from different perspectives. This I understood when I had the opportunity to fly a DJI Mavic Air during my studies. I was immediately fascinated and decided to get more involved with this topic. But in order to be able to take such pictures yourself, there are a few things you should know. In this article, I will tell you how I got my first shots and how you can get started with your new hobby »drone photography« in 5 steps.
Step 1: Choose the right drone and follow the laws and regulations in your country
If you’re thinking of making drone photography your hobby or even professional, the first thing you’ll need is of course a drone. There are many different types of drones on the market, and it can be difficult to find the right one for you. Some of the most popular types of drones for photography are the DJI Phantom and Mavic, the Yuneec Typhoon H, and the Parrot Anafi. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, which is why it’s important to think about your intended use beforehand and then choose a model that suits your needs.
My tip for beginners is to plan for crashes and accidents on your first flights and perhaps get cheaper or second-hand drones first. You can always find used drones on second-hand platforms that may have already been in a crash and are therefore perfect for practicing.
I got my first drone at a bargain price on eBay Kleinanzeigen back then, so I was able to get started even on a small student budget. I bought a used DJI Phantom 3 Advanced. The previous owner had replaced the 4K camera with a 2K camera which had been broken in a crash. Therefore, the drone was also available for a very reasonable price.
To be able to fly the drone legally in Germany, I became a member of the Modellflug Sportverband, which insured the drone in case of emergency. Insurance is a requirement in Germany. You also have to have a fireproof sticker produced with the owner’s name and address on it. I bought this sticker on eBay and was finally ready for my first flight.
Step 2: Get familiar with the controls of your drone and go for your first flight
The next step is to get familiar with the drone’s controls. I did this beforehand, using Youtube videos and the app to play through the process in my mind. As every drone is different, some controls may be specific to your model, but most drones have similar controls. Some of the most common controls are:
- camera: this is usually the largest and most obvious control that allows you to take photos and videos.
- flight mode: this determines how your drone will fly. There are usually three main flight modes: beginner, advanced and expert.
- speed control: This allows you to adjust the speed of your drone.
- altitude control: This allows you to adjust the altitude of your drone.
- headless mode: This mode allows you to fly your drone without looking at it, which is especially great for beginners.
Of course, charging all the batteries is also part of this step as well 😉.
Calibrating your drone
Now it is time to get off to your first flight and (If necessary) calibrate your drone for good shots
Before you can take your stunning drone photos, it is recommended to calibrate the drone. Calibrating your drone will ensure that the photos and videos you take are accurate and look their best. To do this, follow these steps:
- First, fly the drone normally. Make sure the camera is pointed in a straight line and that the frame rate is set to 24 frames per second or higher.
- Once you have flown the drone normally, fly it close to a tall object, such as a building or tree. The closer you fly to the object, the more accurate your calibration will be.
- Once you have calibrated your drone near an object, take some test photos and videos to make sure the calibration was successful. Once you have finished calibrating your drone, the photos and videos will be more accurate than before.
Step 3: Practice flying
If you are new to the drone world, I recommend that you first practice flying your drone to get a feeling for the drone and the controls. For example, fly your drone in the open countryside and learn the basics of the controls in wide-open spaces without high objects. This will give you a feel for what works well and what doesn’t when taking photos or videos.
It can also be helpful to take a beginner photography course where you learn the basics of good photography or, in more specific courses, even how to use your drone to take pictures and videos. These courses also often give you access to great equipment and help you learn the basics more quickly.
I spent a whole night getting ready for my first flight so that I could take off at dawn in the morning. As it was already November and the temperatures the night before was around 0° Celsius I had to come up with something for the batteries as they normally can only be used in higher temperatures. Therefore, I packed a hot water bottle with the batteries so that they would not cool down. At the Jägerbrücke I took off directly to use the still-warm batteries. These are a few of the pictures I took:
Step 4: Use the right camera settings for drone photography
When photographing with drones, there are a few things to keep in mind: Camera settings, drone altitude, and drone speed. Camera settings include aperture size and ISO. Drone height refers to how high the drone is above the ground. Drone speed indicates how fast the drone is moving.
Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your drone photos and videos:
- Use a camera that has manual settings. This way you can adjust the aperture size and ISO to get the perfect shot.
- Shoot in RAW format if possible. This gives you more control over the look of your photos and videos and you can adjust them later if needed.
- If possible, shoot in daylight or bright light. This will give your photos a bright natural look.
Of course, for great moods, golden hour or blue hour are great as well.
- Avoid shooting near large objects or structures as this could cause collisions and crash your drone.
Step 5: Pay attention to laws and just do it.
The best way to get your great aerial shots is to simply start and you’ve already done that by reading this article. Start, have fun, and take lots of shots. Afterward, take a closer look at the shots and learn from them. For example, start with shots in a natural environment and then experiment with different shots and angles. Once you know how your drone works, you can then get more creative and, for example, fly over a cityscape or photograph an event from above. However, please check the current regulations first.
With a little practice, you can become a drone pilot and take amazing photos and videos like a pro. However, in order not to endanger yourself and others, it is important to always follow the regulations in force. You may also need a permit to fly. But the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the incredible perspective from the air.