June 30, 2017

Game of Drones: A Beginner’s Guide to UAV Photo & Video

A Beginner’s Guide to UAV Photo & Video

In the past couple of years, there have been few revolutionary photography and videography gadgets to rival the drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). For many, the new tool offers opportunities never before possible as more models emerge with varying capabilities and consumer accessible price points. But simply owning a drone won’t guarantee breathtaking stock photos and video. Like any skill, drone operation requires research, practice and more practice.

To add a little guidance to that practice, Stocksy Editors Jen Grantham, Dylan Howell, and Leandro Crespi shared some insider tips for becoming an expert drone wielder. Here are your first steps toward aerial documentation mastery.

Get Familiar with your Drone

You’ll be excited to take your new toy out of its package and immediately stretch its legs in the field, but your inaugural flight will be exponentially more enjoyable if you take a breath and read your manual first. Charge your batteries and your backup set. Try out all of the controls. Choose a safe test flight zone and practice the easy maneuvers before you start taking footage. Check the return to home function and so on. Becoming familiar with your drone will lower the likelihood of flying into a tree or never seeing your drone again.

Observe the Rules & Regulations

Before you operate those controls, make sure you understand the restrictions in your area. “The rules are changing almost daily, and it’s becoming harder to fly. The less we break rules, the fewer barriers we will come up against,” Grantham explains.

Rules vary depending on country, city, jurisdiction etc., so be sure to check what those specific regulations are.

Some easy rules to always follow:

  • Always keep your drone in your line of sight at all times
  • Respect other people’s privacy — don’t fly over groups of people unless they have agreed to be involved
  • Don’t fly anywhere near airports or other no-fly zones

Select your Location Wisely

Choose locations that have dynamic landscapes, stark contrasts and points of reference so their unique characteristics really come across. Experiment with plenty of angles to get different aerial views of the site. Avoid choosing your location based on what you would shoot on the ground. Those shots can end up being anticlimactic and lifeless. Think about your photos or videos from an aerial perspective.

Let’s Talk Weather

Flying in wind is obnoxious and will drain your drone battery quickly as it has to fight against wind resistance. Similarly, cold temperatures cause batteries to lose charge at an accelerated rate. If you’re thinking about taking your drone out in the rain, forget it. Rain is always risky when dealing with electronics — most drones are not waterproof or even water resistant. And extreme heat can create problems with functionality. It really is best to shoot on that perfect, overcast, windless day. Try some test flights in less than perfect conditions before you set off into the distance. The more practice you have (?), the better you’ll be at flying and the better your footage will be.

Shooting Video

When you’re ready to start shooting with your drone, keep in mind that you’ll be flying in conditions that can overexpose your footage (i.e. there is a lot of light in the sky). In order to shoot video with the appropriate shutter speed for your desired frame rate, you’ll need to use neutral-density (ND) filters. A worthwhile investment, you will likely want an ND filter for shooting stills as well to achieve a shallow depth of field or motion blur effect.

Once you have your ND filter and settings ready, Crespi suggests to “start your panning and keep it steady for 1 or 2 seconds before your actual shot begins. Keep that footage after you’ve finished — it will get you a safety margin to crop your clip and have a smooth transition.”

In addition, Crespi warns to avoid using LOG (flat) recording. “The options are usually very bad and not recommended in these small sensors.”

Tell a Story

Landscapes can easily stand alone as breathtaking stills or video but don’t let that be your limit. As with almost any creative craft, the art of storytelling brings a dynamic, engaging and unique perspective to your vision. Try unveiling elements as your shot moves from its origin. Start with the camera facing down and, as the camera moves, tilt the shot up to reveal the landscape (castle, mountain, other such majestic subjects). Or try a “slider” style and begin by hiding behind a tree or rock to then reveal the environment. Once you’re a pro, you can experiment with the tracking feature to follow a moving subject (i.e. a consenting human) to showcase the grandeur of the surrounding landscape.

Travelling with your Drone

When travelling via airplane, it’s a good idea to have your batteries easy to access with labels visible and connectors well protected. Batteries can be chemically unstable when they are fully charged or totally empty. “It is best to travel with a ~30-50% full battery,” Howell cautions.

Once you’ve landed, be sure to charge up your battery back to 100% when you’re ready to fly your drone. As a general rule, watch the battery gauge closely, and always leave enough time to get back to home.

Built-in Camera or Nay?

Before you hit the drone market, you must first decide whether you’re going to want one with a built-in camera or one that will require a separate DSLR. As a beginner, the one-stop-shop, built-in camera UAV is likely the ticket. Cameraless drones are great but options are limited and often prohibitively expensive, whereas built-in camera drones can be found at accessible price points while still delivering high grade, professional quality photo and video. “Unless you need to fly with a DSLR or a more professional setup, a built-in camera makes things a lot easier to manage – fewer batteries to charge, fewer cables to manage, fewer parts to break,” Grantham adds.

Which Drone to Buy?

In our opinions, the DJI Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro offer the overall best UAVs on the market.

The DJI Phantom 4 offers the best image quality for a plug and play drone with a tonne of great features that make it fairly “idiot proof”. The built-in gimbal, accident avoiding optical sensory mode, and extended battery life really make this drone an awesome tool to add to your kit. Some setbacks are the phone or tablet requirement and its not-so-portable size. “The major downside is the size of bag I need to lug around with all its accessories,” says Grantham.

The Mavic Pro, like the Phantom 4, comes equipped with accident reduction technology, long flight time capabilities and an integrated gimbal. The main differentiator between the two is the Mavic’s superior portability and compact design (you will still need a phone or tablet, however). As one would imagine, that convenience comes with a minor sacrifice in camera quality but if travel is a common occurrence, the Mavic’s combination of portability and image quality make it a choice tool for globetrotters.

Thank you for flying Stocksy United. Have a safe and enjoyable flight.

Interested in learning about other genres of photography? Check out our post 50 Types of Photography

More from Education