Introduction: How to Take Drone Photographs That Will Stun People
It has gotten much easier these days for the average person to take aerial photos as drones get more advanced and easer to fly with features such as obstacle avoidance, GLONASS, GPS and a long flight time. Drones also have cameras that can take super high definition photos and record at over 4K video resolution. I aim to get you started in drone photography by showing you some basics in exposure, IOS, white balance, and editing. Don't worry, I will explain what the these terms mean later. Oh, almost forgot, if you have any questions please leave a comment and if you like this ible, please leave me a vote. Disclaimer: it is not my fault if you do something dumb while following the instructions in this tutorial. Please follow the drone laws in you country and don't go flying over somebody's house or property without asking.
-drone. I use a DJI Phantom 4. You can buy a refurbished one here or you can buy a newer model here (the newer one has a slightly better camera). Please use these links. If you buy one they help support me so I can make more Instructables.
-device for post production. I use an iPad Pro which can handle Adobe photoshop, Lightroom (my favourite app) and other powerful photo editing apps
-DJI Go (4) for flying the drone
Step 1: What Do ISO and Other Terms Mean?
What is ISO. ISO is a a camera setting that can brighten or darken a photo. It can help you take photos in darker places without changing your shutter speed. Raising your ISO too high can also cause problems like too much grain, also known as noise. Brightening your photo using ISO has consequences. So, only use ISO to brighten your photo when you are unable to brighten your photo using shutter speed.
What is the meaning of ISO? The letters in ISO stand for "International Organization for Standardization". In 1974, two film standards, ASA and DIN, were combined into the term ISO. ISO was used at first only for film cameras, but was later used by digital camera manufacturers so that digital photos would maintain the same brightness levels as film photos. To double the brightness of your photo you simply double your ISO. For example, a photo taken at 200 ISO is twice as bright as a photo taken at 100 ISO.
What is white balance? It is very important to know that no matter what you photograph, the colour of all light is is different. In photography we call these differences in light colour temperature. In the next few sections I will go over the basics of white balance and colour temperature.
How does this apply to photography? You have probably taken a photo that looked too orange or too blue. When you looked at the actual scene, the light didn't look too orange or too blue. It probably looked normal. Our brains change the different colour temperatures so that we see normal colours. Sadly, our cameras can't automatically do what our brains do! Unless you use a setting on your camera that compensates for different colour temperatures, cameras capture the actual light and colour temperatures in a scene, not what your eyes actually see.
What is colour temperature? Let me explain colour temperature better. Kelvin (K) is the unit that measures color temperature, the physical property of light. There can be a large difference in the temperature of different light sources, even when the color looks the same to your eyes. Here's a chart that gives you a few different light sources and their Kelvin measurements: "Light temperature in Kelvin (K) Candle Flame 1,000 to 2,000 Household Lighting 2,500 to 3,500 Sunrise and Sunset 3,000 to 4,000 Sunlight 5,200 to 6,000 Clear Sky 6,000 to 6,500 Cloudy Sky and Shade 6,500 to 8,000 Heavily Overcast Sky 9,000 to 10,000" (the white balance chart was taken from here ). Note: I included a white balance chart with the photo showing different ISO settings I always set on my drones white balance to auto so I included a video showing how to set the white balance to auto in the DJI Go (4) app
Raw and JPEG; the pros and cons. I always take photos in Raw format because it is much higher quality and stores a lot more data from the camera sensor than a JPEG format photo. You can also edit a Raw format photo better than JPEG format photo because it is not compressed. The best way I have heard it explained is that JPEG is like a cake and you can't really change the cake. On the other hand, Raw is an ingredient for a cake and you can change it much easier than a cake that has already been baked. So, I suggest always shooting in Raw format, not JPEG format.
Step 2: How to Get a Good Exposure.
The Histogram - A Vital Part of Drone Photography Looking something like a heart rate monitor on your DJI Go (4) App, the digital photo histogram should always be turned on. The histogram is essentially a bar graph with 265 bars pressed together that show how much light is hitting the camera sensor. This is vital to produce an image that is exposed correctly. The right side of the histogram equals pure white (225) and the left side equals pure black (0). The middle of the histogram shows mid-tones. The peaks of the histogram show how many pixels have the same brightness. From left to right on the histogram are about five exposure values (EV). If the histogram is touching either edge, important detail will be lost. This is called clipping. Shadow clipping happens when the graph hits the left side of the histogram. When this happens, you will see areas that are completely black. Highlight clipping happens when the graph hits the right side of the histogram. When this happens, you will see areas that are completely white. A histogram does not have to be a perfect bell-curve shape. Different subjects and photography styles will produce different histogram shapes. The brightness and contrast of the subject will change the shape of the graph. Poor exposure causes digital noise (grain) and thin colours when processing. A well-exposed image will jump off the screen and grab your attention.
Your drone camera can take only a certain range of light. The motive is to keep that range within the boundaries between the left and right sides of your histogram. I include a video on how to open the histogram in the camera menu in the DJI Go (4) app. You should always leave it open whenever you fly your drone. You should also use it whenever you take videos with your Inspire, Phantom, Mavic, or Spark drone because your video clip is actually made up of a series still JPEG photographs. The histogram still applies.
Hopefully you understand by now how to use your histogram to get a good exposure (if not, feel free to leave a question in the comments below). A well-shaped histogram, however, does not always mean you are getting a good exposure of the scene. Some photos are called high-key (see first photo), and some are called low-key (see second photo). A quick glance at the histogram is all a competent photographer needs to tell if the mood and emotion of the scene was properly captured in the exposure. A very bright image (high-key first picture) will make the graph bunch up to the right side of the histogram. A low light image (low-key second photo) will make the graph bunch up to the left side of the histogram. If you learn how to use the histogram in the DJI Go (4) app, I can almost guarantee that your photos will improve.
Step 3: Composition
There is no better time to crop a bad composition than just before you press the shutter release. (quoted from Peterson, Brian, Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography, Amphoto Books, 2011) That quote is absolutely true. You can always crop the photo when you edit it, but you lose a lot of resolution. That is why most photographers use the rule of thirds so that they can get a good composition in their photographs. If you look at the picture above with the road in it, look at how the sky takes up roughly one third of the photograph and the ground takes up about two thirds of the picture.You want that in most landscape photographs because a lot of the time you want to draw the viewers attention to the ground not to the sky. The rule of thirds also works for top down photographs. Look at the second photograph. You can see how the bridge is almost exactly in the centre of the photo. If you look at the fourth and fifth photo you can see that the rule of thirds works at all altitudes. Another thing that helps your photos really pop is framing them. If you look at the last photo you can see that the long grass and trees make the viewers' eyes move to the go-cart and motorbike because they contrast on the boring road surface. A lot of people only take photos high up but some of the best drone photos are from head hight. A good thing to remember is that composition can make or break a photo. Note: I put in a video on how to turn on the grid on in the DJI Go (4) app.
Step 4: Using Light to Your Advantage
My favourite time to take photographs is about one hour before sunset and one hour after dawn. Photographers call this the golden hour(s). The reason it is such a good time for taking photographs is because the light is diffused and warm so it really makes colors pop. A lot of photographers are scared of taking photos directly into the sun, but I have taken amazing photos with the camera pointed directly into the sun using my drone. If you look at the first photo, you can see that the smoke diffuses the sun enough so that the rest of the photo isn't underexposed (super dark). You can take really cool photos if you make use of sun flares. Photos two, three, and four have sun flares in them.
Step 5: How to Take Selfies
You are probably wondering how the heck do I take a selfie with my drone? I have to fly it! All you need to do is is set your drone to timed shot, get your histogram centred, point the camera to where you are going to stand, and press the shutter button on the remote and hide it out of view. Stand where you pointed the camera and pose. After you are done posing, get the remote and press the shutter button again to stop it from taking any more photos. Note: I included a video on how to set Timed shots on the DJI Go (4) app. I suggest setting it to take photos every ten seconds so you do not have too many.
Step 6: Taking Abstract Photos
My guess is, you have never heard of an abstract photograph. Usually, you take them with a handheld camera by setting an exposure of about one second and close your aperture, press the shutter button, and zoom in or out. You can get some amazing results with this technique. The first photo is of a mural I took using a zoom lens and handheld camera. The second one was taken using my drone. All you do is set a low shutter speed, (one to two is a good speed) set your ISO to 100, set your drone to sport mode, and fly up or down, forwards, backwards, and side to side. The third one was taken by spinning the drone above my brother holding onto an abandoned T-34 tank barrel.
Step 7: How to Edit Your Photos
Some people say "Do I need to edit my photos? They already look really good?" The answer is no, you do not need to edit you photos, but it will probably make them look much better than they did before. The first two photos are exactly the same except that the first one is edited and the second one is not edited at all. You can see that the first one that has been edited and looks a lot better than the one that is not edited. I included a short video showing how I edited the first photo in Adobe Lightroom for iPad. I use it with my iPad Pro 11 inch and the app is super easy to use and very powerful. Even if you decide to not buy the premium subscription it is still a great app used by pros (like me) worldwide.
Step 8: Conclusion
I hope you learned some things from this instructible. If you enjoyed it, please give me a vote, and if you see any mistakes or have any questions or tips, please leave a comment. I put up some of my favourite photos. Hope you enjoy them.
Participated in the
Make It Fly Challenge
1 year ago
I have a Phantom 4 too and I happen to love tanks! Where did you find that old T34-85 to do shots with? I'm super jealous!
Guessing you don't live in the US so there is probably no way I can find that to take shots with but still curious...
Reply 1 year ago
it's in Angola, Africa.
Reply 1 year ago
I just had to do some research on that, learned something new. Had no idea they were ever deployed there! Super cool!
BTW the t34 85 is one of my absolute favorite tanks.
3 years ago
I don't have much expertise on drone cameras :P Lucky thing you're on instructables to help! :)
Reply 3 years ago
I like minecraft too.
Reply 3 years ago
This instructible has nothing to do with minecraft.
Reply 3 years ago
Thank you. I actually only started drone photography and videography last year.
3 years ago
Fantastic instructable! What a gorgeous landscape to take photos of :)
Reply 3 years ago
Thanks it is a great country to take photos of it also has no drone restrictions. Thanks again.