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Aerial Photography Tips and Tricks for Beginners

Anuj Mudaliar Oct 08, 2020
Compared to other forms, aerial photography has its own unique set of challenges. Not only must one shoot from a high elevation, one also has to consider the creative/artistic aspect of each shot to prevent the effect from being plain.

General Tips for Aerial Photography

Both DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras can work fine for aerial shots. However, DSLRs allow more options for adjusting shutter speed, aperture, white balance, etc. A zoom lens will ofter more versatility and quality in the pictures.
To get the best images when using a point-and-shoot, be sure to use only optical zoom and not digital to prevent shakiness caused by the buzzing aircraft.
Check for good lighting conditions
Look for sunlight depending on the time and the kind of effect you need. Overcast skies will give you soft light and shadows, while clear skies at noon will give you brighter light with lesser shadows.
This usually takes some practice before you can judge when the daylight will be optimal to shoot the object in the way you like.
Get the weather forecast before every shoot
Weather is important for all aerial shots, as all aircraft and drones are vulnerable to bad weather. Also, you may have to look for weather components such as fog and mist, which can either add or detract from your image. For most images, however, a clear dry sky is preferred.
Choosing an appropriate camera lens
Filters are rarely needed for aerial photos as they just tend to reduce picture sharpness. Use a fast shutter speed (1/1000 to 1/500 sec) to minimize the effects of the aircraft vibrations.
A wide angle fast lens (f/11 to f/2.8) will help keep the ISO to 100 or 200, thereby increasing the quality of even those photographs which have movement.
Wings with struts can obstruct photographs
If you plan to use airplanes, your best option would be a craft with high wings, without struts, as you will get an unobstructed view. However, helicopters are slower, and give you more time to observe any object before you take the shot.
Also, your pilot will be able to help you plan your excursion, and can advise you about the atmospheric conditions to expect.
Choose a good focal point
Most good photos have a focal point, i.e., any object which will attract the eye of the viewer. It could be anything from geological formation, animals, plants, buildings, etc. It will take a few tries before you get a hang of selecting the object, and picture position of the focal point.
Use the sky in anĀ aerial photograph
The sky can be an important element in your photo. Plain cloudless skies do not contribute to the image, and the focus should be on the foreground. However, if the sky has some interesting colors and cloud formations, you can include this into your picture composition.
Use the reds and golds of sunrise and sunset
Dawn and dusk are the favorite times for most photographers, as you are able to capture great shadows, shades of red, gold, and other softer colors. Also, city scenes tend to get more active and can get you some great in-motion shots.

Reflections While Taking Aerial Shots Through Windows

Almost all airplanes have the issue of windows which are either grimy or reflect excessive light, making it difficult to get a good shot. Your best option would be to ask permission and clean the windows before the flight.
Also, to reduce glare, make sure that the lens of your camera is as close as possible to the window. Alternately, for images without any obstructions, you can use helicopters with open doors.

Using Drones For Aerial Photographs

Camera options for drones
Cheap drone cameras, while good for still photos, don't give good quality images in less than ideal conditions or with movement. If you are serious about drone photography, you can look to spend at least 600 USD or more, for high quality images.
They give good stability and even a good digital downlink, which is important for first-person views. Look for cameras with professional gimbals if you can afford it.
Most drones can fly for a period of 20-25 minutes before needing a recharge. Use this time to check out the object you want to photograph, from different angles.
This will help you to find the best view and get some really beautiful images. Just remember, greater height can give wider views, but that does not necessarily translate to great photos.
Professional photography drones come with a GPS function, which will surely help in increasing picture quality. Using the GPS mode allows you to just hover the drone in an area, without continuously having to be on the controls, allowing you to focus leisurely on the images you want to take.
Shooting high quality images of moving objects
Good quality drones allow you to click both moving and still pictures. However, for pictures with motion, you will have to customize shutter speed and aperture. High shutter speeds and low apertures will allow you to take good images, without excess light exposure.