Once upon a time, in order to take a breath­tak­ing bird’s-eye pho­to, pho­tog­ra­phers had to rent a plane or heli­copter, plan­ning ahead for such a shoot. Today, every­thing has changed — drones have become more acces­si­ble than ever, while they open up huge oppor­tu­ni­ties for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers: new angles, quick recon­nais­sance, etc. We have trans­lat­ed for you an arti­cle by Sean Stein­er, which focus­es on the main advan­tages of using quad­copters for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy.

Pho­to cred­it: payszpz.ga

In land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, a lot depends on whether you man­age to get to the right place at the right time. Many pho­tog­ra­phers sud­den­ly find that the right angle from the ground is sim­ply not avail­able. There­fore, drones can become a great new tool for pho­tog­ra­phers. You don’t need to rent a plane, you get more angles and you don’t have to plan too much in advance. There are a few oth­er less obvi­ous ways to use a drone for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy that make it a par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful tool to have on hand.

How drones have changed the game

As we’ve said before, drones can help land­scape painters get angles that weren’t avail­able to them before. This is the sim­plest expla­na­tion of how a drone can help a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Now you can take a bird’s-eye pho­to of the cliff you’re stand­ing on, and you don’t need a heli­copter or a plane to do it.

New per­spec­tives. Pho­to: Shawn C. Stein­er / bhphotovideo.com

In addi­tion, you can see the scene from a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent angle. One com­mon exam­ple is shoot­ing from above, with the drone’s cam­era point­ing down­wards per­pen­dic­u­lar to the ground. This can open up a lot of inter­est­ing scenes and pat­terns for you that would oth­er­wise be impos­si­ble to cap­ture. This is also a rather com­pli­cat­ed angle, which is dif­fi­cult to catch with­out a spe­cial aer­i­al plat­form (includ­ing from an air­plane win­dow).

Top-down is a new angle that can be obtained using a drone. Pho­to: Shawn C. Stein­er / bhphotovideo.com

Drones are also good not only for shoot­ing itself, but also for recon­nais­sance. Some­times you want to get a glimpse of what a par­tic­u­lar scene might look like before you walk a few miles through the woods or find out how today’s weath­er affects a loca­tion you’ve already spot­ted. Using a drone is a much faster way to do this kind of recon­nais­sance.

Top Tips for Using Drones

If you’re head­ing out­doors with a drone, we have some impor­tant tips.

Check the weather

The weath­er in this case plays a much greater role than for ordi­nary land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, which can be car­ried out on a windy or rainy day. Drones pre­fer clear, sun­ny days. There are many rea­sons for this, but the main one is that when you fly a rel­a­tive­ly light elec­tron­ic device through the air, rain and wind can cre­ate seri­ous prob­lems. Drones are designed to reduce excess weight, which means that pro­tec­tion from dust and mois­ture is not as seri­ous as that of your pro­fes­sion­al DSLR. In addi­tion, strong winds can cause the air­craft to drift off course or cause the bat­tery to drain pre­ma­ture­ly.

Learn the law

I can’t help but raise this issue. Check local reg­u­la­tions and laws regard­ing fly­ing drones. If you’re unsure, check with your local author­i­ties before fly­ing. If you do not fol­low the rules, you may receive a large fine. Or, in the worst case, some­one might get hurt.

Always check local laws before fly­ing, espe­cial­ly if you are trav­el­ing. Pho­to: Shawn C. Stein­er / bhphotovideo.com

Exposure bracketing is cool

On the ground, you have time to take the shot, check the expo­sure and details before tak­ing the next shot. Drones have no such advan­tages. In the best case, you will be work­ing with a more or less suit­able screen that is con­nect­ed wire­less­ly to a device that is a cou­ple of hun­dred meters away. These are not ide­al con­di­tions for shoot­ing land­scapes with a wide dynam­ic range. Also, the small­er sen­sors in drones are usu­al­ly more lim­it­ed than in APS‑C and full-frame DSLRs, so you need to make sure your expo­sure is as close to per­fect as pos­si­ble. Expo­sure brack­et­ing (a series of shots with dif­fer­ent expo­sures — approx. Trans­la­tor), com­bined with the use of addi­tion­al tools such as Zebra (Zebra pat­tern), will help ensure that you get the right expo­sure before you land.

Shoot in RAW

This is a sim­ple tip to help you get the best shots — shoot in RAW for­mat. RAW saves as much detail as pos­si­ble for lat­er edit­ing. When shoot­ing from a drone, when you can­not be com­plete­ly sure what is hap­pen­ing there in the air, you will need the max­i­mum range of pos­si­bil­i­ties for post-pro­cess­ing.

The Super Res­o­lu­tion fea­ture on the Mav­ic 2 Zoom allows you to cap­ture more details than the stan­dard mode. Pho­to: Shawn C. Stein­er / bhphotovideo.com

Take advantage of built-in features

Some drones, such as the DJI Mav­ic 2 Zoom, have inter­est­ing modes that allow you to get the most out of the sen­sor. For exam­ple, the mul­ti-shot mode, in which the drone cre­ates an image with increased res­o­lu­tion and much more detail than its sen­sor can ini­tial­ly cap­ture. Using these modes, as well as fea­tures such as a tri­pod mode that keeps the air­craft steady, will help you get the shot you want. Make sure you are using them.

What drone do you need

Today, there is a huge vari­ety of drones on the mar­ket, with prices rang­ing from a cou­ple of hun­dred to thou­sands of dol­lars. It all comes down to per­son­al pref­er­ence and bud­get con­straints, but we’ll go over the key specs to look out for.

The size

In my opin­ion, this para­me­ter is very impor­tant, because if the drone is too big to take it with you often, it does­n’t mat­ter how good it is. In addi­tion, it is worth look­ing for small­er drones (under 250 grams) so as not to reg­is­ter it. You will also find many fold­able drones that are high qual­i­ty and easy to trans­port. Final­ly, there are big seri­ous drones with larg­er and more com­plex cam­eras that require sep­a­rate lug­gage space for trav­el.

I would go for a mini drone for every­day use and a fold­able drone for more seri­ous work. Larg­er drones are meant for high-end shoots as they are too much of a has­sle to trans­port for casu­al pho­tog­ra­phers.

DJI Mav­ic 2 Pro. Pho­to: Shawn C. Stein­er / bhphotovideo.com

Image sensor and lens(s)

The cam­era in your drone will most like­ly be built-in, which makes it impos­si­ble to make changes in the future. There­fore, you need to make sure that this key part is of the high­est qual­i­ty. As with con­ven­tion­al cam­eras, you need to eval­u­ate its sen­sor. Phys­i­cal size and res­o­lu­tion play a sig­nif­i­cant role in image qual­i­ty.

Image: bhphotovideo.com

The res­o­lu­tion has obvi­ous advan­tages: a 20-megapix­el sen­sor cap­tures more details than a 12-megapix­el one. Matrix size is a less obvi­ous para­me­ter. Giv­en that most drones are extreme­ly com­pact, sen­sor sizes are also rel­a­tive­ly small, typ­i­cal­ly around 1/2.3″, which is clos­er to a smart­phone than a mir­ror­less or SLR cam­era. That’s why some of the lat­est mod­els with 1‑inch sen­sors show a marked improve­ment in dynam­ic range, low-light shoot­ing, and are gen­er­al­ly bet­ter for pho­tog­ra­phy.

Most drones come with built-in fixed lens­es. More advanced mod­els may have cam­eras with a bay­o­net mount for mount­ing inter­change­able lens­es. First, decide if you’re ready for the extra expense and has­sle of addi­tion­al lens­es, or make sure your non-replace­able lens is good. Cur­rent­ly, you have two fixed lens options: wide-angle fixed lens or zoom. Fixed lens­es usu­al­ly pro­vide bet­ter pic­ture qual­i­ty, but zooms are much more ver­sa­tile. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Pho­to: Shawn C. Stein­er / bhphotovideo.com

Filters and optional lenses

Even though (most) drones don’t use reg­u­lar lens­es, many com­pa­nies make acces­sories to work with them. First­ly, these are spe­cial fil­ters and attach­ments for lens­es. If you’re already into land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, you’re prob­a­bly famil­iar with var­i­ous fil­ters, such as polar­iz­ing and ND fil­ters. ND fil­ters may not be your first choice for aer­i­al pho­tog­ra­phy, as you’ll prob­a­bly want to use faster shut­ter speeds, but polar­iz­ing fil­ters will be just as use­ful as they are on the ground. Just don’t for­get to check the polar­iza­tion before take off, because after take­off it will be impos­si­ble to adjust it.

Anoth­er unique acces­so­ry is the anamor­phic lens attach­ment. Although it’s more of a video tool, it can also help pho­tog­ra­phers by shoot­ing panoram­ic images with­out rely­ing on soft­ware stitch­ing mul­ti­ple shots.

Freewell All-Day Fil­ter Kit for Mav­ic Mini Drone. Image: bhphotovideo.com

RAW support

For pho­tog­ra­phy, you should pay atten­tion to drone mod­els that shoot in RAW. Many more bud­get drones are lim­it­ed to JPEGs, and any land­scape pho­tog­ra­ph­er who wants the high­est qual­i­ty pho­tos knows to shoot in RAW. I would say that this fea­ture is espe­cial­ly impor­tant for drone pho­tog­ra­phy, as the screen of a remote con­trol or smart­phone is not the best option for check­ing expo­sure, so you need to make sure you have as much room as pos­si­ble to cor­rect pos­si­ble errors dur­ing post-pro­cess­ing.

Image: bhphotovideo.com

Battery and range

Two key char­ac­ter­is­tics that affect the over­all usabil­i­ty of any drone are bat­tery life and flight range. The bat­tery is sim­ple: the more you can fly on a sin­gle charge, the bet­ter. The sec­ond part of the for­mu­la is the range of oper­a­tion, and it depends heav­i­ly on var­i­ous tech­nolo­gies. Some drones use Wi-Fi to oper­ate over short dis­tances, some use 2.4 and 5 GHz wire­less to increase their range, or use spe­cial tech­nol­o­gy to get a range of sev­er­al kilo­me­ters.

DJI Intel­li­gent Flight Bat­tery for Mini 2. Image: bhphotovideo.com

Togeth­er, all this deter­mines the over­all flight char­ac­ter­is­tics of the drone. I would say that the most impor­tant part is the wire­less tech­nol­o­gy and you should refrain from mod­els that use only Wi-Fi, unless of course you are using the drone pure­ly for fun. A loss of com­mu­ni­ca­tion can com­plete­ly ruin a flight, and as far as bat­ter­ies are con­cerned, you can always take a cou­ple of spare bat­ter­ies to extend your shoot­ing time.

Pho­to: Shawn C. Stein­er / bhphotovideo.com

There are plen­ty of rea­sons why every land­scape pho­tog­ra­ph­er should con­sid­er adding a drone to their kit. Today, drones have become very com­pact and pow­er­ful, while you can choose a mod­el for almost any bud­get.