episode 13

Drone Flying and Photo Taking Tips

Drones are becoming very popular especially when it comes to photography despite the fact that they’ve been with us for a very long time. A lot of people it seems are acquiring drones with the hope of furthering their photography experience. I personally, got so excited when I got my drone for use in my real estate photography and as soon as I flew it and could see the photos I could capture. Not only was I impressed by the real estate photos but also the landscapes I could capture. It opened my eyes to different possibilities when it comes to drones. I have a couple of flying and camera tips in case you might be getting your drone for photography. Here are the tips starting with the simple ones when it comes to flying the drone: –

  1. Staying in the beginner mode when you start

A lot of most popular drones out there have what is called a beginner mode. This might be different depending on the model that you have but what this basically does is that it limits you from going to certain heights and a certain amount of distance from you. This means you can probably go approximately 50 ft or 100ft above the air and 200ft or 300 ft away from you in any direction. This is a helpful thing when you get started because what this does is that it helps you to know the drone. Obviously, when you fire the first flight you don’t want to be taking off and getting it 1500ft away from you where you can’t even see it, you are not even sure where the buttons are and all that kind of stuff coz you will eventually lose it if you do it that way. So, the beginner’s mode is a really cool feature where you can just practice flying in your small area and get to know the camera control and how fast your drone can go, the speed, the acceleration of going up and down. I stayed in the beginner mode for about 5 flights when I first got my drone and this helped me get used to the control. This helps you a lot because you get comfortable with the controls, which is very important when you’re flying a very expensive piece of machinery because you want to be sure that you can bring it home at the end of the day.

  1. Do it in an open field

Next to the beginner mode is to have you try controlling your drone in an open field or set of some sort. This is a really common sense thing but a lot of people don’t it. They’ll get their drone, run out in the backyard in a residential area and start flying around. This can’t end up well and since they are not used to flying it, they ran into a house or something like that. Not only will you damage your drone but you could also damage a home. Being in an open field or area is a very good thing. A lot of people don’t do it but this is a common sense thing that should happen. When practising in an open field, you are not going to run against anything else apart from the ground and if you do that, it will only be your fault but at least you won’t damage anything else and be liable for any other situation.

  1. Paying attention to the wind

This is another obvious thing but these days a lot of drones can actually handle a fair amount of wind. If you’re flying out there and have a 10m/h wind gas depending on the drone, most likely it won’t be able to handle that. It’s not going to blow it away or anything like that. So, paying attention to the wind is a very important thing but when you’re looking at the wind, don’t just pay attention to the wind speed but also pay attention to the wind gas because you could have 10 miles per hour wind but you could have higher wind gas and that could have potential thing especially if you are flying at a high altitude. As such, you should pay attention to the wind gas and the feature item of the week will be an iPhone app that can help you handle that but I will go through this later.

  1. Mastering the Figure 8

This is a side technique of flying your drone in a shape of an “8”, meaning that you’re flying it in big loops. The mastering of figure 8 is the kind of thing that allows you to get used with the control of your drone because if you are flying it away from you, it’s very easy because ‘left is left and right is right’ but when you’re flying it towards you, ‘left is right and right is left’. The controls have flopped that way in different directions and it can very hard think about that depending on how your drone is flying. So, if you fly your drone in a figure 8 right in front of you, it will help you get used with the controls in a way that if you’re flying it away from you can press right and it’ll go right or left and it will go left but when you are flying it towards you, you reverse the directions and start thing about it. All that this does is that it helps you think how the direction will be different and this is what is called “mastering figure 8” and it helps you understand the control directional.

  1. Landing and take off

Some drones are super easy when it comes to taking off. Some of them have a take-off monitor which allows you to see the take-off button once you plug them into your phone. Clicking the button propels your drone to around 4 or 5 feet and it stays there until you command it to go anywhere else. Take off is super easy even if you don’t do it on the phone or the control of the monitor. Landing, however, can be the hardest part and a lot of people think that this is very easy and only requires dropping down the drone and having it hit the ground. This is specifically difficult depending on the speed and could take you up to 5 minutes to land it safely because it is slow and you do not want to come crashing to the ground. Some people like to stop the propellers or mortar maybe a foot above the ground but this could be damaging especially if you have a camera underneath. So, practising the landing is also very important. I can certainly land my drone but a lot of time I like catching my drone mid-air depending on the situation and then turn off the propellers. The reason why I do that is because I might be in a residential setting where I’m taking photos of a building or something like that and there might be tall grass or cars in the area. Landing your drone is very important but if you are in an open area there is no reason for you to catch it. Instead, you should master the landing technique and do it safely.

  1. GPS

GPS is a very popular thing and is built into a lot of drones these days. Basically it allows you to connect to the satellite centers opening the earth and kind of tells your drone exactly where it is and if you have a hover setting on your drone, what it can do is hover in one particular spot so you can let go of the controls and you don’t have to touch anything and it will stay in one spot. If you don’t have GPS turned on, then that’s when you need to pay attention to the wind and something like that because wind can actually push your drone far away from you if you are not paying attention. As such, when at all possible especially if you are doing something simple like taking a photo of some sort of landscape, you might want to keep your GPS on because you can really dial in the composition when you’re trying to take a photo and it’ll pretty much hover where it is. If you try some other modes such as altitude mode or program mode, it’s going to be a little bit difficult especially in the beginning because it will want to drift but GPS mode keeps it from drifting.

Finally, we will discuss a few basic things when it comes to flying a drone and these are known by many people but they don’t pay attention to them. This is where a lot of people get into trouble with drones. In the US for example, there are at least some regulations that one should stick to. The main three are:-

  • Line of sight – always make sure you can see your drone. This is very hard to do especially because the thing is so small in the sky and if you fly it 800 ft away from you, which is legal, then it’s pretty difficult for you to see it, only seeing a small speck in the sky. But definitely, you will need to get to the line of sight so you can see it when it flies.
  • Do not fly above 400 ft – 400 ft is actually the maximum altitude for a lot of drones’ flight. This is intended to stop it from flying into any other commercial or private airspace. There are a lot of drone software you can use to set the maximum altitude and if you find it flying above 400 ft then it’ll stop and won’t go any higher.
  • Stay 5 miles away from any airport – By this, I don’t mean a huge, international airport, No. There are sometimes when maybe there’s a small municipal airport where only small planes take off and land, you will need to keep off that as well. There might be unpaid airports out there where there are crop planes, it’s really difficult to stay away from those because they can be everywhere but try to look at the map and see where there might be an airport near you and try to stay away from that as much as possible.

Now we get into some camera tips when it comes to using your drone. Obviously, cameras are really awesome to have on your drone because you can get some awesome shots in unique perspectives. The following tips are essential especially in the beginning: –

  1. Try the automatic mode

A lot of drones out there allow you to dial your shutter speed, aperture, ISO and others manually or you can have the camera dial it in for you. In the beginning, I will definitely recommend just paying attention to the automatic mode and let the camera do everything for you. Let the drone dial in all the settings because, in the beginning, you are concentrating on flying the drone and trying to compose a really cool picture. So, if you’re flying the drone and trying to pay attention to this, you don’t wanna have to stop the drone and look down at the screen and start dialling a bunch of settings. Pay attention to the automatic mode until you get really comfortable with it and that’s when you can start dialing the settings especially the ISO (that’s a big one because in most of the drones it tops out to around 30 to 100 or something like that and it can really latch at that really quick). If you are shooting in some cloudy situation, your ISO will probably be very high and being able to control the ISO is a very important thing.

So, on that topic, let’s talk about shooting in different conditions. Probably, the best condition to shoot it according to my experience will be a partly cloudy condition because you don’t have those high contrast areas and those really stand out especially when you’re photographing from above. Sunny is also a perfect condition to shoot in and although it might not be perfect for the actual results for the photo, because of the very high contrast areas. I like to shoot in partly cloudy situations, since overly cloudy situations are a bit difficult to shoot in, not because of the flying conditions but because you will have a little bit less light hitting your sensors on the drone and it might be a little bit noisy in your photos.

Another thing you need to pay attention to is shooting in shooting in DNG if possible. A lot of these drones do shoot in jpeg only but there are some especially the DJI series which will allow you to shoot in DNG. So you have digital negative which gives you a little more flexibility when you’re editing in Lightroom or Photoshop although not a whole lot because the quality of the files is still a bit lackluster depending on the drone that you have but you have a little bit more leeway when you’re editing so if it is possible you should shoot in DNG if your drone allows it.

Before committing to any type of shooting with your drone especially if you’re doing a commercial shoot, make sure to practice and learn the buttons. If you are flying your drone and trying to pay attention to not hitting the trees or buildings, the last thing you want to do is to try and not ram your drone into anything and also try to figure out where the buttons are so as to take a photo or to control the camera. As such, you should really practice with your drone in an open field and make sure you master the controls. This will mean not only practising the flying but also the camera as you’re flying it. It will be good to have the memory of where the buttons are located and how sensitive they are especially the turning and tilting of the drone.

These tips will come in handy if you acquire a drone and want to start off with drone photography. Just make sure you master them and you’ll enjoy the experience.

Feature item of the week | Hover App http://www.hoverapp.io

Our featured item of the week has to do with drones. It is an app which we have talked about in other episodes and it’s called hover. This app is available for iOS and I also believe it’s available Android as well. Hover allows know your location through GPS in your phone and it will automatically look for the weather conditions and also give you notifications for airports in the area, wind gusts, among others in a very easy to view window. At the very top, you don’t have to look for anything in specific but it says “ready to fly”, meaning in your location you’re ready to fly and there is nothing that’s going to impede you. Obviously, if you are within 3 miles of an airport or something like that it’ll say, ‘caution’ and you can click on that and it’ll show you what the caution is. This is built-in in a lot of different apps for DJI and they’ll notify you when there is an airport, high wind or something like that but it is good to have a separate app just to be sure of everything.

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