A beginner’s guide to drone photography - part 3 - getting the shots

First published:
May 12, 2021
February 12, 2024

A beginner’s guide to drone photography - part 3 - getting the shots

First published:
May 12, 2021
February 12, 2024

Cover image by Lukáš Veselý

As well as being great fun to fly, a drone extends your photographic range. These are our top tips for getting those amazing drone shots

Most drones have a wide-angle lens, which means that you can include a lot in your images when you’re flying at the maximum legal altitude of 400ft. That’s exciting, but it can sometimes seem a little overwhelming. So in the final part of our three-part beginner's guide, we’ve put a few tips together to help you improve your drone photography.

Drone photography guide - parts 1 & 2:

Learn how to stay legal with your drone and how to operate it correctly with part 1 and part 2 of our beginner's guide to drone photography.

Remember the usual guidelines

With all the excitement of taking to the air, it’s worth reminding yourself that the usual guidelines for photography still apply. We’d always call them guidelines rather than rules, but don’t forget aspects such as the rule of thirds, leading lines and using foreground interest.

It’s also important to consider the light as, just like land-based photography, images shot just after sunrise and before sunset on a sunny day can often be more attractive than those shot at noon or on an overcast day.

Springtime aerial shot over České Středohoří Czech Republic captured by drone
The ‘right light’ is as important to drone photography as it is with land-based photography. Image by Lukáš Veselý


Google maps
satellite view is a great tool for exploring a location ahead of a flight and finding potential points of interest - as well as convenient take off and landing locations. And while dull overcast days may not be the best for photography, they can be a great opportunity to make a few reconnaissance flights.

Take off and look around for subjects and shooting angles to work with in better conditions. It will mean that when you fly to shoot, you’ll make better use of the limited battery life and those fleeting moments when the light is perfect.

Check the weather

The weather conditions are an important consideration for the flight as well as the photography. An aerial shoot of a misty landscape, for example, might be very attractive but the damp conditions can cause your drone serious problems.

If you’re really keen to give it a go, send your drone up to low level for a short time and then bring it down to check for moisture (or ice) build up. If all seems well, send it up a bit higher and then bring it down for another check. Once you’re happy it’s going to be OK, fly to your shooting point and get the shots as quickly as possible.

Photo taken by drone of a waterfall in a foggy forest
Mist and fog can add atmosphere to images but they can also cause havoc to a drone, so proceed with caution. Image by Moises Cugat

Look for the unusual

Although aerial photography is becoming more common, there are still plenty of subjects that we don’t see from above very often, so they make interesting images. At the coast, for example, you’ll get a more unusual shot if you fly your drone out over the ocean and shoot back towards the land.

Drone narrowed panorama shot of the East Iceland coast during low winter sun
While we’re used to seeing the coast from the land, few of us see it from the air over the sea. Image by Petr Kuklík

Look for patterns

What may seem uninteresting from ground level can be fascinating and photogenic from the air. Walls, fences and hedges or footpaths and roads, lakes, rivers and streams or rows of houses, for instance, can all form interesting patterns.

Also keep an eye open for landforms and structures that look like other objects from above.

Treat the shapes and patterns as your subject rather than the objects themselves.

Drone image of Dalmore Beach on the Isle of Lewis following a deluge
This image of Dalmore Beach on the Isle of Lewis was taken immediately after a deluge which enhanced the power of the delta and made its tree-shaped pattern clearer from the air. Photo from Ben Hutchinson

Use shadows

When seen from above, the shadows cast by objects become much more apparent and their shape is clearer than when you shoot from the ground. At midday the shadows fall almost directly beneath the object, but either side of noon, they move away and become longer as it gets closer to sunrise or sunset.

The low sun during the winter time makes shadows even longer and the bare branches of trees may create a more interesting image than when they are in full-leaf.

A group of trees shot with the drone with their shadow cast on the snow
Consider the shadows when you’re composing your image as they often have more impact when you’re shooting from above than when you’re on the ground. Photo by Andre von Nickisch - Rosenegk

Find contrasts

The transition from a field of grass to one full with bright yellow oilseed rape flowers may not have much impact from ground level, but from a drone 300ft in the air, it’s a dramatic difference. You can create your own contrast by adding objects to an area of uniform colour, for example, by popping open an umbrella on a sandy beach or floating a red inflatable toy on a blue swimming pool.

Aerial view of a bending road in the middle of a winter forest
The dark road man-made contrasts markedly with the snowy forest surrounding it. Photo by Radu

Use Auto Exposure Bracketing and shoot RAW

Given the time limitations imposed by the battery life of a drone and the transient nature of sunlight, it’s well worth using your drone’s Auto Exposure Bracketing mode if it has one. This enables you to capture three or more images with different exposure settings each time you press the shutter release. It means that you should have at least one perfect image and you have scope to combine shots for greater dynamic range using an HDR (high dynamic range) technique.

Many drones also enable you to capture RAW files as well as JPEGs. Raw files have much more data than JPEGs which means that they have greater capacity for adjustment of exposure, colour and white balance to get exactly what you want.

Don’t forget people photos

We tend to think of drones as tools for aerial landscape photography but they can also be fun for portraits. When you’re out on a hike, for example, including yourself in the landscape can give a sense of scale, but coming in a bit closer can produce an interesting environmental portrait.

A drone can also add a fun unusual element to a portrait shoot, even a wedding. For something a bit different, ask your subjects to lie on the ground so it looks like they are interacting with elements in the landscape. For example, if two people holding tennis racquets were to lie on a tennis court, you can create an image that looks like a game of computer tennis!

Photo of a bride and groom taken from above by drone
A drone can add an extra element to a wedding shoot. Image by Gocha

Watch out for flare

The wide angle lenses of many drones makes them prone to flare. And while flare can be quite attractive in videos, it can create some unwanted artefacts in stills. To avoid it, keep an eye on the angle of the sun and invest in a lens hood for your drone.

Include your drone in the image

A drone can also introduce some interesting opportunities for land-based photography or drone-to-drone photography. For example, adding a couple of small LED lights to your drone enables you to paint shapes of light in the sky during a long exposure.

It takes a lot of practise to fly in a perfect rectangle or circle, but many drones have automated flying modes that may help - depending upon what you want to achieve.

You may need to put black tape over the coloured lights built in to the legs of your drone to avoid them appearing at different points of the image.

Light trails of a drone lighting up a tree at night
The drone has become an integral part of the image here, creating a circle of light in the sky and illuminating the tree below. Photo by Richard Howe
Missed Part 1 and Part 2 of our beginner's guide to drone Photography? 

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