Drone photography has quickly grown to be one of the most popular forms of photography, and for many applications. Drone photography is ideal for capturing full, 3D environments which is great if you’re creating 3D renderings and can help you get to locations and use angles that might otherwise be inaccessible to you.
But if you’re an amateur photographer who’s accustomed to using a photography-optimized smartphone or a traditional digital camera, you might be confused about how to get started with a drone of your own. You’ll be pleased to hear it’s easier to get started with drone photography than most people realize.
Choosing Your Equipment
The first step is choosing your equipment—in other words, the drone you’ll be using for your photography. If you’re just getting started and you don’t have a specific application in mind, your best bet is to find a drone with everything you need off-the-shelf; many modern drones were developed with onboard cameras and elements designed for aerial photos and videos.
A beginner drone can cost you less than $100. For that budget, you’ll be able to find a quadcopter designed as a “learner” model, which can be used indoors and outdoors in good weather conditions. These models won’t have the best camera, but can help you learn the basics of drone maneuverability.
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, like in the ballpark of a few hundred dollars, you can get an even better all-in-one drone. At this price range, you can find a drone capable of sustaining much stronger winds and less predictable weather conditions. You may also get access to much higher-quality onboard capturing equipment, or even an FPV headset you can use to get a first-person perspective on what your drone can see.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, or if you already have some drone photography experience, you can purchase individual components to build your own photography drone. Keep in mind this may require some trial and error.
Understanding Local Regulations
While drone photography is usually executed in pursuit of art, business, or fun, it can also be used for nefarious purposes—and most areas have laws designed to combat these uses. For starters, if you’re going to fly a drone in the United States that weighs more than 0.55 pounds, you have to register the drone. It’s a simple process, and it only costs $5, so it’s well worth your time and money—especially considering that the penalty for flying an unregistered drone can range up to $27,500.
It’s also your responsibility to be aware of no-fly zones. There are many places throughout the United States where you’re not allowed to fly drones. For example, airports and government buildings are frequently treated as no-fly zones for security purposes. Depending on what type of drone you have, you may have access to built-in GPS systems and databases that prevent you from flying into no-fly zones. However, it’s still your responsibility to know where they are and avoid them.
The FAA also has several guidelines, most of which are common sense; try to keep your flight height below 400 feet above ground level. Keep your drone in sight at all times, and keep the drone away from wildlife, buildings, and pedestrians.
Additionally, it’s important to stay current with federal, state, and local laws and regulations. These laws vary from area to area, and are likely to change in the future. It’s your responsibility to know them.
Learn to Fly Your Drone
Before you get fancy with photography tricks, it’s important to learn how to fly your drone. It’s a good idea to start in a safe, enclosed environment—like your garage, or an open area of your house. Start with the basics, and gradually expand your maneuverability. Pay special attention to takeoff and landing, when the majority of accidents occur. Many drones will fly the same way, so even if you’re starting with a basic “learner” drone, you can apply your skills to a larger, more advanced one.
Next, you can move outside. Make sure you choose a day with low wind speeds and an area with lots of wide, open space. This will help prevent the possibility of an early, hobby-ruining accident. As you get more comfortable, you’ll be able to practice in more and more diverse conditions.
Perfecting Your Composition
Once you’ve mastered the maneuverability of your drone and you feel comfortable with your knowledge of regulations, you’ll be ready to experiment with the photography element. Start taking photos as often as you can, and study to improve your composition. Look at the drone photos of experienced professionals, learn from them, and keep experimenting until you find a style and approach that works for you.