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Drones have opened up a world of possibilities for photographers both amateur and professional. Nowadays, anyone can get a flying camera, throw it into the air, and start producing shots that look straight out of National Geographic. Ah. If only it were that easy… Aerial photography is a class of photography all of its own. No longer constrained to the ground and three legs of a tripod, photographers can take to the skies with ease. But with a new perspective comes a brand new set of tips and tricks to get noteworthy shots.
Know what’s out there
While knowing what you want to shoot is great, knowing what drones are out there that best suit your needs is probably a better place to start. Do you want to go fast and create high octane, sweeping shots? If so, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is the top of line of consumer hobbyists looking to get started. It’s smart enough to help you avoid running into, say, a tree or brick wall and has a top speed of 20m/s, 28m of recording time, and can ascend to nearly 20k feet. Money a concern or just starting out? Go the opposite rout and check out the entry level Code Black Drone. It may not be the fastest drone out there or have the highest resolution images, but it’s a great starting point to begin practicing your piloting skills.
Image: DJI

Image: DJI

When considering a drone, make sure it’s one you feel comfortable with. Like a car, you’re going to like the way some drones handle better than others and you’re going to have to weigh battery life / charge speed with the performance you want.
Practice before you record
Alright! Now that your wings – er, rotor blades –  it’s time to start thinking about how to become a great pilot. Mastering aerial photography, firstly, involves a lot on top of a lot of practice. Using a first person view system, your step should be to master the following maneuvers as smoothly as possible: vertical ascension, smooth landings, a swoop (dive down and come back up, like in a “U” shape), banked turns, low-to-the-ground chases, and then try them all again while keeping your subject in the view finder. The goal is to make sure that every movement is as smooth as butter. You want to avoid jerkiness at all costs. It will remind your viewer that the camera is, indeed, attached to a drone and be very distracting. Every drone is a little bit different – and you’ll pay a high price for smoother ones – but any drone can be mastered.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling a little crafty, invest in some anti gravity motors to replace the stock motors on your drone. They’ll use less power, keep you in the air longer, and help your perfect your aviation style.
The rule of 2/3rd’s
 A classic mistake made in landscape photography is having way too cloudless sky in your shots or too much of an uninteresting foreground. Generally, you should keep your point of interest (typically, but not always, the landscape) in about 2/3rd’s of the shot. It’s hard enough to remember to do this when your camera is on a tripod, and even harder when your camera is in the air. Be exquisitely aware of giving your shots a sense of place by including just the right amount of sky and landscape in your shots.
An example of the 2/3rd's rule. Image: Lee Aik Soon

An example of the 2/3rd’s rule. Image: Lee Aik Soon

Or, at least, be very intentional about why you’d omit one or the other, like the texture and lines in the shot below:

Image: Jakub Sejkora

Image: Jakub Sejkora

Drone photography is uncharted territory for most semi-pro photographers. It’s a ripe profession for people like you to go out and lead. Taking the time to practice now and build up your portfolio could give you that extra nudge in experience to get jobs or assignments in the future.
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