Drone based imaging just keeps getting better. Today drones like the DJI Mavic Pro offer 4k video capture and high-resolution still images for less than $1,000 USD. The cameras that are built into drones have tremendous image making potential, but you will need to know a little bit about how to use them.
How to Capture Great Images and Movies with a Drone
Most drones will offer you full manual control over its camera, and you need to know a few things to maximize the image quality.
Exposure can be adjusted in three ways:
The shutter controls how much light reaches the sensor by opening and closing rapidly. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. A shutter speed of 1/100 means that the shutter opens and closes once in one hundredth of a second.
If you need help thinking about how this works, think about it like a little door that opens and closes very quickly.
Using a fast shutter speed (over 1/60 of a second) will make sure that the video frames or still images you capture are sharp. If you have enough light, going to a faster shutter speed (like 1/1000 of a second) will make the images even sharper.
There is nothing wrong with slower shutter speeds, but the effect may not be what you are looking for. Try making some tests with fast and slow shutter speeds, and you will understand more about how it effects your videos or still images.
If the shutter speed is how quickly a door opens and closes, the aperture is how big the door is. The smaller the aperture number, the bigger the hole (f2.8 is a big hole, f16 is a small one). Clearly, a bigger hole lets more light in than a smaller one, but the aperture also controls the depth-of-field (DOF).
A discussion of DOF is beyond the scope of this article, but it is worth learning a little more about.
When possible, it is good to use an aperture that is a bit smaller than the largest one. For example, if the lens on your drone has a maximum aperture of f2.8, using the f4 or f5.6 would be a good choice.
Lenses tend to be sharper when they are ‘stopped down’, which is a fancy way of saying that the hole is smaller. If you have to choose between shooting ‘wide-open’, which means at the maximum aperture possible, and dropping your shutter speed, it is probably better to shoot wide-open.
The sensitivity of the sensor is probably the easiest manual function to understand. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light the sensor will be. It is best to use the lowest sensitivity possible, because the quality will be better.
Shooting RAW is Where You Want to be
Sometimes people shy away from RAW image capture, and this is a mistake.
Shooting in RAW, or LOG mode is the best way to capture images because it saves all the data the sensor creates. Part of the reason why some people may not like it at first is because of how bland it looks during shooting, but you can easily apply color grading to the video in post production.
When you shoot in RAW or LOG you can make any changes you want later on. RAW files are sometimes bigger, and there is a little more to do in post-production, but the image making potential of RAW sensor output far outweighs any drawbacks.
Why Drone Photography Matters
Mastering drone photography and video is not an easy, or a quick task. However the rewards for becoming really skilled can be great. More and more new opportunities for making money with a drone are opening up. The drone photography business is booming, and learning these skills can be the first steps towards a new drone career.
Get out There and Practice!
In addition to learning about how to best use your drone’s camera, there is a lot to practice in the field. Drones that have variable focal length (zoom) lenses offer a lot of possibilities. It takes time and practice to learn how to shoot with any camera, so the more you practice, the better your videos and pictures will get!