Picked up a drone and not sure where to start? Here are my 12 tips for improving your drone photography.
Love them or hate them, there is no denying that drones have made an impact on photography around the world in the recent years introducing a whole new genre of photography in capturing angles that previously would have required a helicopter/plane to capture.
Use Google Maps to plan your shoots
The hardest thing for me when buying a drone was finding locations to shoot which would look good from above. I didn’t really know what I was looking for or how to find them. It’s pretty easy these days when planning a shoot with your regular camera to open up Instagram and quickly find some locations to photograph. The best way to find locations to photograph with a drone is by using Google Maps Satellite view.
But what are you looking for when you have Google Maps open? Here are some things which I’ll look for when scouring my local areas:
Finding unique angles through fish farms in Southern Tasmania
Unique patterns – Try to find things which wouldn’t normally be interesting if captured using a regular camera. Take the image to the right as an example of the unique patterns of a fish farm in Tasmania.
Contrasting colours – Try not to let one colour dominate your shot. Instead look for other colours which allow you to create a colour harmony (i.e. one colour being the opposite of another colour to provide a greater visual experience). This guide on TigerColor has an introduction to the different colour harmonies to get you started.
Objects which can look interesting from above – Basketball, tennis courts and garden mazes are just some to get you started. Bonus points if you manage to find one in a pretty location such as by the ocean or in a nice forest area.
Using the stunning road of the Great Ocean Road, Victoria to separate the shot
Use shadows to your advantage – Found a lone tree? Why not fire up the Photographers Ephemeris and plan for when the light will be falling behind the tree to create some harsh shadows.
Dividing lines which separate your shot – Look for elements which help frame and seperate your shot. Often when shooting a seascape location, I will use the road to separate the sea and foliage area.
Keep it simple – And finally, like regular photography, it pays to keep things simple by looking for a strong composition element in your shot and reducing clutter.
Fly where there’s no point
One thing I love about drone photography is that you can arrive at a location, feel a bit uninspired on what you are seeing as you set the drone up and then manage to find something when you get it up in the air and are viewing the area from the above.
For this reason, I recommend buying a second battery for your drone with one to be used for scouting and the other for photography.
With most drones now coming with a panoramic mode built in, the panoramic mode on your drone is a great way to expand your image size when one image won’t quite cut it.
I’ll occasionally use both the panoramic and AEB modes of my camera to both maximise the size and dynamic range of my shot. It’s a bit of mucking around but the results are great when used for the right image.
Shoot at a low ISO
As drone technology continues to evolve, we have seen image quality drastically improve over the last few years. While there is no denying the image quality in the latest Mavic and Phantom drones are superb, there is still room for improvement particularly around the low light capabilities of current generation drones. When shooting at the lowest ISO possible (generally ISO 100), image quality is fantastic. It is when you start dialling the ISO up which is when you see degredation to your image quality through unwanted noise in your image.
Shoot in RAW mode to maximise the highlight and shadow recovery when post processing
For this reason, always shoot with the lowest ISO possible with your done to maximise the image quality output. At times especially in low light conditions, it will be unavoidable that you will need to shoot with a higher ISO in low light conditions. But when you can… Try keep the iso down to the lowest level possible to retain image quality.
Shoot in raw
Like shooting with your regular camera, it’s recommended to always shoot in RAW mode on your drone. By doing so, this maximises the shadow and highlight recovery when you post process your images.
Finding the camera on your drone isn’t quite getting the dynamic range you’re used to on your DSLR camera? Often I’ll shoot in AEB mode (a technique I’ve written about previously) which allows you to capture different exposures of a scene to maximise the dynamic range.
Depending which AEB mode you choose, the camera will generally capture an under exposed, neutral exposed and over exposed image of the scene. Bracketing your images is especially useful when shooting in sunrise or sunset where the light is often uneven and harsher in parts. By bracketing your images this allows you to retain the detail in your highlights and shadows which would have otherwise been lost due to the constraints of the drone sensor.
Don’t limit yourself to a certain type of angle
Experiment with different angles. This image shows two angles of the same location.
Most drones now will come with the ability to shoot in 16:9, 4:3 and 3:2 formats. The first two more favour video shooting with the later being more commonly seen in digital cameras. It’s worth noting that on the DJI Phantom 4, the 3:2 aspect ratio provides the highest resolution/megapixel:
3:2 Aspect Ratio: 5472 × 3648 = 20 MP
4:3 Aspect Ratio: 4864 × 3648 = 17.7 MP
16:9 Aspect Ratio: 5472 × 3078 = 16.8 MP?
I personally use the 3:2 aspect ratio as I prefer to crop the image in post processing however my best advice would be to have a play and see which works best for your shooting style.
Shoot with tripod mode
Tripod mode is best applied when shooting video as it slows the speed of your drone down for those silky smooth shots. For those shooting with a DJI Mavic, tripod mode will slow the movement of your Mavic down to 3.5 kph (or 2.2 mph) or for people like me with the DJI Phantom, tripod mode will slow the movement of your drone down to 9 kph (or 5.6 mph).
Tripod mode is also helpful for when shooting photography to minimise any sharp movements if you were to accidentally touch the controls in between shots. Often I will use tripod mode when shooting multiple images to stitch later as a panoramic image.
Use neutral density filters (at the right time) for long exposure shots
If you’ve read my blog before, you will know that I’m a sucker for neutral density filters and playing around with long exposures.
The benefits of using a neutral density filters on a drone are similar to when used on a normal camera where it allows you to reduce the amount of light hitting the camera sensor. By doing so, this allows you to capture long exposures with the camera during the day (see photo below) or shoot video at different frame rates which provides smoother footage.
Using a neutral density filter allowed me to capture this 0.6″ second exposure. Blurring the water nicely.
One of the tricky things about using neutral density filters on a drone is the lack of tripod support to stabilise your camera for getting those sharp images. For this reason, I generally shoot my drone long exposures around the 1-2 second mark in calm conditions. Longer exposure times are still possible in calm conditions but you may notice a loss of sharpness when viewed zoomed in.
When planning a long exposure photo with your drone, don’t forget that the higher the altitude you fly your drone the stronger the wind conditions will be. For this reason, you may need to photograph at a faster shutter speed to counter the wind. Often, I will shoot at a lower altitude for long exposure shots as this allows me to shoot at a longer shutter speed due to the reduced wind conditions.
Rule of thirds overlay
While you’re getting started with drone photography, a good way to help with the framing of your shots is by using the rule of thirds overlay. Through having this enabled, this will ensure that your shots will be framed accurately which reduces the need to crop your images during post processing.
Shoot in the right light
The mistake most photographers make when starting out is that they rarely photograph in the right light and will often go out and hope to get nice images in harsh daylight sun. Drone photography is no different and is best in low light and golden hour settings.
Enjoying that golden hour light
My favourite times to shoot with my drone is either sunrise or sunset and the golden hour periods around this time. By shooting during this time, you will get a nice soft and warm light on your images. Alternatively, I also enjoy shooting on overcast days as the light will often be diffused with no harsh light hitting your object. Generally overcast conditions work best for when photographing waterfalls.
The above list is far from complete but forms some of my essential drone photography tips. If I’m missing anything, free free to let me know in the comments and I’ll include in a future revision. Thanks for reading!
While planning for a road trip from Melbourne to Perth last November, one big part of the planning was making sure I had the right equipment with me for the trip. One thing that I wanted to get right was the style of bag I took on the trip. As I was flying back to Melbourne once we reached Perth, I needed something that would be able to carry all my gear but at the same time, I wanted something lightweight for days where I knew we would walking a decent distance to get to a location and didn’t want to lug all my gear (including laptop) to the spot.
So what did I end up doing for my roadtrip from Melbourne to Perth? Like any photographer, I procrastinated madly over camera bags for a month leading up to the trip and wanted to share based on my research, what the best backpack, sling, shoulder and roller bags are available on the market.
Let’s be honest, as photographers we’re a nit picky bunch and we all have our own requirements when it comes to look and feel to the sizing, style and material. This means there isn’t one bag on the market which is the best camera bag for everyone as not one bag will suit everyones requirements but there sure are a lot of different options on the market.
What to Consider When Buying a Photography Bag
When I was researching what camera bag I wanted for my trip, there were a few things that I took into account when looking at bags. Some of these are obvious but hopefully help you with your own research:
Style of bag: Camera bags like a lot of other gadget bags come in varying styles from full hard-on cases, sling bags, waist bags to backpacks. The style of the bag ultimately comes down to how you are going to use the bag and where you are going to with the bag, for example, lugging a roller bag through outback Australia would be impractical but does a sling bag provide enough room for all your gear?
Size of bag: The size of the bag also like the style is dependent on choice, size of gear and where you plan on heading to with the bag. There are smaller camera bags like the Lowepro Passport Sling III Bag
which work perfect for those trips down to the beach where you know you only need your camera, one lens and some filters but what about bigger trips where you need a longer zoom and another lens or two where bags like the Think Tank Airport Security V2.0
comes to mind.
Comfort: Buying a camera bag that’s comfortable should be a priority especially if you’ll be having it with you for long hours either on a bush walk (or hiking for my American friends) or if you’re shooting with it attached to your body.
Budget: Not everyone has hundreds of dollars to spend on camera bags especially when they’re starting out and have just shelled out a fair bit of coin on getting a camera and lens setup. There are very decent camera bags which won’t cost you an arm and/or a leg but serve you well. Amazon owned camera bags – Amazon Basics
come to mind. But then for those that do have the budget, there are some great bags in the mid to higher end like the Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22Lwhich come with additional features and quality over the cheaper bags.
Protection/Material of bag: Another important thing to look out for when buying camera bags is what type of material is used to make the bag? This is important because of weather elements and locations where you’ll be having the bag(s) accompany you to. Obviously a hard shell case like the Lowepro Hardside 300is great when you’re travelling on a plane to fully protect your gear if it’s thrown around but this is quite large and cumbersome to lug around when you’re not travelling on a plane. This is where larger bags such as the Case Logic SLRC-206which generally have some form of waterproof material is ideal for those shorter trips where the key concern is protecting your gear from water.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s go down to what camera bags are worth mentioning across the four main categories of camera bags on the market: backpack, sling bags, shoulder bags and rolling cases. Obviously there’s other styles of bags that are missing here like a waist bag or camera holster but these weren’t a style I was interested in for my trip which isn’t to say they aren’t good, they simply just didn’t fit into my criteria of what I was after for my trip. You’ll also notice that there’s quite the emphasis on backpacks and slingbags as these were more what I was looking for.
What did I buy?
I ended up settling on the Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L
as it was able to fit all the gear I was taking (Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40, Canon 24-70, filters and a Macbook). All in all, it’s a great bag and met my requirements of something able to carry all my gear comfortably as I was stumbling around remote parts of Australia. If I was to nitpick with the bag, my only criticism would be the big ‘Lowepro’ branding on the bag which is a bit of a dead giveaway you’re carrying a camera bag. But other than that minor criticism, it’s a fantastic bag and will serve the majority of readers well for their next adventure.
Roomy setup capable of holding a DSLR with 2-3 lenses
Made by Amazon
Measurements include 11.5 x 7.2 x 15.6 inches.
Weighs just about 1.3kg or 2.9 pounds
One of the best backpacks I came across in my research was this very budget friendly SLR/DSLR camera backpack produced by Amazon. I know what you’re thinking… A bag by Amazon?! Branding aside for a moment, it comes with some serious bang for buck and at the price point of $27.95
makes it worth considering.
The backpack is compact and has a very impressive looking main compartment which has adjustable sub-chambers allowing you to adjust the compartments to store 1-2 bodies (impressive) and 2-3 lenses. How much you can fit will ultimately come down to the size of your setup (i.e. a larger zoom like the 70-200mm takes twice the space as a 17-40mm ultra wide angle lens).
Dimensions of the backpack measures 11.5 x 7.2 x 15.6 inches with a weight of 1.3kg (2.9 pounds), and the entire backpack is made of durable black polyester (nylon).
If you have a good number of photography accessories you’d like to have with you on a trip, there are several pouches to accommodate them. Zippered pockets and compartments are strategically placed both on the inside and outside of the backpack. I find these little pouches really handy for longer trips where you need to stash away some food to nibble on or carrying
The bag comes with normal features that you’d expect with a backpack including secure straps around the shoulder region, waist, chest area and several handles for an easy and convenient carry.
The backpack is very adjustable with straps able to hang loosely or made to cling tightly. This is particularly useful if you are carrying a lightweight travel tripod as it allows you to strap the tripod to the bag (provided it’s small enough). The AmazonBasics backpack is also heavily padded for a comfortable wear and also serves a strong shield incase of accidental drop, so your equipment is safe from a fall.
Design wise, I won’t lie, the AmazonBasics backpack isn’t going to win any awards for its design. The design is simple and quite dull. Its simple look however doesn’t affect its functionality as a lot of positive feedback from satisfied users of this budget backpack speaks volumes of its strength and usability, making it great bang for buck.
Using shutter stacking is a great technique to use in changing light conditions
One thing I love about landscape photography is the challenge that comes with trying to capture a particular moment in quickly changing conditions. An example that I’m sure some people reading this post can relate to is when photographing the sea, you see a rock ledge and think to yourself, some water falling over that rock ledge would create a nice waterfall effect over the rocks (similar to the image to the right). But as we’re all too familiar, that wave creating that nice effect seems to never come and if it does, it’s all too late and the nice sunset colour has disappeared. This is where shutter stacking different exposure times comes in as a useful trick to have in your workflow when you’re out shooting in variable conditions and know you’re about to miss the timing on what you’ve envisaged in your head.
For the purpose of this article I’ll be looking at how you can stack multiple frames in changing light conditions but the effect can also be used to reduce noise in long exposure images by capturing multiple long exposures (i.e. 10 x 30 second exposures rather than a 5 minute exposure) to reduce noise in your image.
This image from Heart Bay, South Australia used shutter stacking to combine the nice sunset sky and the timing of a wave rushing around the rock
Generally when using this technique it really slows down my shooting process as I’m setting my camera up for one photo rather than running around like a mad man trying to get as many angles of the sunset as possible. So there’s a few things I’ll do as I’m taking my one photo which I’ll look to break down. If we consider the image to the right with the water rushing over the rock ledge as an example, let’s look at my process for this shot:
Focus on composition – Find an interesting composition. In this case, I’ve noticed the water flowing over the rocks could come up nice with a long exposure. Oh what? The swell has dropped out and I’m about to miss the nice colour in the sky. That’s ok, I’ll capture multiple images and combine in Photoshop later using shutter stacking.
Double check everything – Take some test photos to make sure everything is lined up. At this point I’ll double check what the swell is doing in case my gear is exposed (I’m hardcore but not swimming in the ocean and losing my gear hardcore)
Capture your base image – With my camera firmly in position and I’m feeling confident that I’m not going to get swept out to sea, I take a photo of the scene. This image is to capture the sunset in all its glory which will form my base image.
Capture the moment you’ve been waiting for – Now I wait for that wave to come through to create the waterfall effect over the rocks and complete the shot. It goes without saying but keep your camera as steady as you can to avoid any misalignment when you got to mask the image later in Photoshop. Generally for this style of shot I’ll aim for a long exposure of around o.5″ of a second all the way to 2 seconds.
Stack the images – Open the two images in Photoshop and use the layer mask tool to introduce the wave motion to my base sunset image (as roughly shown in the video below)
Let’s take a look at how the images are combined in Photoshop with this quick video I put together. The technique relies heavily on layer masking the second exposure. If layer masking isn’t something you’re familiar with then give a previous post on layer masking exposures a read or watch one of the many YouTube videos available which will quickly bring you up to speed.
Shutter Stacking in Photoshop - YouTube
For this video I tried to keep things short (as you can probably tell by my quick and dirty layer masking) but occasionally if there’s not much movement in the water I’ll shutter stack 3-4 images to exaggerate the movement of the water. The purists reading this are no doubt rolling their eyes but if the tools are available then why not make the most of them.
Thanks for reading and watching. If you have any questions about this technique feel free to contact me directly as I’d be happy to help!
The Manfrotto Befree Compact tripod is an affordable tripod catering for people not looking to break the bank with yet another photography accessory or for those looking for something light on their next trip. Coming in at $155.99
, the Manfrotto is lightweight (2.4kg/5.3), easy to carry and can support a reasonable camera load.
Manfrotto Befree Compact Tripod in all its glory
The Manfrotto Befree tripod was my first entry into the compact tripod range so I was keen to write a review with the positives and negatives for anyone else looking to add something more portable to their gear.
What makes a good travel tripod?
I’m the first to admit it – I treat my tripods terribly and I’m constantly reminding myself (and ignoring my own advice) that I need to take better care of my tripods rather than let them erode away from salt water. Over the last 10~ years I’ve worked through 3 tripods which have succumbed to death by salt water (not too bad I thought?) which has given me a reasonable understanding of what makes a good tripod (and how to waste money…)
So what makes a good travel tripod? I’ve touched on this in detail in a post where I compared some of the best travel tripods on the market before I purchased the Manfrotto Befree tripod but some of the key call outs from this post:
Included with the Manfrotto Befree is this travel bag which you can conveniently sling over your shoulder
Portability – A good travel tripod should be portable in both its size and weight. Generally you want something that’s no bigger than 20-24 inches when folded or more than 2.5kg in weight. The reason being is that you want something you can quickly store away in your carry baggage or strap to your bag. With normal tripods, some of these can be quite bulky which makes strapping to your bag quite difficult and awkward
The Manfrotto Befree is tiny (ignore my pasty arms..!)
Extend to a reasonable height – While not a deal breaker for me as I prefer to shoot from lower angles, your tripod should be able to extend to a reasonable height (good for when you’re stuck behind a viewing platform where there is a high fence blocking the view). Generally being able to extend to at least 50 inches without needing to extend the centre column is a good height. I prefer not to extend the centre column when I can avoid it as it’s not as stable in windy conditions.
Ability to hold a reasonable load – You want something that can handle itself for different conditions whether that be supporting your camera with a lightweight wide angle lens all the way to a versatile zoom lens like the Canon 70-200. As an example, if you were to hold the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 70-200 2.8 IS, this works out to be around 2.4kg. Most compact travel tripods are able to handle this load but just something worth noting and considering when looking at travel tripods as this is one area where they can really vary.
With these items in mind, how does the Manfrotto tripod fare? To be honest, actually really well considering the price.
Manfrotto Befree Compact Travel Tripod
Weighing in at 2.4kg or 5.3 pounds you barely know this is in your bag.
Coming in at $155.99
, Manfrotto branded tripods don’t come much cheaper than the Befree range. This is great value for the money.
Holds a reasonable weight of 4kg making it more than up for the job of holding a heavy setup like the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 70-200 which comes in at 2.4kg
Included travel case is useful for when travelling and on the move. Being able to store the tripod in a bag and put over your shoulder is handy as this thing is tiny. For comparison sake, have a look at the size difference compared to my shoe.
Centre column can be inverted for macro photography or to get low for unique angles
Stability issues when the centre column is fully extended
Time consuming to pack away into travel bag
Ballhead is limited for panoramic photography. As a travel tripod you will be no doubt wanting to capture the occasional panoramic of a scene. Generally a 3 way tripod head (like this Manfrotto 3 way head
) works better for panoramic photos where you’re able to fine tune the movements of the photo.
No hook on the centre column to add weight to balance it in strong winds. With past tripods I would clip my camera bag to the tripod to add some additional support. Unfortunately this isn’t possible with the Manfrotto Befree but if you get creative I’m sure there’s DIY ways of adding a hook to make it more stable.
The Manfrotto Befree compact is a great tripod for the money. With some of the cons listed above, these are only natural trade offs that come with choosing to purchase a compact sized tripod. For some, having a tripod that is lightweight and portable will be enough to outweigh being constrained when it comes to panorama photography.
Shooting seascapes with the Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40 and the Manfrotto Befree
After using the tripod a few times in different conditions from a windy afternoon at Cape Schanck (a seascape location) to walking around Melbourne on dusk taking long exposures, I’ve found the tripod to be a good all rounder and I’m glad I made the purchase. I’ve noticed when the tripod is fully extended with the centre column out, this can make the tripod feel slightly unstable and not something I’d be keen to leave the camera on unattended on in windy conditions.
The included ballhead which comes with the Manfrotto Befree while good… Does have its limitations.
If being able to have the tripod extended to its maximum in windy conditions is important to you then perhaps a more sturdier and heavier tripod is more for you. But with that said though, I can’t think of how often I ever shoot with the tripod fully extended and I’m sure this is similar for most people.
So all in all, this is a great tripod and worth the purchase price for anyone looking for a lightweight tripod to take away on their next trip.
By purchasing the Manfrotto Befree through Amazon
not only provides you with Amazon’s competitive pricing but also supports my blog at the same time (costing you nothing :)). A big thank you if you do decide to purchase through my affiliate link.
If you have any questions about the tripod feel free to drop a message as I’d be more than happy to help.
Thanks for reading,
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