Ever want to see what an image could look like from up above? Then aerial photography using a drone is for you! As an enthusiastic aerial photographer, I know these pointers will help those of you who are just beginning drone photography adventures.

Review your local and state laws

I want you to get photographs you love, but not at the expense of breaking the law! Be sure to research the laws and regulations in your location before setting-out with your drone.

Did you know that unmanned aircrafts are not permitted in any National Park in the United States? Each state has its own set of laws regarding the use of a drone (an unmanned aircraft) and they can vary widely by location. It is extremely important to review these laws and abide by them to avoid hefty fines.

Some states require you apply for a permit before flying your drone in a park while others are much more lax. If there is a shot you must have within a state park, requesting a permit from your state’s park office may be an option. Call your state’s park office or check online to inquire about the laws in your location.

Decide which drone is best for you and your needs

There are many drones out there with widely varying price points and technical capabilities. What do you want your drone to do for you?

Will you be hiking with your drone? Consider how the weight and size will affect you as you pack it in your bag and carry it along trails. Will it be used primarily for weddings and other once-in-lifetime occasions? Invest in the best camera you can afford when shopping for your drone to ensure you get the quality high-definition images you need to capture these moments. If you purchase a drone that can shoot in both RAW and JPEG, use the RAW setting as this will allow you to really get the most out of your image in post processing.

Buy extra batteries

Due to the short flight times of drones (approximately 28 mins is the longest flight time of all drones using the DJI Phantom 4 Pro), be sure to purchase at least one extra battery. This will allow you to keep flying and photographing continuously, ensuring you get the shot you are after.

Register your drone with the FAA and Remote Pilot License

Even if you plan on just using your drone for recreational use, you must register your drone with FAA. The Federal Aviation Administration also lists many safety tips and regulations that are helpful to newer drone users.

Read their website thoroughly prior to purchasing your drone. Depending on which category you fall under (there are two listed on the FAA website), you may need to obtain a remote pilot’s license. If you plan on using the drone for commercial endeavors, then you will have to obtain a remote pilot’s license.

Know the maximum distances you can go with your drone and other regulations

You cannot fly your drone higher than 400ft and within 5 miles of an airport. Events are sometimes restricted as well (such as air balloon festivals, outdoor concerts, or sporting events).

Always be sure to check into what is prohibited at events and locations at which you may want to use your drone. These can be amazing photographic opportunities but you want to be sure respect the rules and regulations of any given event.

Practice using your drone

Practice makes perfect! Depending on which model you choose for your drone, you may have obstacle maneuvering that keeps the drone from running into obstructions (don’t hit that tree!). However, it’s very important to know how to fly your drone and bring it back to you. Technical assistance isn’t always as reliable as we would like it to be!

Fly your drone at a safe visible distance from you in your backyard or at a park with wide open spaces. Practice taking off, landing, and basic maneuvers. Just like anything else, the more you practice using your drone, the more comfortable and confident you will be.

Choose the right location

Location, location, location! Not only should you be sure to fly your drone only in those places where it is legal, but also be sure to fly it in places where it can fly safely. Stay away from trees, power lines, tall buildings, and birds as there is a good chance you will have a collision. Do not fly your drone for long distances over a body of water. If the drone starts to run low on battery, it may not be able to make it back to shore in time.

It is very important to know the weather conditions. Avoid flying your drone when high winds, lightning, rain, snow, or hail is in the forecast. Choosing an unsafe location could end in a lost or damaged drone and no shot is worth that risk!

Respect privacy and other people

This may seem like common sense, but you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable by photographing them with your drone. Not only is photographing people without their consent unkind, but it is prohibited in some locations!

A drone is an amazing tool, but it is also newer technology and can be startling if it flies over unexpectedly. Never fly your drone over groups of people you do not know or who are not anticipating your drone.

Go manual mode

I always suggest shooting in manual mode on the drone if it has the option. This will allow you to set your shutter speed, ISO, and white balance just as you would on your DSLR.

Be mindful of increasing your ISO too much, especially during twilight hours as this can deteriorate the image quality when you are working with a smaller camera sensor. Take the time to learn what the camera on your drone is capable of before dialing-in your settings. This will give you a drastically better outcome in your images.

Related: 5 Reasons to get off auto and put your camera in manual


Take the time to edit

I use a DJI Mavic Air for my aerial photography, so take note that these editing tips are based off of the images I have taken using my drone.

I use both Lightroom and Photoshop for post processing of my drone images. Lightroom takes care of my initial global adjustments. Photoshop helps me to remove any distracting elements in the frame.

My RAW drone images always need a boost in contrast and I like to add some sharpness to my subject. You may need to add noise reduction depending on the light you had available. Drone images typically will have more noise than a DSRL image.

From there, I make adjustments much like I would with DSLR images. I adjust the white balance, and ensure my shadows and highlights look good. I add any creative edits that I think help the image and then I save and marvel at this fresh perspective!

Aerial photography is a challenge but the results are always such a treat! Use these tips to get started and I know you will create amazing things.