Tips for Capturing Drone Photos
So I want to talk to you guys about some photo tips so we understand the settings, we set up our camera, it's ready to go. My photo tips for you guys is for you to first, to find the light. Find the light, and then your subject. The reason why I share this with you is because what's unique about the way that we capture imagery, from say, an on the ground photographer, is that they have an option of a reflector or of artificial lights, I'm gonna bring my strobe, right, we're like, where's the sun, right, like, that's our only light source. So I find the light first. And it totally depends on what I'm going after. A good rule of thumb is, if my back is to the sun, that means the sun is probably lighting my subject, so that's a good thing to keep in mind, but as you guys will see when I start to walk through some photos of mine, I also tend to use the sun as a subject, and I like to point at it as well, so as long as I'm mindful of how I need to adjust my settings, and make sure I'm not b...
lowing out the highlights while sacrificing the foreground, I can actually capture something that looks pretty good. I want to encourage you guys to think in 3D. So what I mean by that, I want you to think about what's your foreground, what's your middle ground, and what's your background. Are you thinking about those three layers and how they work together? If you are, that then sets you up for something to maybe, for you to have maybe a more successful image because you're letting the viewer travel through the photo. You're letting the viewer go past one depth to the next to the next, so you're leading your viewer through the photo. So I try to think, what's my foreground, what's my middle ground, what's my background. And then the next one I want to share with you guys is, try shooting low. So, the thing I see beginners do a lot of times is they take their drone up, they're like 400 feet, yeah, they're way high, and then they realize like, everything is so small. Everything starts to look so abstract from that height, that's really high. Things get compressed. And especially when you're looking down, you can't really tell what you're looking at because a tree is compressed and it kinda looks like the floor, right, so it's important that you guys try multiple angles. I like to take my drone up, go a little lower, go higher, and get multiple angles. I never just settle for one. And then, what you didn't see here in the video is I actually, since I was pointed slightly towards the sun, the sun was a little bit to the left in this video, but I always then turn around, whip the drone around to see, what does it look like behind me, and make sure I'm capturing that angle too, cause the light's gonna look totally different. And, one of the things that I think that you can try that will make your work stand out even more is getting that angle that's low and hard to get to. So an example is, you're at the beach, it's kinda hard to get to that buoy on the ground low, but you could get to it really easily with your drone. So thinking through those things like, does it have to just always be high? If you feel comfortable, getting a shot low on the water and looking back looks really cool, it looks like you were out there with a camera, so there's a lot of cool things you can try, I always encourage you to try multiple things. Alright, so talking about concepts and story. So I'm gonna show you guys a bunch of examples. I have my photos on here too, and then we'll jump into Lightroom. So, one of the things I want to encourage you guys with is, it seems like most of you have some experience shooting on the ground with your DSLRs. And that's great, cause you guys can bring that right into the world of drones, cause the camera works the same. You have to think about ISO, exposure, you have to think about your exposure through ISO, aperture, shutter, you have to think about rule of thirds, how you're framing, right, all these things, so don't forget those. I always see newbies forgetting those things, they're just like, stoked to take their drone up 400 feet, snap their neighborhood, and it's like, it's cool, but after a while, it's not that interesting. So you want to think of a concept, you want to think of a story. So, just like how I would do it with my on the ground photography, this is my daughter, and one of the things I could do is I could say, my daughter loves Goldfish, or I could just show you, right, and bury her in Goldfish. And now I have a story, heard a couple chuckles, there's some smiles, but now there's an emotion that's pulled out, right, and it's like, this is storytelling, evoking something in your viewer. What are you trying to do? Whenever I start my photography or a video, when I'm gonna record, I'm always saying, what am I going after, what am I trying to tell. So in the example of my friend kayaking on the river, it's like, what am I trying to say? I want to make it seem like I've captured her, she's in the middle of nowhere, seems like there's no one around, she's kayaking in this peaceful setting, going off maybe into the distance, into the sunset, and it's like, you don't see that there's a ton of us right there, we're all like, go to the left, right, but it's like I'm cropping that out cause that's distracting from my storytelling. So what am I trying to tell? And an example is, is this image I took down in Southern California, and one of the things I thought was interesting is I got a few comments like, man, were you in the middle of the ocean, seems kinda like lost at sea, and I just remember thinking, oh that's so interesting that people thought that. I definitely was going for the isolation, but I didn't think people would go that far, and it's like, no it's literally like, just in the harbor. (audience chuckles) But it's really that cropping, right? And so, again, this isn't like anything crazy new, but this is like, guys remember it's storytelling. What are you leaving in, what are you leaving out? What are you communicating to your viewer? And then, what you might notice through some of my work is I totally have this isolation feel to my work. Like, I love shooting these solo one offs, where it's like, where is this person, where there's nothing around, where is this place? And it's because I'm trying to create that sense of isolation. The thing about the drone that's interesting to me is it really starts to show how small we are in this big world. You just go up a hundred feet and you're like, whoa, I'm pretty small. And it's like, the world is so much bigger than us, so much bigger than my fears and my problems and all these things, like, there's a whole other element that's going on around me, but I'm so focused in this point of view. So it changes my point of view. When my wife and I were on a vacation, we filmed, or I got to take some pictures at this cenote, and what's interesting is, sometimes I'll bring in some Photoshop, because again, I love this isolation feel, so I had to remove some of the swimmers, but it was because I wanted the viewer to be like, where is this paradise, where is this oasis, where do you just swim in the middle of nowhere, with water that's that clear? And you know, I'm not so much after, like trying to show, document, I would never really say my style is documenting things, I like to evoke a feeling and tell a story, so I have no problem, in this instance, erasing some people to tell that story. Here's another example when I was out in the desert. You can see that my props are in the shot. This was with the old Phantom, and I had the GoPro, you can even see some of the distortion, right (laughs). Again, this shot's kind of interesting, but not super, the props are in the shot, so it's like, that's gotta go, right, but for me, I'm still like, even in this land of like, there's not a lot of subjects, there's not going to be boats going by, people all around, and someone in a canoe or whatever, so what I do is I still try to find the story. And I remember turning the drone around, and I saw the sun, and then I was like, oh there's the road, and I remember thinking like, oh what if I lined up the road so it's leading to the sun, and now I'm directing your eye to the sun, I've left the curve of this image, because I want you to feel like I'm on the curve of the atmosphere, instead of correcting the distortion I actually left it in this case, and now there's a little bit more of an interesting element to it. The sun is now my subject. I have a leading line leading to that. So it takes your viewer from the bottom right of the image all the way through to the center. These images, I did the long exposure. The story is, I was so inspired by Inception, the movie, and it was like I was on this space trip, and I was like, oh I want to explore this feeling of space and going out of this world, and it kinda looks like a UFO, and again, that curiosity, that story, led me to create these images, and I'm encouraging you guys to remember that. Okay, and then I'll finish with another example with my demo reel. I'm not sure if you guys noticed, but I started low in the hot desert, I was low, I was pointed down at the ground, then I took you guys through to some water, we saw the ocean and some lakes and stuff like that, and then through the mountains, and then I ended on that image on the right, which was the clouds, I was up in the clouds, up in the air, so I took you from low, we traveled, and we went high, and I ended on the high, so I'm trying to think of, how am I taking you through my story. It's really about having a concept to guide what I'm doing. It's not just willy-nilly, just throwing shots together, it's like, what is the story, what am I trying to convey. So, one of the first tips that I want to share with you guys is to think about leading lines. You've heard this in photography, but it becomes so cool with drones. And one of the easiest ways to capture these is with roads, pathways. This is fascinating because you can actually lead your viewer through the frame, and in this case, stronger lines, straight lines are gonna appear stronger, they're gonna appear more powerful, they'll look fast, whereas curve lines are gonna be softer, they're gonna be more relaxed, and they're gonna have a rhythm to it. So there's a way to play with, what is your subject, is it a straight line, is it a curved line. I'll quickly note that, any photos that don't have a username next to it are my photos, and then I've pulled some photos from the community from some great friends of mine that are letting me share their work on CreativeLive. So if you guys see a photo you like, please go write down the username and check out the rest of their work, cause these are all great drone pilots. So here's a cool shot that my friend shot of a bridge, and the atmosphere makes the endpoint disappear. Just like, so fascinating, totally leads you through this image. Another buddy of mine took this crazy shot where all these trees are, took it up, and now you have all the trees leading you down to their group, and it's just such a cool angle, you have these leading lines leading you to the subject, right there in the center of the screen. And then leading lines can be curvy too, right, so looking around, like, where's there some architecture that's interesting, that can point my viewer to something. Using architecture as a subject, right. There's so many cool places, we just have to look for it, what's it look like high up, or far out? Next, shadow play, this is one of my favorites. I love this because you can totally play with people's minds where, instead of just taking the picture of the surfer, it's like I'm showing you the surfer's silhouette, but you get the gist, right, he's headed down to the water, and this works great when you're shooting in more mid-daylight because those shadows are crisp, they're hard, whereas the opposite of that, early morning light, later in the evening light, you have long shadows, which produce a very cool effect too, but here's why I point this out. You guys know with photography, they generally say to shoot earlier in the day or later in the day, midday is not great light, I totally agree, but if you're going after shadows, it can be a really helpful thing, so if you're like, I only have a little bit of time here, oh the light's terrible, go play with some shadows, see what you guys could capture. That's exactly what we do with the Callaway shots, we're just trying to get some interesting angles that haven't really been done before much, at least in this sport, and you've got some cool results. My buddy Eric shot this crazy shot of a Christmas tree farm, like all these shadows and it's just mind-blowing right, the shadows just add so much depth, so much layers to it, and they also serve as leading lines too, to the trees, so it's such a cool shot. Here's another cool one with some longer shadows, and it just adds texture to the photo, so if you time those shadows right, I think later in the day they would have been in the water, and they might not have been as impactful, but they have a nice buffer zone in that white sand, and it kinda serves as a nice margin from the trees to the water, I think that's beautiful. And just another cool shot here, just thinking like, oh I don't have to be 400 feet up, this isn't actually too far up, and my subject matter, I could have them doing something and I'll capture their shadow, it tells a really interesting story, just such a unique angle. Is this pretty cool? (audience murmurs) And then get creative, like, what's your story, what's your concept, right? Yeah, bowing on one knee could be one thing, but drawing that heart, it's like, man, seals the deal and you all get it, it's like, oh it's so sweet. Such a cool shot. Alright, my next favorite thing to play with is scale, you've seen this in my work. This is real easy to do with a drone, but you have to still be mindful of finding a subject. So for me, a lot of times my subject is a person, it's a boat, it's a car, something like that, it's like a house, something familiar, that's the key, find something familiar in your scene, why, because everything gets to be really abstract, especially when you get higher up, it's like, what am I looking at? You put a recognizable object in that scene, and then people immediately get a sense of scale. You've created some interest, you've invited the viewer to participate in that image, and it's gonna be more dynamic. Here's a shot I took in Iceland, and it's like, this is just crazy, you can see the scale of like, how does this person get home, what is going on, and it brings up questions, and that's the whole point is, I want to bring up a question. Sometimes it's to convey a feeling, but sometimes, it's to make you go, where is this, how do they live, what is going on? And then here's a shot of my friend standing on a dune, and it's like, without my friend standing there, it would be hard to understand the scale of these dunes, but immediately, it helps a little bit more, and you have a basic idea of how tall a person is. And then I love this photo my buddy Charlie took of the whales, he's the guy that has brought me into the world of shooting whales, I love it, but what he did for this image is he included the boat, and that's so cool because you can see that, man, that whale is huge, right, it really tells the story of, man, he's filming, he's taking pictures of some really massive animals, right, pretty cool. And then too, just as a side note, I thought that this was a cool image because the photographer is including the fence and the decking, and it's small, it even blends a little bit into the ground, but it provides a sense of scale cause you're like, oh I know how tall that is, wow, that steam's going high, right, it helps tell the story, it sells the effect. Next, patterns and repetition. This is super fun because you have to look for it. Where are there patterns, where is there repetition? Our eye loves this stuff. So I took this at a harbor close by, and it's like, just all those boats lined up created a really interesting effect. This is another really cool shot. I love how she captured the details of these solar panels, and it just creates this really interesting effect. And it's almost like pleasing, at least to my eye, like, oh this would be a sweet wallpaper or something like that, it just has such a cool look to it all lined up, perfectly arranged, so another great shot. And then too, parking lots man! (audience member laughs) Talk about patterns! All the stalls the same width, following the same diagonal line, it's like, you could get some really interesting things just looking around at the world around you in a different way. So it's not just about going to Iceland. I'm encouraging you guys to look, what's around in your community. You guys have parks, you guys have parking lots, you guys have roads, you guys have places where shadows are being projected on the ground. Seek these things out is my encouragement. Next is symmetry. I tend to do this a lot, this is definitely one of my things that I gravitate towards, but I love symmetry and I love to perfectly line up something and make it like a mirrored image. And I do this quite a bit, but this is a great way to practice finding things that are symmetrical, and they can be really pleasing to the eye. Also has a leading line effect, and this is another cool shot. I just, it blows my mind, it's like so cool. I mentioned to you roads when I talked about the leading lines, but I just wanted to point out a couple. Just as a reminder, you know the curvy lines, they have a soft rhythm to it, right, and there's a pacing to this. It's softer, and I got this shot, but I also made sure to get a shot from another angle to also show where this is placed, so it's not just about getting the one shot, it's like, alright, I want to get a low shot, a medium shot, a high shot, a top down shot, a looking out shot, and I want to figure out what's the best shot when I go back to my computer, so I'm always trying multiple angles. Here's another cool one, and what's interesting is, because the ground starts to really compress from the air, it's almost like, why are people building roads like this, cause you almost don't see the elevation, you don't see that there's quite a bit of an elevation right here, but here it just looks like, oh someone was just having fun making a road, right (audience laughs) cause it's compressed. And here's another cool shot, I got so many comments when I posted this on the (mumbles) account, people are like, why do they have them go around in a curve, it's like, cause you can't see the elevation, and it's just so interesting. And then check out this one, it's like whoa (laughs) back and forth, curve city over here. But really cool, almost has like a maze-like effect, right. Really interesting. I next want to encourage you guys to look at landmarks. Now, that Chicago Bean shot you guys saw in my portfolio at the beginning of this class, I couldn't get that shot anymore, it wouldn't be allowed, so I don't just mean big landmarks, cause probably most of them are locked down, like Statue of Liberty, locked down. But maybe look in your community. I thought this was a really cool shot where basically, on the off hours, the drone pilot took a shot of all these lines, and it's like, oh it's such a unique angle, I've never really seen how intertwined, you know, a water park like this is. And then too, a flower field, right, what's that flower field look like from above, and these are destinations, you guys all have landmarks, places that are nearby that you could capture. A cool thing that's just so interesting to me is courts, they look so cool. There's even stuff online where people are tagging hypecourts, and this is a whole thing, and it just looks so cool. Even like this soccer field in Russia, it's like what, what is going on here, where is this place, how can I play here, sign me up yes please. Timing is the next thing to think about. So I showed you this image earlier, I talked to you guys about how the burst mode could be really helpful for you, so make sure that you throw it on a burst mode where you get multiple shots, just nail that timing. What I specifically love about this image is, I nailed it with his perfect form, and then I framed him perfectly within these lines, like, it got timed just right, a lot of this is me getting lucky with the burst mode, but I'm trying to at least set myself up for some success, and he's in between those two, that top line and that bottom line, it just has such an interesting framing. I love this shot too because it's like, the photographer, he waited for this moment, right when the boat could pass right through the center, so encouragement to you is, be patient. It's not just about flying around (makes flying noise), it's like, I think that boat is going to head there, I'm going to wait, just wait. Watch your battery, wait for it. What's your story, what's your concept. Another cool image, I love this. Instead of hitting the water, it's about to hit the water, and it kinda has like this floating effect, it's like the timing of it is so cool, really interesting shot. Next, what about portraits? I talk to you about shooting low, I've taken some portraits of some of my friends, and it's just an interesting effect. You get this top down look, again, everything becomes compressed, and it just creates a really interesting look that you, typically you don't see, because you're usually at ground level. And I thought this was a cool shot from my buddy Seth, and it's like also getting creative with your surroundings, and typing in a, or carving in a message. I love this post too. What this drone pilot did is she just has this really cute pose, and the lighting's beautiful, and it just looks like they're enjoying a great day and it shows, again, a scene where it's really compressed, this also has symmetry, you're gonna realize that a lot of these principles can merge and become more than just one, and that's where things can get really interesting, where you take one principle and combine it with another. I love this selfie as well, really easy scale using herself to help illustrate the scale of these big ice chunks, so again, just a really cool shot, really interesting. And then too, I showed a lot of top down, what about, you know, actually facing out a little bit, more of an oblique angle, looking out, oblique. And this is a really cool effect, you have the light pouring in in the top, and now you have a little bit more of a sense of depth, so again, changing your angles, I love the top down, but I love to pull away too and see, what's the angled shot too? A thing to keep in mind is to try a shot where you include the horizon, so that your viewers' eyes can travel all the way through, but I tend to also take shots where there's no horizon, I cut it off, I frame it off, so you can't see it, and now you don't really have a sense of where this is, that sense of place is a bit taken away, right, so now I've created a sense of mystery, that's a feeling I've created. Next is perspective, and man this is so fun. Some really creative people. You can make some really trippy images just messing with people's perspective, and it's just like so clever, really interesting, again using something that probably a lot of us have nearby, a basketball court, a tennis court. A really cool shot, making it look like you know, (laughs) a person's falling. Pick a prop. My friend Martin's always doing these clever things, and it's like, throw us off, put it face down and make it look like you're riding your bike, and just a clever angle. Next, I want to encourage you, I've said find a subject, that's great, but also have fun being abstract. It's not always about clearly seeing where you're at, have some fun creating something that people have to be like, what is this, where is this, what am I exactly looking at. And what I love, why I love showing this image is because I'm in the desert, but I'm also right there, and there's my shadow, (audience murmurs) and it's like, you don't know that until I point it out, but now it's a little bit like, oh, interesting. And really what's cool, is the shadows of those dunes, now you have a sense of like, these are huge, these are big. Next, shoot seasons. My friend Michael shot this really cool image. He planned it out ahead of time, in the winter, and then later in the spring, and he merged it, and it's just a cool idea. This requires a little thinking through and some planning but could you show a transition through seasons? And the last thing I want to show you as an example is for you to think of you. My buddy Martin has shot some really cool shots, cause you're like, oh Dirk, I don't have a boat, I don't have a bunch of friends to go to the desert, blah blah blah, you have you, shoot yourself, get clever, right? Martin has done all these really cool shots and it's just him, literally with the remote controller. In some of the images you can even see it, it's like right there. And what's cool about Martin's photos is, I remember, before there was drones, he would take his iPhone, set it up on a little tripod, run away, get in a pose, snap it on the Timelapse mode, and then come back and check it out, and I remember learning that about his photos and I was like, oh this guy's so clever, and then he gets a drone and you know, he's got it a little easier, but he's still producing some really amazing imagery, so definitely go check out his feed. Okay, how to find awesome locations. Unfortunately I can't pull up Google Maps, but you guys can obviously pull that up on your own time, I use Google Maps or Google Earth before I ever go to a location, I'm scouting through Google Maps or Google Earth. I type in the address, and I pan around, I zoom up, I zoom in, and I look at the satellite view to see where is there grass, where is a road, where is a patch I can maybe take off from? I'm from Southern California, and when the CreativeLive team asked me to come up and film in Washington, I asked them for the address so I could scout from home, so I'm learning as much as I can about the location. You can also angle it, so sometimes you can see perspective, so helpful, you can pre-visualize your location without even being there. So I already knew a lot about that spot before I got there. We already had a few ideas mapped out. I always check uavforecast, my app, or the website, before I go to a location. Is it too windy there? Is there a chance of rain? Things like this, it helps me get in the mindset of like, what might I have to prepare for. And then the Sun Surveyor app, or another website like Suncalc.net, these are helpful with determining what the lighting situation's gonna be. So I'm prepared, I have an idea of what's gonna to happen and when, and just to show you with the Google Maps, Google Earth, I remember hearing about a place down in Southern California that had a huge sinkhole on the coast, and I was like, oh where is that, and I'd only heard about it, so I had no details, so what I did is I popped open Google Maps, went to satellite, and I just scoured the coast, literally, I'm scouring the coast, and I finally found the spot, and I was like, I think this is the sinkhole, so I research it, I figure out how close is a road, where can I park, I enter into Street View mode and I can even get an idea of the signs of where I can park, I literally hopped out, I took all this information, I went to the location, and I got this shot in five minutes cause I already knew where to park and how to get it, and I found the sinkhole, it was super cool. And then again, talking about different angles, going up higher, just trying something new.