This week, we touch on some practices you can use to become better at aerial photography over time. This is something that applies for anything you want to be great at, but is worth the reminder: If you want to be excellent at shooting aerial photos, get out and shoot, a LOT, and use it as an excuse to explore the world around you.
1. Dedicate one full battery to shooting stills.
Especially if you mostly fly for video or just for fun, don’t make photos an afterthought. Get a second battery and dedicate that battery, every time you fly, to shooting stills. Shoot for the full length of the battery until you need to bring Solo home. Snapping a few stills in between videos gets it done in a tight timeline, but to really learn, use that time to carefully set up shots and explore with just still photos in mind.
2. Make a list of the shots you want to capture.
When you arrive at your location, and before you take off, make a note in your head, on your phone or in a flight log of what you think will look interesting as a photo — everything interesting you want to look straight down on, maybe a shot of yourself from above, all of the different things you want to capture. Work through all those shots one by one. Just the process of looking around and making a list will help you get organized and in the mindset of capturing photos. Once you’re through your shot list, use the rest of your battery to explore.
3. Capture your subjects from lots of different angles.
If you have an interesting subject, shoot it from all sides and above, at many different heights. Don’t be afraid to plan and shoot eight or ten angles or perspectives of just one subject. If a bunch of them turn out well, it’s great for posting “sets” on social media (for instance, groups of four photos on Twitter often perform better than just one).
4. Plan locations ahead.
If you know where you’re going to fly, search for what other photographers have done before in the same location; use Google Images, Flickr, Instagram etc. Seeing these shots, then thinking about what you can do from the air and making notes might provide inspiration that you wouldn’t otherwise get just by showing up.
5. Use Google Maps.
Google Maps is a great tool for scouting anomalies or features from above a location, especially if you plan on bringing your drone on a hike or have to make a long walk in.
6. Get to know your camera.
Become familiar with your camera settings, and play around with them. Find the kinds of exposure, focal length, etc., that work for you, and that work for different locations in different lighting conditions. If you’re using a GoPro, Solo makes this convenient with in-app access to GoPro controls. But no matter what you’re shooting on, after a while you’ll start to see things a little more like the camera sees them — or how you want your camera to see them.
7. Find inspiration
As with any good art, it’s okay to be derivative, especially if you’re starting out. Look at what the pro’s do, and learn from it, be inspired by it. Recommended reading: “Steal Like An Artist” Some of my favorite aerial photographers on Instagram include: @bdorts @jakechams @tomjauncey @landforce @imaerial_com
8. Work with what works
Look closely at favorite shots you’ve taken, or your most popular posts on social media. Take note and see what you can do to replicate the look and feel of those shots whenever you go to a new location. This is how I found my favorite “style,” which is a straight-down shot, then rotated 90 degrees so that a horizontal composition turns vertical; after the first of those shots got a great social media response, I began actively seeking out opportunities to use a similar style every time I shot.
9. Dawn patrol.
If it’s tough to find time to fly, try shooting at sunrise one or more times a week, every week. Not only is it motivation to get up early, but the light is exceptional, and even seemingly pedestrian locations become a little more compelling.
10. Join a flight group.
Going to an RC field or using meetups to find other pilots, no matter what they use or do, is a great source for other tips and even trips to go on. There’s nothing that gets you going more than working together with others.
Have fun on your next shoot!