Drone aerial photography explained: Here's what it is and how to do it

If you want to become a drone aerial photographer, you've come to the right place.

Have you ever watched a film scene where the camera pans over the mountains, stunning vistas, or some other wide-sweeping landscape? Drone aerial photography allows you to capture that same kind of landmark footage, minus the Hollywood effects. Instead of relying on a film crew, you only need is a remote-controlled drone, otherwise called an unmanned aerial vehicle by hobbyists, and camera equipment. And time. Lots and lots of time for practice.

For those of you who want to learn all about about this hobby, which is currently exploding in popularity across the world, Pocket-lint has detailed everything you need to know. We've discussed the equipment you'll want to buy and even some resources and clubs worth checking out. With the tips listed in this guide, you'll be one step closer to soaring and capturing amazing aerial views.

Read on to find out more.

READ: DJI Phantom 2 Vision review

What is a drone?

A drone is a simply an aircraft - relatively small - piloted either autonomously by onboard computers or by a remote control on the ground. Drones have been used for military and special operation applications in recent history, but modern technology has allowed companies to manufacturer commercial versions for consumer use. In this guide, we will discuss how to do aerial photography with drones for consumers.

How to get started

Follow the law

Before you send a flying robot into the sky, check your local law. In the US, for instance, FAA guidelines stipulate that drones and other model aircraft must stay less than 400 feet above the ground and not within 3 miles of an airport or air traffic. Some states are strict when it comes to trespassing laws as well. Steering a drone over someone's house and property could be considered a trespassing violation.

Drones

Now that you've done your research into local law, you can start the process of finding the perfect drone to suit your needs. Introductory models such as the $80 Blade Nano QX are ideal for people just learning how to fly, because they're cheap. You will likely crash the drone during your first few flight attempts, so you don't want to invest a lot initially.

After you've practiced a bit, you can consider fully-assembled models such as the $750 3D Robotics' Iris or more popular models like DJI's Phantom series. The company's quadcopters start around $500. If you want a Phantom model that comes with an attached GoPro camera, you'll have to shell out about twice as much. One of the most well-rated setups currently on the market is the DJI Phantom 2.

Other drones worth considering include the Hubsan X4 micro quadcopter, Estes Proto X mini quadcopter, smartphone-controlled Parrot AR Drone 2.0, UDI U818A camera quadcopter, and STORM Drone 6 GPS. Keep in mind whether you want the aircraft to come with a camera, and if not, the amount of payload you want it to carry. You'll also want to look at how long-lasting the battery should be for your purposes and if you want to control the drone via a smartphone or remote.

Cameras

If you didn't select a drone with a built-in camera, you will need to get a video camera that will provide the best image quality for its size and weight. The GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is the standard when it comes to aerial videography and photography. It weighs only 73 grams and can record video (2,704×1,524 pixels) at 45Mbps. It also features built-in Wi-Fi for downloading your footage and maximum compatibility with OEM and third-party accessories.

But you don't need fancy cameras for aerial photography as long as you ensure there is no vibration, because that'll completely ruin your footage quality. Vibration can come from the drone, its engine, and air turbulence. Small drones bounce around a lot, for instance, so you'll need to use vibration isolators and gimbals (more on this later) to eliminate the possibility of vibration. Fast lenses that are sharp at large apertures will help too.

Stabilised aerial video is made possible with the inclusion of gimbals. A gimbal is a support that allows the rotation of an object around an axis. Note that a gimbal with a brushless motor can provide greater power-to-weight ratio. Gimbals for GoPro cameras are available for as little as $150 and can simply be bolted to the bottom of any aerial platform. The Zenmuse gimbal is a popular example.

Extra equipment

You can't truly experiment with drone aerial photography without getting a few other bits and bobs. You may want to see where you're flying while steering a drone from the ground, for instance. To do this, you can use something like a video transmitter, such as the Immersion RC 5.8ghz 600mw, which greatly increases the range of a 5.8GHz link, and then you can pair it with a Duo5800 or Uno5800 receiver on the ground to get noise-free video.

An analog video transmitter, like the Immersion RC, is used to broadcast real-time video from the camera. You then use the receiver, like the Duo5800, along with a monitor, smartphone, or even LCD glasses to see what the drone sees. The Fat Shark Dominator Goggles are popular glasses for viewing video feeds. An entry-level FPV (first-person view) system, such as the Ready Made RC 5.8GHz starter kit, can also be purchased ready to go for around $250.

And finally, some drones, or rather specific applications of aerial photography, may require additional things like a specialised RC remote or even anti-gravity motors. You should thoroughly research all the drone accessories available and how they can aid you as an aerial photographer.

Tips and Tricks

Photography

There are numerous tips, in fact too many to cover here, when it comes to photography, but we will cover a few. First up: use a shorter lens on your camera, because the wind will knock your camera around otherwise. You will also want the fastest lens you can get such as a professional f/2.9 zoom lens. Fixed-focal length lenses are also excellent. Fast shutter speeds around 1/1,000 second at 200mm or even 1/500 at 100mm are necessary to ensure your footage is sharp.

Keep in mind, when it comes to lenses, anything shorter than about a 35 mm lens on a 35 mm camera or a 24mm lens on a DSLR might include the drone's landing gear. Capturing certain objects may also require a long lens like a 80-200 mm f/2.8 zoom. And if haze is a problem in your footage, and it often is, set your camera to high contrast and look at the histogram. You may even want to shoot with a red filter if getting black and white video.

Speaking of filters, UV and Haze filters tend to not work.

Safety

Read anywhere online about how to get started with drone aerial photography and the first tip you'll come across is practice. Similar to how pilots need to train before taking off in aeroplane, you will need to practice flying a drone. Nothing but time will make you get better at steering or capturing stunning aerial footage.

That said, whether you're just getting started or are a seasoned professional, there are some obvious safety rules you'll need to remember. Always think about what you might hit if your drone crashes. You should never fly over large crowds of people - unless you have a lot of experience and are confidence in your equipment. You should also avoid areas and altitudes where you could collide with manned aircraft or stumble upon unfriendly weather.

Certain low-end and medium-end drones can't even operate in extremely high altitudes because of the thin air (and their motors tend to freeze), so you'll want to analyse all the types of environments that both you and your drone can handle before attempting any flight.

Resources

It's important to have fun when doing drone aerial photography...and part of the fun can be looking into and discovering all the resources available to you. Online forums are great place to learn and engage with other people who love the hobby. Examples include DIY Drones, Multi-Rotor Forums, and the DJI Phantom Users Group on Facebook.

Dronestagram is a year old drone photography community that not only gives photographers a platform to share their images but also holds sponsored contests. Most recently, Dronestagram announced the winners of its first contest sponsored by National Geographic and Go Pro. The 2014 Dronestagram Photo Contest received entries from all over the world, and photos ranged from subjects like eagle soaring over Bali to Filipinos playing in a park on a Sunday morning.

There's also clubs you could join. The DC Area Drone User Group is the the largest UAV club in the US, while the Academy of Model Aeronautics will even teach you how to be safe and prevent accidents.