Quadcopter as a creative tool for a photographer



Some 7-8 years ago, quadrocopters were only the lot of film operators and engineering geeks. They were either very large and difficult to control, or filmed so poorly that they were good only for toys. But in recent years, there has been a boom in the development of drones – a lot of devices with various characteristics have entered the market – from compact and folding models for travel to serious machines with interchangeable lenses and huge flight capabilities.


The photograph itself or video recording from the air is so exciting that many people choose this activity as their hobby. Many in childhood probably loved to climb on the roofs to look at the city from above. And now it’s enough just to raise the copter and look at the screen of your phone or tablet – the future has already arrived.


In this article, I will tell you how to get the maximum aesthetic, and maybe material, satisfaction from the money spent on the purchase of a flying camera.

It is important to remember that a quadcopter is the same camera. And the basic rules of shooting, theory and aesthetics, in principle, do not change. Composition, light, idea and angle still play a major role before the number of megapixels and the cost of the drone.


It so happened that now the monopoly of one manufacturer has actually formed in the multicopter market – DJI. Its drones are the most reliable, safe, able to fly around obstacles automatically and return home according to their own decision – loss of connection or battery discharge. They have the best software and the most extensive ecosystem. On the one hand, it is good that there is such a manufacturer, but on the other hand, competition (like Canon and Nikon) would contribute to faster progress and lower prices. So far, DJI drones are not the cheapest pleasure. For a good new device, you will have to pay at least 50 thousand rubles, and professional models cost from a hundred to a million rubles – everything is for an adult.

I use an amateur folding copter – DJI Mavic Pro. Alas, it does not have the best image quality, compared to the same DJI Phantom 4 Pro, which has a sensor with a crop factor of 2, but the Mavic is very compact. I can put it in the side compartment of my backpack or the inside pocket of my jacket. And then take it out, spread it out and in a minute take off and start shooting.


Let’s start, perhaps, to talk about the shooting itself. I have developed a few rules for myself that help to take shots and prevent the drone from crashing.

Safety is paramount, both for yourself and those around you.

A quadcopter is a serious machine. You should not think that if you have taken off 5 times, then you are already a pro and can scorch in the air, neglecting technical restrictions and safety conditions, in order to get what you think is an unusual shot. You should always check the sky for wires, large objects nearby, a lot of metal that can interfere with the copter. It is not necessary immediately after takeoff to gain altitude and fly away. Raise the copter a couple of meters and wait a few seconds. After all, if something is wrong with it, it starts to be demolished or deployed somewhere, it is much easier to deal with this in the immediate vicinity of your device and urgently land it.


Remember that like any other high-tech device, a drone can fail at any time due to, for example, interference or magnetic fluctuations, etc. Crashes are rare, but they can be serious problems for the drone.

There are even several terms in English. Such as flyaway – this is when the drone loses connection with the control panel and does not return to the take-off point, as it should be, but hides in the rays of the sunset 🙂 Toilet paper – this is the effect when the drone starts circling around one place. This failure occurs due to a malfunction of the compass or loss of satellites.

There are also various mechanical damage from bird attacks or collisions with objects. Sometimes there is a problem with the battery, when it is instantly discharged and the drone just falls. Of course, these are extreme cases and are incredibly rare, but you still need to remember about them – no one is immune from this.


As with any other genre and type of photography, planning is the key to success.

A properly chosen take-off place will allow you to calmly, without fuss and haste, take the necessary shots: it is best not to attract attention to yourself and find a secluded place where you can calmly and without unnecessary “observers” launch your quadcopter. Try to choose places where there are no geomagnetic fields and the compass behaves normally, where you can follow the drone during the entire flight, and it will not be blocked by other objects that may cause it to lose contact (such as large trees or forest, buildings, communication towers, etc.). For example, instead of going to a crowded place directly in front of the subject and causing unnecessary excitement (not to mention increased danger), you can move a little further, find a quiet place, launch and fly to the right point. The latest generation of drones can fly up to a kilometer in a city and many times more in an open field without any problems and interference.

By the way, a great way to find a takeoff point is satellite maps. We open Google maps or Yandex maps, switch to the “satellite” mode – and we can see open areas in the city or clearings / clearings in the forest.

Here’s what I found through the maps and shot from above: a clearing in the forest in the shape of a heart and an island in the lake in the shape of a heart 🙂



Move around and shoot different views

The mistake of many beginners is to simply go to the center of the field or some other terrain, raise your quadcopter above you, take a couple of shots and think that this is enough. However, it is worth flying a couple of hundred meters away, as the landscape and the view can change dramatically. Even by moving the drone 50 meters, you can get very different shots. The same goes for different heights – everything will look different with each new shot.

Here is an example of how standing and controlling a drone from one place, and having one location with a bridge, you can shoot three completely different shots:




Shoot during Golden Hour

Aerial photography can be done at any time of the day. However, on a bright sunny day, when the sun is high in the sky, landscapes look as flat as possible, not voluminous and not interesting. It is best to shoot at dusk, or before sunset and dawn, when the sun is lower and well illuminates the entire relief, gives long shadows.


Use only manual mode

I always set all the parameters manually – the minimum sensitivity is iso 100, and I select the exposure for it, based on the picture from the phone screen and the histogram. I do not advise you to use at dusk and at night, I can withstand more than 2-3 seconds – at the same time, there is a high probability of blurring, especially at the edges of the frame. Therefore, it is already better to raise the sensitivity here. And, of course, shoot only in RAW!



While drone cameras are good, they don’t have as much dynamic range as a good DSLR. Therefore, with very contrasting scenes (sunset, sun in the frame), it is better to take 2-3 frames from one place, and then combine them into one in Lightroom or Photoshop.



All personnel must be carefully selected. No one will be interested in looking at the view of your sleeping area and panel houses, taken on a gray day. You need to carefully select interesting shots, unique moments with good light, and then process them. Any digital photo requires “development” – editing the horizon, cropping, white balance correction, working with light and shadows. After that, your frames will look much more interesting and lively.

As a conclusion, I just want to say what is worth remembering: a drone is just a tool in the hands of a photographer. And the final frame depends on you, and not on the model and year of manufacture of the device. You always need to approach shooting from a creative side, don’t forget to experiment and think harder 🙂



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